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The famous ‘here, far away’ scene from Father Ted sprang to mind for some reason with this week’s review car. I suppose it was because I was thinking about its fate in the short, and longer, term. Father Ted, as you know, was attempting to demonstrate the meaning of perspective to numbskull Dougal.

So allow me, please, to pursue the analogy with the new Mazda3 hatchback recently on test.

Short term, it’s looking fair enough. And it isn’t just looking fairly good; this car looks so, so good. Coming in off a short stroll around the beautiful Strandhill golf course recently, I couldn’t help but notice how much it stood out in the car park – among some other nice cars, it must be said. The Mazda had that lovely near-coupé look – long bonnet, low slung profile; and mine was bathed in gorgeous, deep Soul Red Crystal metallic.

I lost count of how many people said ‘nice car’ (with accents from Kerry to Derry). Yes it is lovely. Mazda make nice-looking cars. Long may they continue to do so.

However, I would not be nearly as excited about the inside. Even though it has prompted ecstatic praise from some quarters, I thought it dull. More particularly, some of the buttons/instrumentation were near as dammit indecipherable – especially those for ventilation fan-speed. Given the complexity of inputs in any car these days, we need big, tactile buttons for simplicity and certainty of choice for those most frequently used.

It didn’t help that my cabin was shrouded in black leather and dark plastic surfaces (the quality of materials and finish was well above class standard).

Thinking long term, here’s a car I’d expect will still be in good nick long after some rivals have gone. That is the way with Mazda; their cars are built for the long haul and have often proven my short-term verdicts to be off the mark. Nonetheless, I stand by my negative comments.

I do the same for what was an unusually, at times uncomfortably, sharp suspension set up. As I regularly traverse a variety of roads and surfaces, I tune quickly into how a car behaves under a broad span of underfoot conditions.

This was the finest on the clear tarmac of motorway, but was choppy sometimes over poorer, ripply stretches through Westmeath, Roscommon, Leitrim and Sligo. That is unusual for a Mazda. Their ability for smoothness in all departments is renowned. I should point out that one person’s ‘sharpness’ is another’s ‘sportiness’, but in my case, I have it down as a black mark anyway.

And I had some trouble getting my seating position the way I wanted it. Small quibble, but these are the minor differences you notice over time.

Under the bonnet was a 1.8 litre diesel which served me well and will, I presume, continue to work away, for many a year. It covered a fair bit of ground with us; I got a respectable 5.3 litres/100km despite being in pursuit of one particularly tight, if delightful, deadline. It sounded a bit throaty now and again for no apparent reason, but always started as quietly as a petrol. Again you have to ask: how long will an engine like this withstand the anti-diesel onslaught of tax and legislation? I’m delighted to report that Mazda might just be a step ahead of the anti-diesel posse on that front. They are poised to bring in a special type of high-tech petrol engine. I hope to review it for you in October. They claim it combines the best, and more benign, elements of diesel and petrol. That would appear to have a better chance of remaining relevant in the medium-term. But obviously electric is the way they will ultimately have to go – like the rest of them.

So would I buy it? Truth to tell, this Mazda3 challenged me. I loved the looks, admired the craft and the manner of its assembly, but was puzzled, or felt a bit disappointed, by the small things that, compiled, serve to irritate on a continuous-use basis. It certainly needs a bigger, more readily interactive centre screen.

Ultimately, the irony is not lost on me that as a medium-term investment, it is a rock-solid purchase in terms of reliability and I would, if buying, have it in my top three on the shopping list.

But if I were to take a slightly longer-term view, would I be better off getting into a hybrid such as the Toyota Corolla hatchback? My head says definitely yes; my heart isn’t quite as convinced.

Not yet anyway. How near to being convinced, I don’t know, but it’s not that far away, Dougal.

Facts & figures

Mazda3 hatch

1.8 diesel

Price from €26,295; car on test: €36,705. Tax €270, 116PS. Standard spec included high-beam control, radar cruise control, rear-parking sensors, 8.8in display, 7in TFT display, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, two USB ports, satnav.

Upgrades included: 6spd auto, black leather interior, heated front seats, front parking sensor, 12-speaker Bose system.

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