Long-term report: The Mazda3 settles into long-distance shopping duties

They say that heat can do strange things to a person – and in my case, that was driving two and a half hours to the only B&Q that still had an air conditioner in stock.

As the recent extended heat wave hit, I started to feel a bit like the protagonist of the boiling frog fable, whose pot of nice warm water gradually increases in temperature until he’s uh, boiled alive.

Mazda’s 3 has remained a popular choice in the hatchback segment

With the mercury hitting close to 30 degrees, and keen not to suffer the same fate, I hopped in the mighty Mazda 3 and set my sights for Bristol – the only place with anything resembling a fan not yet sold out, for some reason.

Driving anything more than five miles can be a weird experience in these strange times. Distances that you’d have travelled last year – even just for an in-person meeting – can seem over the top and decadent after months of being told not to leave the house.

The rear of the car is smartly designed

The 3, on the other hand, takes these things in its stride. Our car, in Sport Lux trim with 18-inch alloys, is probably a touch on the firm side when it comes to ride, but it’s certainly no worse than the average BMW or Audi in sportier specifications.

The Skyactiv-X engine – a clever 2.0-litre petrol that behaves more like a diesel – isn’t bad either. 50 miles per gallon is manageable without trying too hard, which did at least help mitigate some of the eco guilt from driving 250 miles to pick up an electricity-sapping box full of ozone-eating chemicals.

It’s debatable, though, whether this is actually a worthy replacement for a decent diesel engine. Mazda, in particular, makes some fantastic diesels – the 2.2-litre you’ll find in the 6 saloon and estate is one of the smoothest and quietest you’ll find – and on a motorway shlep like this they’d have bettered the X’s economy too.

Still, for most 3 customers a diesel is probably overkill and – as Muriel’s Wedding patriarch Bill Heslop would say – you can’t stop progress.

The Mazda3’s loading skills were pushed to the limit during a recent trip

Where the 3 really does excel is in its interior. For its price, I reckon the 3 has the most attractive cabin compared to any of its similarly priced rivals. In fact, it’s arguable that it’s a better proposition than the new BMW 1 Series too.

It’s not just in terms of looks either: everything has a solid, premium feel, and you’ll struggle to find anything that would be out of place in a much more expensive car.

Praise be, too, that there’s not a touch screen in sight. Climate controls are logically laid out and, thanks to the tactile rotary dials, it’s easy to adjust the temperature without taking your eyes off the road.

Skyactiv-X technology aims to blend the best of petrol and diesel engines

Even the infotainment screen itself is refreshingly distraction-free. You get a BMW iDrive-style wheel to move around the simply-designed menus, and it’s easy to jump between navigation and audio options using the shortcut buttons.

When it comes to space and practicality though, things are a different story. Mazda has endowed the 3 with some seriously rakish lines – and you have to admit, for a family hatchback it’s quite a looker. The downside of coupe-like looks is coupe-like rear visibility, though: look over your left shoulder and you’d be able to hide a battleship in the 3’s blind spots.

The wide front grille on the Mazda3 is hard to miss

It’s also, I can report, not the easiest vehicle to thread a 30kg home appliance into. Boot space isn’t bad, but the opening is relatively small and has quite a high lip to negotiate objects over. Not so much an issue with your Sainsbury’s bags, but less fun with larger and heavier objects.

Still, it did the job for this particular ill-advised shopping trip. And if I’m being honest, I’d put up with some extra heavy lifting for a car that looks as good as the 3…

  • Model: Mazda3
  • Price: £25,425
  • Engine: 2.0-litre petrol engine
  • Power: 178bhp
  • Torque: 224Nm
  • 0-60mph: 8.0 seconds
  • Top speed: 134mph
  • Fuel economy: 48.7
  • Emissions: 103g/km CO2
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