Ready to hatch, the Mazda way?

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The Mazda3 XD Astina has more rev and verve than most small cars that have hit the road in recent times. And it comes in diesel
Nearly 10 years ago, Audi changed the way we thought about diesel powered cars by winning the Le Mans 24 Hour with just such an engine. Admittedly it was a pretty impressive diesel engine, but it was more about what it represented to the world and the shifting of the performance paradigm that made it impressive.

Which brings us to Mazda… the car company that for many years fired our hearts with high revving rotary engines to provide its performance edge. It too now has started down the diesel path for performance, and what a job it has done. The best car in the Mazda3 line-up is the XD Astina and it uses the diesel from the CX5 and the bigger Mazda6 for grunt.

The Mazda3 XD Astina is a good looking small hatch in the Mazda design theme – Kodo they call it. You know who its brothers and sisters are, and while some of the interior design features are a bit annoying – sorry I just don’t like the dash, all I can think of is how I will clean the dust out of the crevices – the exterior is sleek and seductive.

We tried two models, both with deep red paintwork but one boasted an artificial carbon-fibre roof which was interesting. Simple thing that, but it looked purposeful and ready to run.

Which is good, because that is exactly what this car does whether in manual or auto form — the manual incidentally is a beautiful little box with great feel and is the pick of the litter.

The engine’s a gem, it pulls like a steam train from down low in the rev range and runs all the way to the rev limit with verve. But the torque spread means you can hold gears and get it to pull out of corners easily. Be warned though, that great sporty engine note is artificially pumped through the Bose stereo, so it won’t sound the same when you zoom by.

It is sure-footed too. You get the occasional twitch from the front end, but otherwise it just hunkers down and takes the corners.

Safety-wise it has pretty much all the gadgets too, including bi-xenon headlights that turn up to 15 degrees in the direction you are turning. There’s also blind-spot monitoring, forward collision, lane departure and rear cross-traffic alerts, and auto emergency braking just to help you out of any problems you can’t see.

There’s a name for everything from the i-ACTIVSENSE (which packages the safety gear) and SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY (which has something to do with why the engine barely drinks, the gearbox works well and the chassis is under control).

What you get here is not really a hot hatch, but an incredibly fast small car that crushes kilometres with a smile. And it will do it with reliability and great retained value. But the diesel is expensive, so be prepared to pay for that extra bit of class.