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Mazda CX-30 review: small SUV is the same, but different

Mazda CX-30The first rule of car manufacturing in 2019 is that you can never make too many SUVs. So Mazda has slotted a new one into its range; the CX-30 is based on the 3 hatchback and sits half-way between a CX-3 and CX-5. “Why isn’t it called the CX-4, then?” I hear literally some of you ask. Well, there’s already a CX-4 sold in China, plus the number four is considered unlucky in Japan as it sounds like ‘death’. So now you know.

Technically speaking, then, the CX-30 is a crossover rather than a fully-fledged SUV. You can fit two adults in the back, but three is a squeeze, and you’ll need to pack light for a family holiday. Also, while you can opt for four-wheel drive, “you won’t be driving straight up Mont Blanc” (© a Mazda engineer). Rivals include the Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Karoq, BMW X2, Volkswagen T-Roc, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Toyota C-HR. Prices weren’t published at the time of writing, but reckon on £2,000 – £3,000 more than an equivalent Mazda 3 (circa. £20,000 – £31,000).

Mazda CX-30

The 3 is hands-down the handsomest car in its class, and some of that magic has rubbed off on the shorter, stumpier CX-30. Despite a lengthy press conference about “sensuously powerful forms” and “brushwork used in Japanese calligraphy”, it’s still a generic SUV shape, but a bold grille, hawkish headlamps and a tailgate spoiler help it stand out – particularly in Mazda’s signature Soul Red. Shame about all the black plastic body cladding.

Engines are shared with the 3, which means a 122hp 2.0-litre petrol with mild-hybrid tech or 116hp 1.8 diesel. The latter will account for a tiny proportion of sales, however. How times have changed… Buyers can choose manual or auto transmissions, both with six speeds, and Mazda’s clever new 180hp 2.0 Skyactiv-X petrol engine is due soon. More on that shortly.

Mazda CX-30

One key goal for the CX-30 – yes, I’m quoting from the press conference again – was “a pleasant time for all”. And it does indeed feel, well… pleasant. Climbing aboard is easier than in a conventional car and the seats are very supportive. It’s decently spacious up-front, too (the distance between the front seats matches the larger CX-5), although the rear is less accommodating – and a little gloomy, thanks to shallow side windows. A 430-litre luggage capacity is identical to a Qashqai and compares with 364 litres for the 3 hatchback.

It’s also pleasingly premium, with soft-touch materials and finely-damped controls. Knurled air-con switches look inspired by Audi, while the 8.8-inch widescreen media system is very BMW. Mazda objects to touchscreens on safety grounds and, using its intuitive ‘Commander control’ to navigate between menus, it’s hard not to concur. Large white-on-black dials, shortcut buttons on the steering wheel and the (optional) head-up display all keep your eyes on the road, too. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone connectivity is standard.

Mazda CX-30

I sampled the 122hp Skyactiv-G petrol auto in front-wheel drive, which lopes to 62mph in 11.2 seconds and returns 42.8mpg and 151g/km CO2 in the new, more rigorous, WLTP test. It handles tidily for a car of this type, turning in keenly with feelsome steering and good body control. The ride was fine on the baby’s-bottom roads of our German test route, although I suspect it could feel fidgety in the UK. It’s no deal-breaker, though.

The Skyactiv-G engine is smooth and unobtrusive, but the gearbox – an old-school torque converter auto, not a modern dual-clutcher – is slow-witted, often hanging on to ratios when it should change up. Mazda didn’t have a manual available at the launch, but its slick-n-snappy ’boxes are the best in the business, so a stick seems the obvious choice.

Mazda CX-30

Speaking of choice, I’d hang on for the new Skyactiv-X petrol engine, which I sampled later the same day in a Mazda 3. I’ll spare you most of the technical details: suffice to say it uses both compression ignition (like a diesel) and spark ignition (like a petrol). In theory, that means diesel low-down punch and fuel economy, combined with petrol revviness and throttle response. And guess what? It works. CO2 emissions in the 3 hatch are as low as 100g/km and it feels genuinely lively.

