Irish drivers, particularly those living in rural areas, have a great gra for saloons. The current Mazda3 model has a 75/25 per cent saloon versus hatchback history, but this statistic may be about to change dramatically, according to importers Mazda Ireland.
The new Mazda3 will arrive here in November for 2014 sales, and marketing executive Richard Molloy says the future may be a 50/50 balance on the sales charts because of the striking features of the hatchback.
But one should never underestimate the drawing power of the three-box design with Irish motorists. Rival Japanese car-maker Toyota has been damn glad to have the Corolla to bolster the sales of the Auris in this toughly fought family car segment of the market. In fact there is a new Corolla on the way and the Mazda3 saloon and Corolla will go head to head next year.
Swept-back headlights, the shield grille and bulging front wheel arches give the new model a cool, modern look. In fact, it looks like a baby version of the much-admired Mazda6. Long and sleek, the saloon version looks as if you are getting more for your money but the hatchback is just as spacious inside and, of course, it is much more versatile when it comes to carrying bigger objects.
Mazda is coy about talking prices pre-launch, but it is being targeted at the VW Golf and Jetta so one can expect starting prices to be in the region of €23,000 for the 1.5-litre petrol version. Add an extra €1,500-€2,000 for the entry-level diesel versions. Interestingly, the saloon arrives in the showrooms before the "wow" factor of the hatchback hits us!
What will impress is the level of equipment. Depending on the model level chosen, there is state-of-the-art connectivity including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and cruise control is also included. The target is the Golf Comfortline. The cockpit is driver-friendly and roomy for both driver and passenger. All mid-sized family cars have to strike a balance between rear legroom and boot space so it will be interesting to see if Mazda3 comes up with the right answer.
Bright interior colours would highlight the solid interior, but Mazda seems to favour plain colours such as grey, which can look rather drab.
Some of the most interesting aspects of the new arrival are under the bonnet. There will be disappointment that there is just one petrol engine on offer with just one level of power output.
A new Sky Activ 1.5-litre unit puts out 100 bhp and 119 gms of C02. While the fuel consumption figures look good on paper 5L/100km (56.5 mpg), one wonders if this will give a full-on performance of power and economy under a full load. There really should be more options here as petrol power is coming back into favour.
On the diesel front there is also just one engine on offer we are told, a 2.2-litre that puts out 150 bhp, which Mazda says is capable of returning 3.9L/100km (72 mpg). But apparently UK journalists have been given the nod that a 1.6-litre diesel unit with up to 80 mpg economy is on the way. One hopes so, motorists like choice and a 1.6 litre would more likely have better residual value because of fears over insurance issues with the bigger CC unit.
But the 2.2-litre unit is an exceptionally good engine used in other Mazda models, and thanks to the use of high-tensile steel, stop-start technology and low weight construction in the body of the car, the C02 level is down to 104g/km, which means lower road tax.
The economy is also helped by an efficient six-speed manual transmission with the option of an equally economical six-speed automatic gear change.