Mazda’s classy Focus/Astra challenger has only been with us since 2014, yet it’s just received a makeover to bring it bang up to date.
The changes to the biggest selling car globally (five million sales and counting) in Mazda’s range are subtle to say the least.
In fact, from the outside you’d struggle to notice any difference. Inside, the switch from a traditional handbrake to an electronic switch is the most obvious change.
Personally, I prefer proper handbrakes to electronic switches (even if it does free up space in the centre console), but there you go…
The reality is that a lot has been going on. For instance, the 2017 Mazda3, which as before is available as a hatchback and fastback, marks the world debut of G-Vectoring Control (GVC). It varies engine power to optimise the load on each wheel, thus improving handling and comfort.
There’s also something called Natural Sound Smoother (NSS) which is supposed to refine the diesel engines on offer.
Technology highlights include an enhanced head-up display with full colour, plus adaptive LED headlights are now available too.
If you look very carefully outside the car you’ll notice that it’s a little more slippery with a revised grille, new front fog light housing, tweaked door mirrors now featuring wraparound indicators, while hatchback versions get a redesigned rear bumper.
Inside, there are “higher-quality” switch panels and door handles, revised dashboard trim and a new leather steering wheel design.
Finally, the Mazda3 is now available in eight colours, including on-trend Machine Grey Mica, which debuted on the new MX-5 RF at the 2016 New York Motor Show, plus Eternal Blue Mica.
So, more evolution than revolution, but then there wasn’t much wrong with the car in the first place.
Otherwise, the 3 is much the same, which isn’t a bad thing because it’s a serious contender to its more run-of-the-mill opposition – not just in looks, but driving dynamics too.
Engine options are as before. Choose between a 118bhp or 163bhp 2.0-litre petrol, or a 1.5-litre (103bhp) or 2.2-litre (148bhp) diesel, then select one of the two super slick six-speed gearboxes – automatic or manual.
If you’re after zero road tax, economy and low emissions, go for the smaller diesel, but don’t expect thrills. It’s smooth and capable of an impressive 74mpg with a CO2 figure of just 99g/km.
But perhaps it’s the lower powered 2.0-litre petrol unit which offers the best blend of performance, economy and refinement.
With a 0-62mph time of 8.9 seconds (10.4 for the automatic), a 121mph top speed, claimed economy of 55.4mpg (50.4 auto) and low C02 emissions of 119g/km, this version of the 3 ticks the right boxes.
The Mazda3 is as comfortable as ever, featuring a low-slung seating position. It’s also fun to drive with a firm, sporty feel.
Inside it feels classy and well built with plenty of space up front, though it’s slightly tighter at the back, especially for taller passengers, thanks to the sweeping roofline.
Boot space is a decent 364 litres in the hatchback (1263 with the rear seats down) or 419 litres for the fastback.
The infotainment system is one of the best out there and it’s great to see that Mazda is sticking with the additional rotary controller near the gear selector.
The range starts at £17,595, rising to £24,195, so the 2017 Mazda3 is still a strong contender in a highly competitive market. Distinctively styled, well equipped and with a classy interior, it’s as driver-focused as ever. One of the best just got better.