As a car enthusiast, it’s hard not to simply recommend the 3, which more fun to drive, cheaper and only a little less practical. Still, crossovers are what people want, and Mazda reckons this could become its best-selling car, so what do I know? If you desire something medium-sized and SUV-shaped, the CX-30 – assuming prices are competitive – is a well-rounded and worthy choice.

Mazda CX-30

Mazda CX-30 2.0 Skyactiv-G FWD auto: specification

Price: TBC (circa. £21,000 – £25,000)
Engine: Four cylinders, 1,998cc, petrol
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Power: 122hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 157lb ft (213Nm) @ 4,000rpm
0-62mph: 11.2 seconds
Top speed: 116mph
Fuel economy: 42.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 151g/km
Suspension: MacPherson struts (front), torsion beam (rear)
Wheels: 18 x 7J alloy
Tyres: 215/55 R18
Length/width/height: 2,395/2,040/1,540mm
Boot space: 140 – 1,406 litres
Kerb weight: 1,347kg
VERDICT: FOUR STARS

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Mazda is getting rid of touchscreens on its cars

Mazda is getting rid of touch screens

Mazda has begun the eradication of touchscreens in its cars, starting with the new 3 hatchback. It’s often a marque to buck prevailing trends, but never without reason, and this latest dismissal of dashboard touchscreens is no exception.

Why get rid of touchscreens?

Touchscreens have been hot tech since they became mainstream over decade ago. They’re now getting up to a standard of clarity and responsiveness in our cars that we’ve been enjoying with our smart hand-held devices for the last 10 years. So why is Mazda ditching them? 

There is method and logic in Mazda’s madness. Research has suggested that touchscreens can present too much of a distraction for drivers, finding usage both takes our attention away from the road, and affects our physical control of the car.

Mazda is getting rid of touch screens

“Doing our research, when a driver would reach towards a touchscreen interface in any vehicle, they would unintentionally apply torque to the steering wheel, and the vehicle would drift out of its lane position,” said Matthew Valbuena, Mazda North America’s lead engineer for HMI and infotainment.

A troubling revelation indeed. Highways England has expressed a disliking for in-car touchscreens, too. Chief executive Jim O’Sullivan is quoted as saying “we don’t like them from a safety perspective” and that on-screen controls are “small” and “fiddly”.

Touchscreens require what Mazda calls ‘gross’ motor skills. These are large movements on our part to achieve specific goals. By our recollection, lifting your hand up to a screen and accurately pressing a ‘button’ has been a bit of a chore in some cars, and has felt like a distraction too far.

Head-up displays and Command Controllers

Mazda is getting rid of touch screens

Mazda wants to revert to safer ways of delivering information and controlling in-car systems. As for the former, head-up displays gain favour given they require less of a transition in focus with your eyes.

In short, a head-up display is basically a part of the scenery as far as your eyes are concerned. Contrast that with a touchscreen that’s much closer and requires more of a re-focus. You’ll note in the cabin of the new Mazda 3 that the screen is further away, out of reach. Indeed, it doesn’t need to be in reach.

As for controlling systems? Mazda wants to go analogue, with physical toggles. In the 3 it’s the Command Controller, positioned naturally within reach. It requires what Mazda calls ‘fine’ motor skills, rather than ‘gross’, as above. These are small precise movements that require less concentration to achieve, and are staggered by the controls themselves – i.e. when toggles, spin-wheels and buttons ‘click’.

Why touchscreens are pursued

Mazda is getting rid of touch screens

We would suggest that all who use touch screens in cars will feel pangs of uncertainty at some point about whether they’re safe.

Assuming that safety is in question, why are manufacturers sticking with them?

Well, reverting would literally feel like a backward step. Can you imagine an Audi A8 that replaces two giant touch panels with buttons once more?

On the button issue, too, touchscreens are simpler to tool for carmakers. Smatterings of buttons can be fiddly to both manufacture and use. Touchscreens can also pack a lot more functionality into a finite space.

