Spot the difference. It isn’t easy, because the new Mazda3 is uncannily like the old one. The grille badge has moved fractionally downwards for a cleaner edge to the front bonnet line, the circular central beams in the headlights are now chopped off across the top and the rear lights are slightly revised. It’s all very detailed stuff, so that even an existing Mazda3 owner might not instantly notice the changes. Step aboard, though, and there is a bit more of an obvious revision. The cabin has undergone an overhaul to improve both the design and quality of materials used. Then when you press the keyless-start button, the diesel engine fires up with just slightly less clatter than before. Low speed engine refinement is a little better too. That apart, the car behaves much as it did before this latest update, with one important addition.
The Mazda3 has now been equipped with G-Vectoring control, a system that monitors steering and throttle positions, and sharpens cornering precision by varying the amount of torque delivered to individual wheels. You don’t notice it happening, but feel the benefit in a meaty stance on the bends. The ride quality is well judged for its unruffled comfort over surface undulations, gear change action is creamy, and there is a pleasing weight and feel to the steering. There is a purposeful poise to the way this latest car drives. Cabin changes include a new electric parking brake in place of the previous mechanical one, freeing up space on the centre console. There is a new leather-covered steering wheel, bigger door bins, and a general upgrading of the internal surfaces and switchgear, while heated seats are available for the first time. There have been detail improvements in the trim panels and door bezels, with an all-round impression that the interior has moved up a grade. Unseen, more attention has been paid to the quantity and quality of noise suppressant materials, and you notice the difference in better refinement and being more isolated from noise intrusion.
Equipment levels are pretty generous across the range. Even the base level SE version comes with air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, an auto-dimming rear mirror, seven-inch touchscreen, hill hold assist and DAB radio. SE Nav adds a navigation system, while mid-range SE-L Nav trim includes dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, privacy glass, cruise control, heated front seats, autonomous emergency braking and a rain sensor. The flagship of the line-up, Sport Nav specification, adds keyless entry, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, front parking sensors and heated front seats, as well as a reversing camera, automatic headlights, traffic sign recognition and an uprated Bose branded audio system. Although outwardly the Mazda3 has only undergone a very minor update, there are more significant changes when you dig a bit deeper. Prices have increased by between £200 and £800, depending on model, but despite the additional cost, the enhancements add up to a worthwhile improvement in a car that looks good and drives well.