Yes, yes, you're right of course, the Mazda3 isn't a 4x4, and just like its smaller sibling that I drove last year, the Mazda2, you could argue that it doesn't belong on these pages. However, since I began writing these reviews, I've yet to drive a Mazda that I haven’t liked, so when the invitation to attend its launch arrived, how could I refuse?
Being honest, as it's 4-door family-type car, the Mazda3 is in a sector that doesn’t interest me and subsequently has never been on my radar. But I was intrigued, the Mazda3 regularly outsells the Megan, C’eed and other such rivals, and since its launch back in 2003, has sold globally over 5-million units. So, with a brand model not due out until 2018, Mazda decided it was time for an update, hence the reason I found myself in Scotland.
Arriving at Aberdeen airport I made my way to the Crowne Plaza hotel to meet up with the ever jovial Mazda PR team for coffee and cake(s), and after a quick chat was shown to my steed for the morning stint, a grey, 2ltr petrol Sport Nav which is the daddy of the Mazda range - that's the Sport Nav, not the 2ltr.
It turned out that I had the option of hanging around for 45 minutes waiting for another group of motoring writers arrive with which I could pair up with one of them, or I could go it alone. I snatched the key and relished the thought of having a whole day to myself driving around the Highlands of Scotland - bliss.
Leaving the Crowne Plaza hotel at 10.30am, I set off towards Banchory for lunch, not the direct way of course, but following some wonderful remote A and B roads via Stonehaven. The 120ps version of the 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G was nicely geared to cope with the hilly Scottish roads.
Inside, Mazda say that the cabin evolves the driver-oriented interior space with a host of updates that include higher-quality switch panels and handle bezels on the doors, plus a newly designed trim insert on the dashboard. I don’t know what the last model was like, or how much of an improvement has been made, but I liked the seating position and the whole interior felt rather classy.
New for 2017 is the adoption of an electric hand brake, this creates more space for an open, more practical centre console. Personally I don’t like them, the off-roader in me thinks that it’s just another electrical add-on to go wrong - but this is a Mazda, do things go wrong on Mazdas?
The A957 (Slug Road) offered a good drive with great views, but soon I found myself on the A93 heading towards the Banchory Lodge Hotel where the Mazda team and lunch were waiting.
After being fed and watered I set forth for the A90 and headed south. It was probably at this stage where I began simply enjoying the driving experience as opposed to being observant on how the Mazda3 was behaving. I can’t remember how long I was on the A90 for, but once I put it in Cruise Control, the Mazda3 proved that not only was it a comfortable car, it was a good motorway cruiser too as wind noise was minimal, even the gentle hum from the various road surfaces wasn’t obtrusive.
Turning off at the Forfar / Kirriemuir junction I passed Kirriemuir and headed west on the B951 turning off at the Bridge of Brewlands, I then followed the Sat Nav's instructions headed towards Blacklunans and Kirkmichael. Mile after spectacular mile the Mazda3 was proving to be a wonderful car, predictable too, spirited driving felt safe, which may have something to do with Torque Vectoring, which is a first on the ‘3.
After the fantastic detour I joined the B951 again and turned right onto the A93, the Old Military Road, that would eventually see me driving over the Spittal of Glenshee - what a spectacular road.
Now around 3.15pm I pulled into a carpark at Braemar and popped into The Bothy for a cake, coffee and swapped the petrol for the 2.2 diesel.
The difference between the 2 engines was noticeable from the start, the diesel was so much torquier, and its ability to overtake slower vehicle up hills was far better than the 120ps petrol version. I’m not saying that the petrol was bad, just that the 2.2 diesel is a whole lot punchier when you need it to be.
I following the A93 east I obeyed the Sat Nav’s instructions and turned left at Ballater onto the A939 and followed it past the Lecht Ski School until I reached Tomintoul. Again, the Mazda team had done phenomenal job at choosing a spectacular route, it also helped that it was a beautiful day.
Turning right onto the B9008 and the B9009, I caught up with my first other Mazda3 heading towards Dufftown. From there it was a fairly straight forward run towards the Meldrum House Hotel which was our bed for the night.
As I wrote at the beginning, I haven’t driven a Mazda that I didn’t enjoy, and after a day with the revitalised ‘3, I still feel the same way. The only downside was that I wish I’d driven the 165ps petrol version at some point for comparison with the 2.2 diesel, but maybe next time.
If I’m being completely honest, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between this and the outgoing model, but that’s ok for 2 reasons, the first is that exterior changes are quite subtle anyway, and majority of improvements are in the interior, safety aspects and mechanicals.
On the outside there’s a revised grille with a stronger three-dimensional look and a new front fog light bezel. Across both body styles, revised door mirrors feature wraparound indicators, while hatchback version feature a redesigned rear bumper. Did I mention that Adaptive LED headlights are available too?
On the inside you'll find higher-quality switch panels and handle bezels on the doors, plus a newly designed trim insert on the dashboard. I’ve already mentioned the new electric parking brake. There’s also a new leather steering wheel design that enhances feel and style. Other technology highlights include a full-colour display on the enhanced head–up display system and of course their easy to use infotainment system which is one of the better ones in my experience.
Engine wise, you have the 105ps 1.5-litre or 150ps 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D diesel engines, alongside a petrol line-up that includes 120ps and 165ps versions of the 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G.
Having added the frugal and sub 100g/km 1.5-litre SKYACTIV-D diesel engine to the Mazda3 last year, both this and the well-established 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D engine now feature Transient Control, which ensures a more positive throttle response by reducing turbo lag and boosting torque to deliver a petrol-like engine feel.
Other enhancements have been done to the suspension as well as more sound proofing to make the Mazda3 a more comfortable ride - which it is.
The 2017 Mazda3 also marks the world debut of G-Vectoring Control (GVC), the first of Mazda’s SKYACTIV-VEHICLE DYNAMICS technologies. It varies engine torque to optimize load on each wheel to indiscernibly provide more precise handling and improved comfort. I suppose the proof of the pudding with this type of new technology isn’t that you can sense it working, but rather it all works seamlessly together with you at the helm, and as I wrote earlier, it didn’t take me long to stop critiquing the car and just enjoy the driving experience.