Mazda going back to physical controls

Then there are systems that are now being integrated. How does one control a touch interface like Apple Carplay with physical controls? That’s part of the reason Audi is discontinuing its rotary controller, allegedly.

Regardless, Mazda is the first to commit to persevere without touchscreens, for all the right reasons we’d say.

New tuning pack boosts Mazda MX-5 beyond 200hp

BBR Super 220 Mazda MX-5

BBR has unveiled two new performance packages, taking the Mazda MX-5 beyond the 200hp mark. The Super 200 and Super 220 packages don’t use turbocharging, however.

Instead, these packs are based on the 184hp Skyactiv-G engine in the updated MX-5, and rely on enhancing existing components of the engine.

The Super 200 has a high-performance exhaust manifold, cold air intake, high-flow filter and custom engine map to bring the mods to life. The Super 220 includes all the above, but adds high-performance camshafts, valve springs and retainers.

BBR Super 220 Mazda MX-5

Power delivery is said to be improved, with the Super 200’s peak torque arriving 500rpm lower than the standard car. The Super 220 delivers its maximum power high up, with the full 220hp between 4,750rpm and 7,800rpm.

What price this added performance? It’s not cheap, with the Super 200 coming in at £1,445, or £1,245 if you self-install. The Super 220 package is £2,895, or £2,235 if you DIY.

The updated MX-5 was already quite a peppy thing, so we can only expect these upgrades bring it to life even more.

BBR Super 220 Mazda MX-5

“This is the first time that over 100bhp per litre has been achievable from a normally aspirated Mazda MX-5 motor without internal modifications,” said BBR MD, Neil McKay.

“Additional development has seen BBR achieve more than 110bhp per litre with the inclusion of our bespoke performance camshafts, which is astonishing for a road-friendly engine that now also produces over 150lb.ft from just 3,000rpm.

“As Mazda improves the stock Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre petrol engine extracting useful power gains from normally aspirated tuning becomes more of a challenge, but that makes the end results even more rewarding.”

Pedigree chum: Mazda CX-5 wins ‘Best Car for Dog Owners’ award

Dog owners Mazda CX-5 Auto Trader

Mazda has won one of the quirkier gongs at the Auto Trader awards, taking the ‘Best Car for Dog Owners’ title. The trophy goes to the CX-5 SUV.

What makes the CX-5 a dog lover’s dream? Well, owners praised its practicality and quality, as well as features tailored to dog-owning drivers.

These include the official Mazda dog guard, which is a £183 option. A boot mat and bumper protector, so your four-legged friend doesn’t inflict any damage to the bodywork, is also available for £52.

Dog owners Mazda CX-5 Auto Trader

Owners also praised the CX-5’s driving dynamics, as well as its safety in general.

Meanwhile, the Mazda MX-5 RF picked up the ‘Most Loved Car’ award – a fine achievement in its 30th anniversary year.

“Mazda should be particularly proud taking home two awards,” commented Auto Trader editorial director, Erin Baker.

“Lots of us have emotional connections with cars; they’re more than just a way of getting from A to B. The Mazda MX-5 RF is loved for a whole host of reasons, not least because of the way it drives and how it looks.

“While for dog owners, space and how easy it is to make use of that space is crucial, and owners were quick to point out the CX-5’s comfort.”

Dog owners Mazda CX-5 Auto Trader

The Auto Trader awards are decided by 63,000 car owners, who give feedback on their experiences.

The owners are asked to consider 16 key parameters, as well as overall satisfaction with their car.

Mazda MX-5 2.0 GT Sport review: back-to-basics driving fun

Mazda MX-5 review

The Mazda MX-5 turns 30 this year, so now seems a good time to put the quintessential sports car – in its latest, greatest form – through its paces.

The MX-5 is the Japanese marque’s love letter to the Lotus Elan. That is to say, the sports car distilled into its most basic form: as little weight as possible, an engine in the front, rear-wheel drive and an open top.

Over four generations the Mazda has, for the most part, gone without direct rival. The third-generation Toyota MR2 came closest, offering a similar, stripped-back sports car experience. The MR2 was, however, an altogether more challenging drive, thanks to its mid-engined layout.

