By Andy Enright
The first generation Mazda3 was a cruelly underappreciated thing. With much the same talented underpinnings as the Ford Focus, it should have been a sales winner but it never really took off. The second generation car, launched in 2009, featured bolder styling and better interior quality but again sales were surprisingly modest. Still, a talented car that doesn't catch the public's imagination is a perfect recipe for a used car bargain and that's exactly what the tidy Mazda hatch serves up.
5dr hatch (1.6, 2.0, 2.3 petrol, 1.6, 2.2 diesel [S, TS, TS2, Tamura, Sport, MPS])
We are anything but a nation that rewards cars on merit. Look at some of the cars we've propelled to the top of the sales charts down the years to realise this. While the frankly brilliant Ford Fiesta was being spanked by the underwhelming Peugeot 206 in the sales charts, Mazda was having a distinctly tough time convincing punters to part with their hard earned cash for its excellent Mazda3 hatch. The first generation car, which campaigned between 2003 and 2009 was a solid thing that drove better than most of its rivals and now makes a great used buy. What it never had was any great styling panache. It looked like an identikit Japanese hatchback. 2009 saw the launch of a second generation Mazda3. With far more expressive styling it again provoked apathy from the British public. The top brass in Hiroshima must have wondered what it needed to do to get this strange island race to buy its cars. The 2010 Tamura special edition didn't do much to kick start sales. Here was a keenly priced, good looking car that was sharp to drive and which had figured out the lowered emissions and improved fuel economy was the big sales trigger long before many of its rivals and it has, relatively speaking, tanked. Logic? Your guess is as good as mine.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Mazda3 has proven one of the UK's most reliable small cars and not a whole lot goes wrong. The stereo system can fail to recognise MP3 files on occasion and the 2.0-litre diesel engine diesel particulate filter can fail to regenerate itself. The MPS model is very susceptible to misaligned suspension so check for uneven tyre wear. Other than that, the Mazda3 is a dependable partner.
(Estimated prices, based on a Mazda3 1.6S). Consumables are quite reasonably priced. An air filter is around £14 and a fuel filter retails at round £24. An oil filter is £6, spark plugs are about £3 and a timing belt is around £40.
On the Road
Mazda has been a little guarded in the past over the mechanical similarity its products bear to Ford ones but the links are obvious in the engine bay. Mainstream buyers are presented with three diesel engine options and three petrols. The oil-burners kick off with the 1.6 MZ-CD unit which develops 113bhp. With 270Nm from just 1,750rpm, it's a capable option. More satisfying will be either of the 2.2-litre MZR-CD diesels, versions of an engine that also powers the Ford Mondeo. The units produce 148bhp and 183bhp respectively with the latter offering up its 400Nm maximum torque all the way from 1,800 to 4,000rpm.Aside from these diesels, there are 1.6-litre 103bhp and 2.0-litre 148bhp petrol options with the more powerful unit available in i-stop form with stop/start technology. That just leaves the 256bhp 2.3-litre turbo unit in the MPS hot hatch. The Mazda rides on a sophisticated chassis with MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. It's a configuration the car shares with the sharpest handling models in the family hatchback class. Mazda has also paid great attention to the 3's chassis rigidity and electro-hydraulic power steering in pursuit of a sporty driving experience.
The Mazda3 is a car that still feels bang up to date and is just that little bit different to the normal welter of Focuses, Meganes and Astras. Low mileage used examples represent one of the sharpest family hatch buys around at the moment, so get in quick before the word gets out.