Success comes in 3s for Mazda hatch

Iain Dooley, PA senior motoring writer, checks outs the solid, dependable and stylish Mazda3 hatchback.

Engines – In years past the bias was noticeably more towards petrol. However, as Mazda focused more closely on the European market, the 3 was eventually offered with a modest selection of oil-burners. The familiar petrol units contrast with the surprisingly good diesels – good enough to please company car drivers and fleet managers.

Exterior – An unusual departure from its predecessor, this Mazda3's flowing bonnet and bold 'mouth' couldn't be further from the older car's conservative appearance. In every other way it's a conventional-looking hatchback. Its modest footprint belies its good-size cabin, though.

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Interior – Unlike its exterior, the interior is surprisingly conservative. Dark plastics dominate the cabin, and they're of sufficient quality to put the car alongside higher-priced premium alternatives. There's enough room for a growing family and the rear seats will fold to release more boot space when needed.

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Driving – The Mazda3 is something of a dark horse as, despite the conservative approach from its maker, the car is surprisingly good to drive. Hot MPS version aside, the 3 is no rocketship but it handles well and is largely quirk-free. This all-rounder character is reinforced by the competent engine range – the quiet petrol and frugal diesel units are fine performers.

Ownership – Like so many high-volume Japanese cars, the Mazda3 delivers a relatively painless ownership experience. Durable cars by design, they're easy to drive and won't cost the earth to run. Refinement levels are good too, making long distance journeys especially relaxing.

What to look for – Like Skodas and other cars boasting high levels of retail sales, it's hard to find a duff Mazda3 because their owners value them and look after them. Gaps in the service history or an abundance of parking dents should have you looking elsewhere, as should anything that doesn't feel right on the test-drive.

Model history – 2009, Mazda launches new range of mid-size 3 models, with the five-door hatchback forming the bulk of the range. With a generous level of standard kit plus its bold looks, Mazda hoped to move into the mainstream family hatch market. Buyers were offered a choice of petrol engines and an expanded range of diesel units with competitive economy and emissions figures. A 'hot-hatch MPS variant was also available.

Reasons to buy – Solid and dependable, refinement, brand values, ownership experience.

Reasons to beware – Design doesn't appeal to everyone, driving experience lacks sparkle, diesels could be cleaner.

Pick of the range – Mazda3 1.6 TS2.

What to pay – 2009 09 �9,800; 2009 59 �10,225; 2010 10 �11,050; 2010 60 �11,550; 2011 11 �12,500. Showroom prices for cars in A1 condition.

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