Nonetheless, the MX-5 has always commanded respect from hardcore car enthusiasts and casual drivers alike, despite its slightly effeminate image. 

Personally, I’ve never been spellbound by it. I always read ‘slow’ when the ‘you can use all the power’ cliche was rolled out in road tests. The original cars also seemed spartan for spartan’s sake – I’ll catch hell for even suggesting that might be a bad thing.

Mazda MX-5 review

The current car, first introduced four years ago, now has more muscle in the form of an uprated 184hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. The 1.5-litre motor is still available and comes mildly revised, with 132hp. Both six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes remain, although the auto is available with the folding-hard-top RF only.

Prices kick off at £18,995 for a basic SE+ spec 1.5 soft-top, but can balloon to £29,195 for a hard-top RF 2.0 with an auto ‘box in GT Sport Nav + spec. That’s without expensive paint or any other options.

The best MX-5 for your money is arguably the £25,795 manual 2.0 GT Sport Nav+. RF models are around £2,000 more expensive than the equivalent soft-top, while autos (missing the MX-5 point, we feel) will set you back a further £1,500.

The full list of trim levels is expansive. We kick off at SE+, through SE-L Nav +, Sport Nav + and GT Sport Nav +.

Sport Nav + now comes with more standard safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning. GT Sport Nav + offers blind-spot monitoring, adaptive LED headlights and a reversing camera. All of the latter and more are optional on lower models as a safety pack.

In theory, that’s many of my personal issues with the MX-5 resolved, then – some power to speak of, and equipment and appointment beyond windows that wind down and a radio. But what about the looks?

First impressions

Mazda MX-5 review

The fourth-generation ‘ND’ MX-5 has received more than its share of styling accolades, and for good reason. Compared to soft-edged third- and second-generation models, it’s a revelation of sharp lines and taut proportions. Few other cars pull off quite such a combination of diminutive size and muscular styling.

The way its rump tapers backwards from the rear wheels is superb. A sprawling bonnet, sharp lighting and big sporty wheels complete the package. Image issues, begone…

We’ve got to mention that Soul Red paint, too. It’s got to be one of the nicest colours on sale. Yours for £790.

Inside the Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5 review

On the inside, prior iterations (especially early ‘NA’ and ‘NB’ cars) were basic and uninspiring in terms of design, quality and equipment. The current model aces all of the above. Gone is the old tombstone centre console and basic dials. In its place are sophisticated and intriguing shapes, a decent infotainment screen and just the right amount of buttons.

What made the old cars an event remains, however. The MX-5 has the feel of an exotic aperture that you have to collapse into – more McLaren than Mazda. Once you’re in, it’s snug but perfectly thought-out. You’re borderline vac-packed, but nothing digs into you or rubs you the wrong way.

Mazda can retro-fit your old car with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

What is much nicer, is the quality of materials and design of the cabin. Our car had a very arresting tan and black leather interior, which went very well with some of the red exterior highlights that bleed into the cabin.

The cupholders are, admittedly, an afterthought. At least they can be popped out and installed in areas where your elbows won’t dislodge them.

Mazda MX-5 review

Equipment-wise, it’s a revelation. Seat-heaters, Bluetooth, a strong stereo, cruise control and auto lights go a long way towards refining what has, in the past, been something of a rough-around-the-edges proposition.

That’s the thing would-be-helmsman journalists forget about these little cars. One of their main jobs is to be an amenable cruiser. A basic and stylish car for folks who don’t need a hatchback and want a bit of wind-in-the-hair fun. There’s a reason they were named ‘Roadster’ back in the day. 

The boot is what you’d expect: inadequate to anyone used to hatchbacks, sufficient if you’re an efficient packer. The infotainment does the job – it’s easy to suss out and swift in its operation. You can control the seven-inch centre screen either with your fingertips or a clickwheel on the centre console.

On the road Mazda MX-5 review

The not-so-breaking news is that the MX-5 is as good to hustle as it ever was. The car shrinks around you and you’re soon comfortable placing it on the road. The steering is well-judged and rich in feel, while the gearshift elicits more gun-reload clichés than you can throw a B+ script editor at.

The pedal positioning takes some acclimatisation, but you’re soon firing through rev-matched shifts like it’s going out of fashion.

Let’s talk about the MX-5’s slightly roll-tastic handling. Sometimes, you wish for something a bit more tied-down and sophisticated. The rest of the time, and by that I mean 80 percent of the time, you’re thankful for suspension travel and compliance dispatching most of what Britain’s smashed roads can throw at you.

Never have I driven anything that takes care of the notorious fen roads where Norfolk and Cambridge meet with the deftness of the MX-5. It allows you to enjoy more, for more of the time. It rotates benignly, but will bite if provoked; every bit the helmsman’s training wheels.

Mazda MX-5 review

What is revolutionary for the MX-5 is a little bit of new-found muscle. In years gone by it’s been routine to swap out engines, turbo or supercharge the existing twin-cam, or else be vulnerable to the accelerative whims of diesel hatchbacks. Now, the new 184hp 2.0-litre engine gives the updated-for-2019 car the grunt it always deserved.

It’s a willing, rev-happy engine, too: enjoyable to wring out, and you’ll make serious progress when you do. The flip-side is you find yourself going quicker, and therefore notice the roll more in corners.

When you’re not in Sport mode, that topsy-turvy handling suddenly becomes a disarmingly compliant ride and you get 40mpg on a cruise. Then, the toys come in to play. A couple of two-hour night drives up and down the A1 set a stage upon which the MX-5 greatly impressed. Cruise control mitigates leg-ache, while the automatic lights that split the high beams take another job off your plate.

The easy-to-set-up Bluetooth system channels Spotify from your phone like a dream. The three intensity settings on the heated seats range from positively nuclear to a mild summer haze – excellent. Such amenities are transformative for a car that, in past iterations, was very basic.

Mazda MX-5 verdict: 4 stars

Mazda MX-5 review

Thirty years on from this car’s debut, the ultimate factory MX-5 is here. It’s the very best driver’s example, adorned with the creature comforts you want, looks that kill and driving manners that charm on a daily basis.

This latest model is everything anyone has ever wanted the Mazda to be – from adenoidal owner’s club diehards to uncompromising softies (like me). The added punch helps it come alive, while the interior amenities and improved quality make it much more appealing.

Yes, there are more sophisticated sports cars in terms of body control, roadholding and outright speed. But in the UK, as you can only find out by experiencing it, that doughy body control is often a blessing.

Mazda MX-5 review

Overall, I was very taken by the latest MX-5. It very deliberately addressed a lot of what the very few MX-5 detractors in the world have always had against it. Better quality, sharper looks, real performance and generous equipment levels.

What I will say is to be careful and know what you’re buying. This is not the last word in performance motoring. Actually, quite deliberately, it’s more like the first. If it’s what you want, the latest MX-5 is the best yet.

Two alternatives to the 2019 Mazda MX-5

Toyota GT86

Fiat 124 Spider

How much did our test car cost?

2019 Mazda MX-5 Convertible 184ps GT Sport Nav+: £26,585

Mazda MX-5 review

Which engines does Mazda offer with the MX-5?

1.5 Skyactiv-G 132hp

2.0 Skyactiv-G 184hp

Where the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Convertible 184ps GT Sport Nav+ sits in the range

SE+

SE-L Nav+

Sport Nav+

GT Sport Nav+

Read more:

MX-5 History

Roadster love: a brief history of the Mazda MX-5

After 30 years and four generations, the Mazda MX-5 is the world’s best-selling two-seater convertible

Eunos Cosmo

When Mazda launched five car new brands – and they all failed

A brief look at Mazda’s infamous five dead brands – Amati, Autozam, Efini, Eunos and Xedos, with an honourable mention for M2

Mazda Rotary

Return of the rotary: Mazda to revive legendary engine as EV range-extender

Mazda Rotary

Rotary fans, rejoice! The hallowed engine format will return within two years, albeit with a twist. Rotaries will reappear as range-extenders for electric Mazdas. The first will be launched in 2020.

