The Mazda3 made its Australian debut in January 2004 replacing the uninspiring Mazda 323. It shares the same platform as the Ford Focus and Volvo’s new S40 and V50 but do not be mistaken in thinking that the Mazda3 is just a re-hashed Ford Group offering – it is a distinctively different car. It’s available in both hatchback and sedan guises, and uniquely the sedan was designed as a separate model, not the normal compromised re-design of the hatchback variant.
Many of the Mazda3’s characteristics have been inherited from the Mazda6 and RX-8 and they all share the unmistakable Mazda family styling. The Mazda3 range encompasses both petrol and diesel variants and prices range from $20,990 for the 2.0-litre Neo to $43,690 for the 2.3-litre MPS.
Our test car for this article was the 2.0-litre petrol hatch. As you would expect of Mazda the engine is particularly quiet and refined – so much so that when you come to a halt at a road junction you may think that the car has stalled.
The standard five-speed gearbox is superb and each gear change was smooth and precise, making it a joy to change up and down through the gears. A 4-speed automatic transmission is available in both hatchback and sedan versions.
Mazda has created an exceptionally stable car with excellent driving dynamics and exceptional levels of grip. The overall ride is both reassuring and firm and you do feel in touch with the road surface. In my opinion this is not a problem as the Mazda3 rewards you with an exhilarating driving experience.
All-round disc brakes with ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System), EBD (Electronic Brake-Force Distribution) and EBA (Emergency Brake Assist) are standard on all models above the base model, Neo, and ensure that the Mazda3 brakes reassuringly well.
A great deal of thought has gone into the ergonomics of the Mazda3 and this really shows. The cabin is spacious with excellent head and leg room in both the front and rear. Visibility is good all round with few blind spots, making the Mazda3 easy to park and manoeuvre.
The dashboard is ergonomically laid out, simple and uncluttered. All the controls are tactile and stylish and, most importantly, logically laid out with everything to hand. The steering wheel incorporates the stereo controls which keep your hands where they belong safely on the wheel.
The Mazda3’s wide tailgate opening has a low sill facilitating easy loading of bulky items. Also the rear seats and passenger seat have a 60/40 rear split and fold flat for extra space when required.
The designers of the Mazda3 have created a bold and stylish car. At the rear of the vehicle a circular theme prevails and the clear rear light lenses incorporate three circles for the brake lights, reversing lights and indicators.
If you are in the market for a small car, this one is a must on your shopping list. It has funky good looks, oozes with safety features and drives well.
Price: $20,990-$43,690
Engine: 2.0-litre four, 2.3-litre four, 2.0-litre turbo diesel
Power: 105kW-115kW
Torque: 182Nm-360Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic
For: Great drive, great looks
Against: Diesel a little pricey

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