If you need some perspective of the importance of Mazda3 in Mazda's business plan, then consider its place on the world stage.
It sells in 120 countries and accounts for 30 per cent of Mazda's world-wide volume, heading off CX-5 and Mazda6 which on their own are impressive units.
Now the new Mazda3 is here, bearing all the hallmarks of the genetics first seen in the Mazda6 but a long way from its origins.
The new 3 sits comfortably in what the market calls the C segment of small to medium-sized sedans and hatchbacks. Given that the C segment accounts for a quarter of the Kiwi motor market then the opportunity for the Mazda3 is compelling.
While the GSE hatch is no longer in the line-up, what remains is impressive enough and is offered in sedan or hatch variants.
It starts with the 2-litre GLX auto sedan and hatch at $32,795, moving to the GSX sedan and hatch with the same engine and transmission at $35,595. Then comes the 2.5-litre SP25 range which starts with the SP25 6-speed manual hatch ($38,395), the sedan and hatch SP25 auto ($39,895) and is rounded out by the SP25 LTD sedan or hatch at $47,495.
The good news comes with those prices. The GLX price remains unchanged, the GSX adds $300 to the outgoing model and the SP25 is $1300 cheaper.
The Limited is $3300 dearer but considering its array of technology, some of which is yet to be seen in the Mazda6 range, that's no surprise.
The newcomer has stirred a great deal of interest already. It's been selling like cakes laced with wasabi in Japan and dealer orders in NZ are three months ahead.
As with many car manufacturers these days, Mazda is involved in many partnerships or "alliances" as the industry likes to call them. It's working with Toyota and Fiat in product development and the Mazda3 is being developed in hybrid form but only for the Japanese market at this stage.
Since the first generation, there have been four million Mazda3s sold around the world and Tim Nalden, product planning manager for Mazda NZ, told motoring journalists they were quietly confident of continuing success with the third generation this time around.
It takes its place in a very tough market, inhabited by 52 nameplates sported by 24 brands.
Lower and wider with a longer wheelbase means the car sports a larger interior, copying the face of the Mazda6 and shows off a wider stance. Indeed the car does have a very strong front silhouette.
There's a much more direct interior design with a simplified instrument set up.
Buyers will have the choice of two engines - either a 2-litre (114kW) or 2.5-litre (138kW) with both of them under the SKYACTIV-G banner, delivering better low end torque and more power while providing better fuel figures. Mazda reckons you can achieve 5.8 litres per 100km (combined urban-highway cycle) in the 2 litre and 6.1 litres in the 2.5 litre.
Those who like to "drive" their car will be happy with the fact there is a manual transmission in the mix. It features a nifty engine stop-start system. Stop at the lights, the engine will cut out. You re-ignite things by depressing the clutch pedal.
With a suspension modelled on the Mazda6, the Mazda3 can offer better back-end grip. A trip from Auckland to Cambridge and back proved the point. What's also helping is a much more rigid body which uses 60 per cent high-tensile steel.
But it's in the area of technology that Mazda3 raises the bar and gives it equipment that can be considered class-leading in the segment.
The cabin is a first for Mazda, using two different cabin zones - one focussed on the driver, the other on the passengers. The Active Driving Display in the SP25 models is one of the first heads-up displays in this segment. Technology and info-tainment systems include Mazda's MZD Connect system, a 7-inch touchscreen and rotary commander which controls everything from navigation and communication to social media.
The safety technology has been enhanced with i-ACTIVSENSE which adds blind spot monitoring and rear traffic alert in the GSX, through to the full suite in the SP25 LTD which includes radar monitored cruise control and Smart City Brake Support, again activated by radar sensors that automatically apply the brakes in confined traffic and at low speeds.
The SP25 in manual form is worth a look with a gearbox that delivers changes in very short order, while the auto is absolutely seamless.
Mazda NZ is targeting 1900 sales in the first year of the new Mazda3 which is 11 per cent of the C segment market. And it reckons 80 per cent of those sales will favour the hatch variant.