Mazda3: mission accomplished

Mazda hatchbacks never used to be particularly accomplished. This Mazda3 is different. JUNE NEARY reports.Will it suit me?Back in the Eighties, Mazda hatches used to be the automotive equivalent of white goods.

Mazda hatchbacks never used to be particularly accomplished. This Mazda3 is different. JUNE NEARY reports.

Will it suit me?

Back in the Eighties, Mazda hatches used to be the automotive equivalent of white goods. You bought a 323 if you had no interest in motoring but wanted a reliable scoot that your friends wouldn't laugh at.

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These days those sort of tactics aren't anything like enough to cut the mustard in the cut-throat family hatch sector and Mazda's current foray into this market, the second-generation Mazda3, is a whole lot more accomplished. I even caught a few passers-by giving it the rubber-neck treatment, such is its sleek styling.

The car delivered to me for a week was a 1.6-litre diesel model and it seemed very well built. It's the sort of car I like - good-looking but not showy, with five-door practicality, promising keen reliability and not averse to showing its playful side.

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The steering wheel and driver-orientated dials look very sporting and there are some nicely-detailed metallic touches dotted about the cabin. Interior accommodation is middle ranking, Mazda perhaps deciding that if customers in this price range really want to maximise the sheer amount of cubic inches available in the cabin, they'll likely opt for something like a Mazda5 mini-MPV.

The Mazda3 isn't huge in the back and the small rear doors don't open particularly wide but headroom is very good, despite the swoopy styling.

The front pair of passengers should have no difficulty getting comfortable although one drawback of the thick rear pillars is somewhat limited rear three-quarter visibility when reversing or doing a 'lifesaver' check when switching lane.

Behind the wheel

The main news on the engine front has been the adoption of Mazda's impressive 2.2-litre MZR-CD diesel engine, the 148 and 183bhp versions of which will, hope the importers, give it a useful power advantage over comparably- priced diesel family hatchbacks. Stir the six-speed gearbox into action and 62mph from rest in the more powerful model takes just 8.2 seconds - in other words, a couple of seconds quicker than a plush Focus 2.0 TDCi. That, and in particular the 400Nm of torque, is a difference you really notice in day-to-day motoring.

The rest of the engines are pretty much carry-over from the old range - entry-level 1.6-litre petrol and diesel units will form the mainstay of sales - but here again some useful tweaks have enabled Mazda to make the most of what it has. The 148bhp 2.0-litre petrol option, for example, has a start/stop function, cutting the engine in traffic or at lights to drive down costs.

Value for money

Prices range mainly in the �14,000 to �21,000 bracket common to most mainstream family hatchbacks. Most mainstream buyers choose the five-door hatchback we're looking at here, but more conservative customers can also choose a minority interest four-door saloon.

Could I live with one?

It would be difficult to find anybody who'd have an issue with the Mazda3. It's a very versatile, all-things-to-all-people sort of car that never lapses into blandness. If you plan to keep your Mazda3 for a long time or rack up high mileages, one of the two diesels may work out more cost-effective. Whichever model you choose it's hard to pick a meaningful Achilles heel.

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