Just look at it! The handsomely styled new Mazda3 is here at last and it’s come to steal sales from rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf, Renault Megane, Opel Astra and even the Audi A3, to name but a few. The 3 is an important product for Mazda.

Sportiness and style may give the Mazda3 an advantage with enthusiasts looking for a new ride, but when your competitors include the venerable Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla,

Whether you pick the five-door hatch or four-door sedan, the new Mazda3 certainly is a looker. Stealing design cues from the recent Mazda Kai Concept, it utilizes a fine blend of sharp lines and swooping curves to help it stand out from its rivals. The designers have also made the A-pillars as slim as possible to help reduce blind spots when navigating through our obstacle-rich urban environments.

Firstly, there are 4 trim grades to consider: the entry-level Active, mid-level Dynamic, up-spec Individual, plus the top-of-the-range Astina.

While some may have been wondering whether Mazda would introduce its new 132 kW/224 Nm 2.0-litre SkyActiv-X engine with spark-controlled compression ignition, the Hiroshima-based marque has opted for a pair of naturally-aspirated SkyActive-G petrol engines: a 88 kW/153 Nm 1.5 litre, which replaces the previous 77 kW/144 Nm 1.6-litre unit, and a range-topping 2.0 litre with peak outputs of 121 kW and 213 Nm.

The 1.5-litre engine is offered in Active guise (exclusively with a 6-speed manual gearbox), while 1.5 Dynamic and 1.5 Individual derivatives are available with either the stick shift or a 6-speed automatic transmission.

The refinement continues on the inside of the new Mazda3… We liked the classy, minimalist design approach of the outgoing Mazda3 and the Hiroshima-based firm has further upped its game with the next-generation compact hatchback and sedan. You’ll notice the cupholders have now moved ahead of the gear lever and, to enhance the cockpit’s driver-centric approach, the screens and controls are angled towards the driver. For the music lovers, Mazda and sound partner, BOSE, have developed a high-end audio system, which includes 12 speakers and a subwoofer!

What more can you ask from a budget-conscious stunner that handles and feels like a German sports sedan? Usually, nothing. But in this case, a slightly more civic approach to ergonomics and suspension would go a long way. I leave convinced that owning a Mazda3 would considerably increase the number of times one smiles throughout the day.

By Noni Nchwe