Let’s play a round of Family Fortunes (humour me for a moment). Name a medium-sized family hatchback.
It’s a pretty safe bet that top 3, in no particular order, are going to be Golf, Focus and Astra. The Mazda 3, meanwhile, would probably be one of those “ohh yeah, that one” answers left on the board after each extended family member’s been through every possible permutation.
It’s a leftfield, outsider kind of hatch, but that’s no a bad thing. We liked the cut of its long-bonneted jib enough to place it ahead of the Golfocustra trio in our 2014 hatchback giant test. Can a booster shot of updates for 2017 push it from the wings back out onto centre-stage?
Not when they’re this subtle. Less a facelift, more Spot the Difference, level: Expert, revisions include new LED lamps that look a bit like the 3’s had its face painted as a Golden Eagle, gently redrawn bumpers and another proper handbrake bumped off by an electric parking brake to free space for XL cupholders.
Mildly retuned suspension keeps the 3 on pole as arguably the best-handling mainstream midi-hatch out there, as does an engine range that nonchalantly ignores the downsizing trend in favour of large- capacity driveability and responsiveness. Improved interior trim can’t quite shake off an overriding feel of cheapness (the cabin plastics even smell curiously oily), and while sat-nav’s standard-fit, it’s so wilfully awkward you’d be better with a standard-fit mapbook. Exemplary dynamics aside, the 3 stands a little too still to be noticed in a busy market but it remains a well-rounded, likeable car – whatever the survey says.
Engine: 1998 cc 16v 4-cyl
Power: 118bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque: 155lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual (auto available), front-wheel drive
Top speed: 121mph
On sale: Now
An easily overlooked choice; the Zeppo Marx of medium family hatches