Return of the rotary

Sadly, it does sound like the days of rowing a lightweight, rotary-powered sports car through the gears are behind us. The new Mazdas will feature a rotary engine that’s effectively a generator, boosting driving range and topping up the batteries.

Although we don’t yet know what kind of car the rotary will be installed in, let’s hope a sports car is among the models Mazda is considering.

It’s actually a genius idea on Mazda’s part. To use a petrol engine as a range-extender is, traditionally, quite inefficient. Conventional petrol units are often relatively large and heavy, whereas the Mazda rotary has always been lightweight and compact.

We’re in no doubt the engine fitted to the 2020 model will be optimised for ‘generator’ duties, too. And that includes the capability of using renewable LPG as an alternative fuel.

‘Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030’

Mazda Rotary

We say ‘renewable LPG’, as Mazda continues research into synthesising combustible fuels: specifically, renewable and recyclable biofuels from the growth of micro-algae.

This is all a part of Mazda’s ‘Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030’ strategy. Not a slick name, we admit, but the figures and the goals are there. Mazda expects that some form of electrification will feature in 95 percent of cars it sells in 2030. Well-to-wheel CO2 emissions are targeted as being half those in 2010 by 2030, and one-tenth by 2050. 

The road to achieving those targets starts in 2020. New EVs and the implementation of radical new internal combustion technologies, like Mazda’s spark-less Skyactiv-X engines and alternative fuels, should get the job done.

Mazda wants to push ahead with hybrids in a way we haven’t yet seen – reviving a legendary power unit and using an unpopular fuel. It’s also dedicated to the longevity of the internal combustion engine and, encouragingly, to ‘the exhilaration of driving’. The future could be exciting after all.

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Mazda Skyactiv-X

Mazda’s new Skyactiv-X engine proves there’s a future in petrol power

Mazda Skyactiv-X

Imagine if you could drive a car powered by a petrol engine, with all the benefits that brings and some of the best characteristics of a diesel, too. The free-revving nature of a petrol, the lovely non-planet-killing emissions, the refinement and the ease of refuelling, mixed with diesel low-range torque and excellent fuel economy.

If this was possible, it could almost be the answer to everything. It is possible, says Mazda.

Before we go any further, let’s take a look at how Mazda likes to do things differently. It’s snubbed small, turbocharged petrol engines in favour of high-compression naturally-aspirated units in the past, and it’s being deliberately cautious about jumping on the electrification bandwagon.

Why? It looks at what it describes as the ‘well to wheel’ emissions of its cars. “With two thirds of global electricity production currently relying on the use of fossil fuels, Mazda believes regulations placing the emissions of an EV at zero to be disingenuous,” says the manufacturer.

Essentially, legislation concentrates on tailpipe emissions. And while it’s all well and good driving an EV and feeling a little smug about doing your bit for the planet, if that electricity comes from polluting power stations, it’s arguably no better than driving a conventional petrol or diesel car. And that’s before we go into the toxic emissions involved in creating batteries.

Mazda’s also reserved about moving towards ride-sharing, discouraging car ownership and autonomous vehicles. Backward? It prefers to think that it’s actually listening to what customers want, and it’s certainly refreshing to see a manufacturer waiting for technology to develop rather than chucking money at something that isn’t necessarily the future.

So, that ‘best of both worlds’ thing we were on about… Mazda is working on a petrol engine that it says combines petrol and diesel engine technology to offer the benefits of both, with few of the disadvantages. Called the Skyactiv-X, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol was first announced with the Kai concept car at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show, and is likely to make its production debut in the forthcoming Mazda 3.

How does Mazda’s Skyactiv-X engine work?

Mazda Skyactiv-X

This is where this all gets a little bit ‘science lesson’. The Skyactiv-X is unusual in that it uses a much higher compression ratio than most petrol engines. This means that, like diesel engines, a spark can be created naturally when the air and fuel are compressed, rather than relying on spark plugs.

