I honestly thought Mazda had stuffed up the new 3.
First impressions were of goopy electric steering feel, a firmer ride than seemed necessary, wooden brakes and an over-the-shoulder blind spot you could hide a cruise ship in thanks to the enormous C-pillar.
There were certainly positives: a beautiful interior (though one that lacks illumination at night), much improved noise levels, every gizmo under the sun, but whither the fizzy, fun to drive Mazda 3?
Turns out it’s still there and better than ever, but you need to do some digging. At speed the ride improves, the steering lightens and those brakes, which feel so dead around town, are firm underfoot when given a decent push.
Our test car was the G25 Astina with a 139kW/252Nm 2.5-litre atmo four: it’s not fast but it’s fast enough to entertain, the six-speed auto making the most of the available grunt with an outstandingly responsive Sport mode, though automatic upshifts about 300rpm shy of redline are disappointing.
The true magic of the new 3, however, is in its chassis. In terms of driving enjoyment, it has all but the very best hot hatches beaten. It’s fluid and responsive, precise and accurate, adjustable and controllable, clearly the work of engineers that love driving.
Do small car buyers want a car that’s far more enjoyable on a twisty road than day-to-day driving? Not sure, but we sure don’t mind. At $37,990 the G25 Astina is exxy, though it has the interior panache, design flair and technology to pull off its premium pricetag.
Step down the range a couple of notches and the $29,490 G25 Evolve offers involving dynamics at sensible speeds and the bonus of a manual gearbox for those that way inclined.
Let’s hope rumours Mazda is working on a hot version of the new 3 come to fruition, for to not capitalise on a chassis this talented would be a very big stuff-up indeed.
Engine: 2488cc inline-4cyl, DOHC, 16v
Power: 139kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 252Nm at 4000rpm
0-100km/h: 8.0sec (est.)