It usually takes a carmaker several attempts to get a particular model right but when Mazda launched the 3 in 2003, it impressed from the very beginning. Its biggest party trick was its brilliant driving dynamics and now, the latest generation of the cherished Japanese fun-to-drive hatchback is here — but it doesn’t just promise stellar handling this time around...

This 2020 model sure has grown into a proper all-rounder and though it still plants a firm smile on your face when you drive it spiritedly, there are other reasons to be smiling such as a host of tech and kit and a very attractively styled exterior too.

Starting with the aesthetics, the 3 has been designed with a ‘less is more philosophy’ and the busy character lines of the predecessor have been replaced by a simpler, more athletic look. Think of it as a mature interpretation of its Kodo design language; it comprises swooping curves and creases that blend perfectly with one another while the outstanding Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint on our tester gives it more of a wow factor.

That simplistic approach carries over into the cabin too; there is a deliberate lack of buttons here and it’s evident that Mazda has tried and indeed succeeded in creating a more upscale and luxurious feel while also improving ergonomics and layout. The tech highlights include an all-new letterbox-style 8.8in infotainment system (controlled by a rotary dial behind the gear lever) with impressive graphics and fast response making it far better than the older system. You also get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility while the Bose sound system benefits from a more strategic speaker positioning. There are dual USB ports, a push-button start, electronic parking brake, and ample storage. Finally, the all-new model offers a handful of safety equipment and driver’s aids including a cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning system and lane keep assist, Mazda radar cruise control with stop and go, park assist 360 degree camera and smart brake support.

 

Photos: Stefan Lindeque

It rides on Mazda’s latest Skyactiv-Vehicle Architecture which boast a platform that isn’t just stronger but allows less noise, vibration, and harshness to enter the cabin too. The chassis gets a torsion-beam rear suspension in place of the multi-link but which might seem like a technological step backwards but this doesn’t strip the hatchback of its famously fun driving dynamics, even though it is a cost-cutting measure. It offers honest, clear feedback and the steering is nicely weighted too. The chassis, throttle response and steering are set up for sporty driving but when you hit the Sport mode it changes the shifting strategy of the automatic and holds a gear through the corners while downshifting on heavy braking. Power comes from a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G inline-four mated to a six-speed auto which produces 153 horses and 200Nm of torque.

It’s a little family car but with a thrilling edge and although it has plenty of competition from the likes of the Renault Megane, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Toyota Corolla but it has more than enough about it to hold its own.

Ever since it was introduced, the 3 captured the minds of buyers all over the world — and this 2020 model has everything and more in its locker to do so again.