One in 100 Mazda 3 buyers will own the range-topping XD Astina. We're not talking about a limited edition here but a diesel powerhouse wrapped in all the luxury Mazda can poke into its benchmark small car.
That'll confuse many buyers, especially when they see the $40,000-plus price, putting it $4000 above the comparable petrol model. Until a full-blown MPS model arrives - and it will arrive - this is the quickest real-world Mazda3 in the pack.
The Japanese maker owns the private buyers' small car market and has decided that gives it licence to try out a niche model that may prove a surprise hit, given it doesn't have a direct competitor, given the demise of the VW Golf GTD.
The diesel 3 is a techno-laden hatch (no, you can't have it as a sedan) that bridges the gap between frugal grand tourer and hot hatch. The 0-100km/h time of 7.7 seconds for the six-speed manual doesn't do justice to the roll-on performance of this car.
Neither do the tyres, which give up before either the chassis or suspension are finished doing their thing. That's a long way past the typical driving limits but is still the weak link here.
Given its astonishing 420Nm on tap, courtesy of the same engine found in the Mazda6 and CX-5, no other rival diesel comes close. Still, despite what Mazda rates as the competition, it isn't going to challenge a VW Golf GTI or Ford Focus ST in the hearts and minds of small-car performance fans. It doesn't have to. Where it excels is in creature comforts and everyday dynamics.
Standard gear runs from the head-up display to leather and suede-trimmed seats with in-built heaters for the front pair, seven-inch touchscreen with satnav (though the graphics aren't first-rate), adaptive cruise control and blind-spot and lane departure warnings.
A six-speed auto adds $2000 to the equation and the "Soul Red" paintwork - which appears on better than one in five examples of the new model, costs another $200.
The ride is firm without ever approaching harsh and the extra weight over the front end is felt only at silly speeds. In just about all other normal driving conditions, the diesel is just a more responsive, more frugal and more fun version of the 3.
To help achieve the claimed 5.0L/100km, the XD Astina is also the first Mazda3 fitted with the i-Eloop capacitor setup, which stores braking energy to operate the electronics. The comparable petrol model, the SP25 Astina, uses 6.0L without the capacitor and with an auto transmission. And that $4000 price difference will buy a lot of fuel.
What it won't buy is the XD Astina's effortless overtaking ability - the car has few peers in a 60-120km/h roll-on run. The diesel engine is as refined as any oilburner but Mazda, not content to let owners listen to its stress-free snarl, pumps an artificial, petrol-engine-ish sound into the cabin via the speakers.
They should have paid more attention to the road and tyre noise, an issue that blights an otherwise excellent package - even if it is a vast improvement over the previous version.