However, spark plugs are used in the Skyactiv-X to create what Mazda describes as a ‘fireball’ in the centre of the cylinder. With a leaner fuel-to-air ratio, this fireball provides a greater amount of power while burning around 20-30% less fuel than a conventional petrol engine.

The result? Better fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions. It’s too early for Mazda to provide any official figures, but it does say it’ll be on par with a diesel. The current 150hp 2.2-litre SkyActiv D returns a combined 68.9mpg. If the same can be achieved under petrol power, the new Skyactiv-X has potential to return groundbreaking petrol fuel economy.

Driven: Mazda Skyactiv-X prototype

Mazda Skyactiv-X

This might look like the current Mazda 3, but it’s essentially a very early prototype of the new model, due in 2019. The platform is new, the interior is new, the engine is (obviously) new, the exterior is… well, the old model’s body grafted on for disguise purposes.

Fortunately, it’s the engine that we’re most interested in for now. Mazda’s engineers are aiming towards 190hp for the 2.0-litre petrol, but it’s not quite there yet. Despite being down on power compared with the finished version, it’s clearly a torquey unit. Accelerate in almost any gear and it will pull, although it doesn’t seem to be quite as free-revving as the current model in 165hp flavour.

It’s much more refined than a diesel, and a new, more adjustable seat design should make it more comfortable for longer journeys. Alterations to the chassis in the form of more bracing and softer tyre sidewalls don’t, on first impressions, appear to have hindered the car’s already class-leading handling.

It’s difficult to draw firm conclusions from our brief drive in the prototype, but it’s fair to say we’re looking forward to seeing the finished version in a year or so. The current Mazda 3 is one of our favourite C-segment hatchbacks, making it a good grounding for the replacement Golf-rival in 2019.

Kai concept car teases new Mazda 3

The new Mazda 3 is likely to take styling cues from the Kai concept car when it arrives in 2019.

Although Mazda hasn’t confirmed that the Kai previews a production model, the five-door hatchback does share the new 3’s Skyactiv architecture and Skyactiv-X engine.

The Kai has been designed with traditional methods using clay. It features Mazda’s Kodo design language and ‘less is more’ philosophy. Its interior follows a similar theme, playing on the firm’s ‘Jinbai Ittai’ connection between car and driver.

As such, there’s a clear divide between the driver and front-seat passenger, while there are two separate seats in the rear.

At 4,420mm long, 1,855mm wide and 1,375mm tall, the Mazda Kai is longer, wider and lower than the current Mazda 3. We doubt the 20-inch alloys of the concept will make it onto the production car, but they form part of a very likeable design.

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Finally: Mazda says what we're all thinking about driverless cars

Finally: Mazda says what we’re all thinking about driverless cars

Finally: Mazda says what we're all thinking about driverless cars

As carmakers move towards greater levels of autonomy, Mazda UK’s managing director has said there’s still a place for people who love driving.

“Yes, self-driving cars are coming and yes, they have a role to play, but for us, there is nothing quite like the physical pleasure of driving,” said Mazda UK’s MD, Jeremy Thomson. “The quickening of the pulse, the racing of the heart, the open road, the special moments to treasure and share.”

It comes as the manufacturer reveals the results of a survey which found that less than a third (29 percent) of European drivers welcome the arrival of autonomous vehicles. A whopping 71 percent, meanwhile, say they’d still want to drive even with self-driving technology available.

Mazda says that it does believe autonomous driving technology has a place, but as a co-pilot, available when required to avoid crashes. The driver, it believes, should be in control of the driving process.

Surprisingly, the research also revealed that 62 percent of UK drivers admit to driving ‘just for fun’, while 70 percent hope that future generations will continue to have the option to drive cars.

Thomson added: “If you look at the car industry in general, we believe that many manufacturers are taking a lot of driving pleasure away from drivers. At Mazda we are fighting against this and it’s clear from the research that there’s still a huge percentage of drivers who just want to be behind the wheel.

“In a world that questions the act of driving and devalues the role of the car and the role of the driver through technological changes, we will continue to challenge convention for the love of driving”.

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