However, there’s more to Mazda’s Ford Focus rival than clever stuff under the bonnet. For starters, the svelte looks have already won favour with the vast majority in the Autocar office. The old model was hardly ugly, but at a stroke it’s made to look lumpen and clumsy by the curvy, clean and minimalist lines of the new model. The proportions, too, mark it out from rivals: that strikingly low bonnet, the low roof and steep rake of the rear window, and the chunky C-pillar give it a distinctive identity, as do the neat front and rear light clusters.
It all means that, in my view, this is the prettiest car in its class, and despite my disappointment that we weren’t getting a Soul Red one, I’m happy with the combination of Machine Grey, black wheels and, especially, the burgundy leather. Ah yes, that interior: another reason to go for the Mazda over the more obvious class choices.
The first thing that strikes you on entering is the perception of quality brought about by everything you touch and interact with. Door cards and armrests are plushly padded, switchgear feels expensively hewn and damped and the material mix is far more Mercedes than Mazda. It’s really impressed everyone who’s been on board so far.
And unlike our now departed long-term A-Class, which I personally felt was more about superficial chintz than actual substance inside, the ergonomic execution seems near-perfect. Niggles will no doubt emerge as the months tick by, but a thousand miles in and I’m struggling to find fault.
There are physical buttons for the things you use regularly, such as the climate controls, simple music functions and some driver assist features. But even the functions that are buried in the infotainment are easily accessible, as Mazda (along with BMW) is one of the last to keep the super-intuitive rotary click wheel, which combines with simple, clear menus to make every task a doddle. Other manufacturers, take note: your cars are getting more frustrating to operate because of the over-reliance of touchscreen fingerprint magnets and dodgy voice control.
Not that the Mazda is lacking on the kit front. Our GT Sport trim is one rung below top spec, and it’s crammed with features like heated leather seats (electric on the driver’s side), a heated steering wheel, a 12-speaker Bose sound system, a head-up display – the list goes on. You don’t need to splash out on our spec, though: even base models get LED headlights, traffic-sign recognition and – amazingly – radar cruise control. The Mazda’s keyless entry is great, too, allowing you to lock the car with a swipe of the door handle – useful, as the key isn’t the most pleasant thing to behold.