The Mazda 3 is now one of the world's most popular compact cars. The Japanese car maker has sold more than 3 and a half million worldwide and is looking to attract more buyers in Europe, too, and compete with the VW Golf.
"The new Mazda 3 is very important for us," says Jochen Münzinger from Mazda. "For the past ten years, ever since the first generation was launched, it's been our top-selling model worldwide in all major markets. And here in Germany, too, compact cars always sell best."
Let's take a look at the bodywork first. The Mazda 3 is the third model to follow Mazda's new Kodo design philosophy. The sleek lines are designed to be reminiscent of a cheetah ready to pounce on its prey - suggesting both strength and speed.
The effect is designed to work from the front and the back. The result is a successful blend of elegance and sporty dynamism. Like the CX-5 and the Mazda 6, the new Mazda 3 also features the new Skyactiv technology.
Jochen Münzinger says Skyactiv means highly efficient gasoline and diesel engines. "It also involves a new type of transmission and a light-weight but rigid chassis", he says. "It features new technology in re-using energy collected during deceleration, for example. It couples efficiency with driving pleasure - as this car demonstrates well."
The 110-kilowatt, 2-point-2-liter diesel engine we tested, with a maximum torque of 380 newton metres, has plenty of get up and go even at low revs. It goes from zero to a hundred kilometres per hour in eight seconds and can reach a maximum speed of 210 kilometres an hour.
The model we tested sells in Germany for just under 28 thousand euros.
Our test driver Mathis Kurrat says the 2-point-2 liter diesel engine really shifts. "What's nice is it's got a lot of pickup even at low revs", he says. "And you can really rev the engine if you want. But obviously that guzzles more fuel. Mazda rates consumption at four liters per hundred kilometres, but in our test, it used just under six. That's a bit disappointing."
But the new Mazda 3 is certainly sporty. A new wheel axle design makes the car both safer and more agile. The steering is very tight - giving the driver a greater sense of control even when speeding round bends.
"The handling is very good," he says. "And obviously in nearly all respects it's better than its predecessor. The steering is more direct, you feel safer and better positioned on the road. It's really fun to drive." The interior has a high-quality feel about it. It's a study in colour contrast.
"The materials look pretty high-quality at first glance", he says. "But the dashboard feels a bit rubbery. Here on the door it's much more pleasant. Maybe they could have struck a compromise here, the dashboard is obviously much softer than the door, a compromise between the two materials would have been perfect."
One plus is that everything can be operated easily from the steering wheel. The interior feels uncluttered and tidy. An additional Active Driving Display puts important information directly into the driver's field of vision.
"This combination instrument gives the whole thing another sporty touch. What I find a bit of a shame is that the speedometer is so low down in the corner you HAVE to pop up the Active Driving Display if you want to follow your speed easily." Just time for a look in the trunk. The hatchback model offers 364 litres of space - fine for a small amount of luggage - but the VW Golf is more generous, with 380 litres.
"To sum up, the Mazda 3 has had more of a niche market in Germany for a long time now. But I think this new model could make it out of the niche. It's an all-round car with a great design - although that's always a matter of taste. And it drives well. I think it's good."
So it's definitely a car with potential. Prices for the new Mazda 3 start at 17 thousand euros in Germany - that's 200 euros less than the VW Golf.