With a pricepoint of $43,890, the turbo-diesel hatch is being pitched right into the European sports turbo-diesel territory of the Ford Mondeo, Skoda Octavia, Volkswagen Passat, Renault Laguna and Peugeot 407.
The Mazda diesel also comes to market against the South Korean Hyundai Grandeur and the yet-to-be launched Honda Accord Euro turbo-diesel. Complementing the hatch is the $36,690 diesel wagon, which is expected to garner most sales.
The Sports hatch is $2900 more than the petrol engine hatch while the wagon is $1490 more than the equivalent petrol wagon. Performance is the key to the car's new found status.
A new 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine replaces the old 2.0-litre unit and eclipse it and most of its direct European rivals on power and torque. The 2.2 develops 136kW at 3500 revs and 400Nm from 1800 to 3000 revs.
Mazda has given it the title of a full-blown performance diesel. Compared to the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, the larger capacity 2.2 increases power by 31kW and torque by 40Nm.
This translates into a zero to 100km/h of 8.5 seconds, 1 second faster than the old engine. The same engine, in a slightly de-tuned form, is expected to go into the new Mazda3 when it arrives in mid-2009.
Mazda marketing boss Alastair Doak says there is an enthusiast niche for the Sports diesel hatch even though it is only available with a six-speed manual.
Doak is not concerned that the price difference between petrol and diesel will act as a disincentive to sales for the new turbo-diesel. "People recognise that added benefits of performance and economy, as well as the environmental benefits of diesel," he says.
"There is a strong group of younger buyers who are also attracted to the technology of diesel. "Roy Morgan research found recently that car enthusiasts are more likely to consider buying a diesel than a hybrid.
"With this car we deliver guilt-free performance driving performance." Mazda claims the 2.2-litre 6 diesel will out accelerate the locally grown V8 performance sedans from Ford and Holden in fourth gear from 80kmh to 120km/h.
Despite the increase in performance the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel has a combined fuel economy figure equal to the 2.0-litre of 5.9 litres/100km. The wagon gets 6.0 litres/100km. The hatch's C02 rating is 156g/km and the wagon 159g/km.
The 2.2-litre four is an exercise in refinement. The engine has chain-driven balance shafts for low noise, vibration and harshness and adopts direct-injection common-rail technology for smoothness. Variable geometry turbocharging is employed for low-speed response and reduced turbo-lag.
The comprehensive equipment levels in the wagon runs to 17-inch alloys, fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, dual-zone climate control, leather steering wheel, lumbar adjustment for the drivers' seat, trip computer, six-disc in dash CD stereo and steering wheel audio controls.
The hatch adds 18-inch alloys, leather trim, adaptive bi-Xenon headlights, front and rear parking sensors, eight-way electric drivers' seat and electric front passenger seat and a premium Bose 240 watt sound system. Safety gear includes six airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, active front headrests and collapsible pedals.
The company expects to sell 70 a month, slightly less than the outgoing 2.0-litre diesel with sales split 50/50 hatch and wagon.