It has also meant an unprecedented number of vehicles sharing engines. The Mazda3 diesel we recently took delivery of has a 1.6-litre common-rail turbodiesel engine.
The current count shows this engine is also available in five other completely different vehicles (the Ford Focus C-MAX, Peugeot 206, Peugeot 307, Peugeot 407 and Citroen Xsara Picasso), with three others on the horizon (Citroen C4, new Ford Focus and Volvo S40).
Bear in mind that the Mazda3 also shares other components with the Ford Focus C-MAX, Volvo S40/V50 and the forthcoming Ford Focus and you realise the problems manufacturers have in making their vehicles feel unique or at least characteristic of their marque.
With Mazda’s ‘zoom-zoom’ campaign in full swing, the Mazda3 has probably had a lacklustre start.
Although we haven’t had a full opportunity to sample 2.0-litre versions (with a handy 147bhp), the bulk of sales before the diesel launch would have been the 102bhp 1.6-litre model, with the 74bhp 1.4-litre making up the rest.
The diesel is a 107bhp version of the 1.6-litre second-generation common-rail turbodiesel and it goes up against the larger 1.9 TDI in the Volkswagen Golf, as well as the 100bhp 1.7 CDTi in the Vauxhall Astra and the 100bhp 1.5 dCi in the Megane among others. Diesels in this class are now routinely expected to achieve 55mpg-plus on the combined cycle and it will be interesting to see over the next six months how close our test car gets to the 56.5mpg claimed by the manufacturer.
Our test car is not Euro IV-compliant – those cars will become available over the next few months. But with carbon dioxide emissions of just 138g/km, ours offers the stability of low tax bills for some time to come. It certainly feels more sprightly than the Mazda3 it replaced on our long-term fleet – its 177lb-ft of torque making its presence felt from just 1,750rpm.
I don’t know whether Mazda’s marketing department feels that those driving diesels are skinflints but, as yet, the Mazda3 diesel comes in either S or TS trim (our test car is the higher grade car), with no TS2 or Sport model.
It means the car does without climate control, electric rear windows, trip computer and one or two other items. The only options are metallic paint at £300 (specified on our test car) and an electric sunroof priced at £500.
Whether there is a grand plan to introduce the 2.0-litre common-rail diesel in the Ford-PSA partnership, with 136bhp, into the Mazda3 is not yet clear, although the range does feel incomplete with just the one diesel variant.
However, the 1.6-litre has just enough ‘zoom-zoom’ about it to make it fun, with the only initial grumble being a sticky, squeaky gearshift and a driver’s floor mat whose double layer under the heel seems desperate to become a single layer, as the stitching or glue appears to have given up.
But it is proving to be a capable long-distance cruiser, providing a comfortable round-trip from Lincolnshire to Dorset. More on that next month. Simon Harris
What we expect
Diesel will be big fleet choice
WE have said in the past that the Mazda3 lacks the sparkle present in the Mazda6, but the 1.6-litre diesel should be the best prospect for fleets to date, with a willing diesel engine and remarkable fuel consumption claims. It has already racked up nearly 2,000 miles since it was delivered about a month ago and we can expect it to see its first service at 9,000 miles before it is returned.
Price (OTR) £14,800
CO2 emissions (g/km) 138
Company car tax bill 2004/05 (22% tax-payer) £48 per month
Insurance group 5
Power (bhp/rpm) 107/4,000
Torque (lb-ft/rpm) 177/1,750
Combined mpg 56.5
Test mpg 52.1
CAP Monitor residual value £5,150/35%
HSBC contract hire rate £311 per month
Expenditure to date Nil
Figures based on three-years/60,000-miles
The manufacturer’s view: Gaining fleet ground all the time
MAZDA realises that it must have good diesels to compete in Europe and the new engine is a world apart from the old 2.0-litre turbodiesel in the 323. It means the 1.6-litre diesel in the Mazda 3 is able to build on the existing strengths of the car. Mazda fleet and remarketing director David McGonigle said: ‘Mazda has been hugely successful in establishing itself in the fleet sector through a fast-growing reputation for innovative styling, high levels of build quality, excellent reliability and low operating costs.
‘The Mazda3 diesels continue that trend and the residual value projections show they are excellent value-for-money models with residual value savings to be made against more established opposition.’