The family hatchback market is looking more cut-throat than ever, thanks to the arrivals of an all-new Ford Focus and the latest Kia Ceed in the past few months. And now Mazda has unveiled another strong contender in the shape of the new 3, which has made its debut at this week’s Los Angeles Motor Show.
Designers have stuck closely to the looks of the Kai concept seen at last year’s Tokyo show. The 3 has a fairly substantial front overhang, but the most noticeable element of its side profile is the thick C-pillar.
At 4,459mm long, the five-door hatch is half a centimetre shorter than the outgoing 3, but still considerably longer than a VW Golf. The Mazda’s wheelbase has grown, though, to 2,725mm, so it has over 100mm more than the VW between its two axles. This change is designed to improve cabin space, particularly for those occupying the rear seats.
The chassis continues to feature MacPherson struts at the front, but it gets simpler suspension at the rear, where a torsion beam replaces the existing model’s multi-link set-up. Four-wheel drive will be offered in some regions, but it’s not clear whether it’ll make it to the UK.
The engine line-up comprises 1.5 and 2.0-litre versions of Mazda’s SkyActiv-G petrol motors, revised for improved efficiency and refinement, plus a SkyActiv-D 1.8-litre diesel that uses multi-hole piezo injectors to smooth performance and reduce noise.
The star of the range could well be the new SkyActiv-X supercharged petrol motor; it features Spark Plug-Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI), which can use the plug to initiate the instant compression ignition that’s normal in a diesel engine.
Mazda claims it delivers improved response and the ability to run with a much leaner fuel mixture. This, in turn, brings efficiency gains of as much as 30 per cent over a regular petrol engine, along with healthy torque. We know Mazda has been targeting around 230Nm.
Inside, the 3 gets a well-timed makeover. A slab of coloured material now runs across the centre of the facia, and the air vents are positioned relatively low in the dash, too.
The infotainment display increases to 8.8 inches and has more of a widescreen layout. Its functions are still controlled by a rotary dial near the gearlever, but Mazda has yet to confirm if the existing system’s touchscreen functionality will also be carried over.
There’s more adjustment in the front seats and the steering column, and the gearlever has been moved forward.
The 3 introduces fresh safety and semi-autonomous features for Mazda, including a traffic jam assistant that can accelerate, brake and steer in heavy traffic, and a driver monitoring system that uses infrared and LED cameras to watch everything from the driver’s eyelids to the angle of their face.
The new 3 is being introduced as a five-door and as a saloon – and sources suggest that both body styles will be offered in the UK, with the four-door being, in effect, a successor to the current 3 Fastback. The next-generation car should arrive in British dealers in early summer 2019. There’s no word yet on specs or prices, but we’d expect a starting figure of around £18,500 for the entry-level edition of the five-door hatch.