Mazda has gone for a mon­ster tweak, writes PAUL GOVER

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page -

JAN­UARY of 2008 was a mon­ster month for Mazda in Aus­tralia. It was the first time the Ja­panese brand had ranked No.1, when its com­pact Mazda3 un­seated the Holden Com­modore as the coun­try’s favourite car.

That victory was the only one so far in the com­pany’s 50 years in Aus­tralia, but it showed the in­cred­i­ble pop­u­lar­ity of the com­pact 3. And the job was done with the su­per­seded model, which was al­ready well into run-out.

The new Mazda3 is al­ready de­vel­op­ing a strong show­room rep­u­ta­tion thanks to the fol­low­ing the car has gained since it ar­rived in Jan­uary 2004 as the suc­ces­sor to the 323.

But the new 3 is not the sort of seis­mic change that came with the orig­i­nal. This is more of a mon­ster facelift than a rein­ven­tion.

The old ‘‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’’ line has worked well for a range of mak­ers in re­cent years. The lat­est Volk­swa­gen Golf had only a tickle, Nis­san kept the me­chan­i­cals and re­did the body for its new Mu­rano, and even Porsche re­sorted to the same tac­tic with its 911.

In the case of the 3, the ba­sics were al­ways right. It was con­ceived with the right size and equip­ment, a solid driv­e­line and the sort of styling and qual­ity you ex­pect from a Mazda.

The 2009 re­work means a new body, worth­while cabin im­prove­ments and a tickle on the en­gine, trans­mis­sion and sus­pen­sion to make it more ef­fi­cient without los­ing driv­ing en­joy­ment. Mazda says it is the com­pany’s green­est car yet.

The new 3 lineup is what you would ex­pect, from the $21,990 Neo, avail­able as sedan and hatch, to the 2.5-litre SP25 from $30,690.

A new tur­bocharged MPS pocket rocket is on the way and, in the fu­ture, a new diesel car as Ja­panese mak­ers con­tinue their slow but steady con­ver­sion to the al­ter­na­tive fuel.

Ba­sics across the range run from twin airbags and ESP sta­bil­ity con­trol to air­con­di­tion­ing, a new-style trip com­puter and cen­tral lock­ing.

Lux­ury, safety and con­ve­nience in­crease through the range and the SP25 tops out, if you tick all the boxes, with leather trim, a sun­roof, Blue­tooth phone con­nec­tion, a larger dis­play screen in­clud­ing sat­nav, and six airbags.

But the most im­por­tant job was get­ting the ba­sics right, and Mazda did it with ev­ery­thing from the ‘‘gi­ant smile’’ new grille to the sus­pen­sion set­tings. It went back to check its orig­i­nal work on the 3 and tweaked and im­proved ev­ery­thing that needed it.

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