So, why did Mazda commit to driving its new Mazda3 15,000kms across Europe and Asia, from the factory in Hiroshima to its official unveiling at the Frankfurt Motor Show on September 10? Simple, because it’s the most important car in its range.
More than 3.5 million Mazda3 models have been sold worldwide, and it sits in the most competitive sector in the industry, going head-to-head with the likes of the VW Golf and the Ford Focus.
The car I used to cover the best part of 2000kms in three days was a pre-production 118bhp 2.0-litre petrol five-door hatchback, mid-spec SEL fitted with the standard six-speed annual gearbox.
This is expected to be the big-seller in the UK, and is expected to cost £18,500 when it enters UK showrooms in January. The four-door saloon, which is only expected to account for 15% of sales, will be launched at the same time.
The range will start with a 97bhp 1.5 petrol, which will cost £16,500, plus there will be a 2.2-litre diesel producing 147bhp and capable of 72mpg, and emitting 104g/km.
The 118bhp 2.0-litre test car will return 55mpg and emit 119g/km.
There will also be a higher-powered petrol in the range, the 163bhp version of the 2.0-litre petrol: this will return 49mpg and emit 135g/km.
All engines across the range will be fitted with Mazda’s innovative SkyActiv technology.
Having spent three days in the car — No3 in the Mazda convoy – I can certainly confirm it’s comfortable. Even after the 14-hours spent behind the wheel on the longest day, there were no aches and pains when I got out.
All the tactile buttons and knobs in the cabin feel solid, with black, soft-touch plastics and chrome highlights.
Of course, the final specs of the cars which will come to the UK have yet to be finalised, but higher-grade models will definitely get an elevated screen with functions such as smartphone connectivity controlled by a BMW iDrive-style wheel in front of the central armrest.
There will also a be a head-up display — likely to be standard on the Sport-spec models — but all versions will be fitted with automatic emergency braking which will bring the car to a halt safely at speeds under 19mph.
Mazda expects to sell 9000 models of the new Mazda3 next year, but I think that’s being pessimistic. Once people see its good-looking, headturning styling, and get the car out on to the road, I think they’ll be looking at closer to 12,000.
The Mazda3′s definitely one of the best-looking cars in its class, certainly in hatchback form.
Mazda’s designers have evolved the Japanese company’s ‘Kodo’ design language, and the new car features the same stretched bonnet and face as the larger Mazda6 saloon. The result is an eye-catching, handsome car.
The one thing I can certainly praise — having spent all this time coping with road surfaces from billiard-table-smooth to rough, boulder-strewn gravel tracks — is that Mazda has got the suspension well and truly nailed.
On smooth roads, it simply glides, yet on the roughest terrain — far worse than the car will ever have to deal with in real life — it soaked up everything that was thrown at it, including potholes deep enough to swallow a family of four.
The car always managed to feel light and effortless – especially in town — and the manual six-speed gearshift was like the proverbial knife-through-butter: though I have to admit to crashing the gears a couple of times as I avoided oncoming lorries determined to take my space on my side of the road. Russian truck drivers? Don’t you love ‘em?
Overall, with its cosseting cabin and nimble handling, allied to its impressive pace and smooth ride, the all-new Mazda3 was a lovely, relaxing place in which to complete my Siberian adventure.
And given the fact its prices will certainly significantly undercut main rivals like the Golf, I’d fully expect the Mazda3 to quickly become a class favourite.
If you enjoyed this RoadTest, then why not find out more about the journey: