Production of the facelifted 2012 Mazda3 has begun in Japan ahead of the popular small car’s launch in Australia later this year.

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We got our first look at the new Mazda3 at last month’s Australian International Motor Show in Melbourne, in the form of a blue SP20 hatch.

The refreshed 2012 Mazda3 is a little less ‘in your face’ than the current model, and exhibits a more refined front and rear design as well as new alloy wheels.

The biggest changes take place beneath the metal. The 2012 Mazda3 will introduce the Japanese brand’s all-new SkyActiv technology to Australia.

The Mazda3 SP20 SkyActiv will be powered by a 2.0-litre direct-injection petrol engine and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The new engine produces 113kW of power (at 6000rpm) and 194Nm of torque (at 4100rpm) – 5kW/12Nm more than the outgoing 2.0-litre MZR engine.

Mazda says the SkyActiv-Drive six-speed transmission integrates the key advantages of automatic, continuously variable and dual-clutch transmissions to enhance fuel efficiency and driving enjoyment.

Mazda promises the new model will have improved driving dynamics, offering a more nimble and comfortable ride thanks to revised front and rear suspension settings.

The 2012 Mazda3 SP20 SkyActiv will also be the first vehicle sold in Australia with the award-winning ‘i-stop’ idle start/stop engine technology. Mazda says the SP20 will become Australia’s most fuel efficient petrol-powered automatic small car. Expect combined cycle figures around 6.0 litres/100km when it arrives.

For the rest of the range, the existing powertrains are expected to continue in the updated model. The SP20 model will most likely to add to the line-up rather than replace any current variants when it hits showrooms towards the end of the year.

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