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NEW A car that stormed the market, the Mazda3 was sweetly timed to take advantage of the shift to smaller cars.
The first 3, launched in 2004, won a huge following in no time and its 2009 successor maintained the momentum.
Mazda had a lot riding on this series as it not only had to hold its own in sales charts but also had to fend off a raft of new rivals — other makers were eager to knock it off its lofty perch.
The maker chose the sensible course and, rather than reinventing the wheel, tweaked the new model.
There was something to suit all needs.
The sedan and hatch variants started with the entry level Neo and escalated to midrange Maxx, sporty SP25 and hotshot MPS turbo.
Categorised as a small car, the Mazda3 in either form has quite a roomy cabin that was well turned-out with neat fittings and quality plastics.
The sedan’s boot was quite generous, and the hatch combined space and flexibility to carry most things a family could want.
A 2.0-litre four-cylinder was the entry petrol engine, then came a 2.5-litre in the sporty SP25 and a 2.3-litre turbo in the hot MPS hatch. In 2011 Mazda introduced a more efficient 2.0litre, enhanced by what it dubbed Skyactiv technologies.
Transmission options, depending on the spec, were five-speed manual or auto, and six-speed manual or auto.
The diesel option was a 2.2litre turbo, fitted solely with a six-speed manual.
On the safety front, most models rated five stars thanks to front and side airbags, the Neo moving up from four stars when it matched that setup in 2011. NOW Owners are generally happy with the Mazda3 and few report any problems of significance. That means used buyers can shop with confidence that a second-hand example will give good and reliable service for some time to come.
The major complaint — one that has haunted the Mazda3 from day one — is road noise. Almost every owner we consulted complained about it and virtually nothing can be done about it.
Over the years we have been asked about fitting different tyres but that doesn’t work. We’ve suggested fitting sound deadening on the floor inside the cabin, a rather extreme thing to do, and few owners are prepared to try it.
The problem in is the design of the body and it’s something owners have to live with.
Mazda petrol engines use a cam timing chain, which doesn’t normally need replacing (as a toothed timing belt does on other engines).
But the chain can wear and stretch, affecting the running of the engine, so note rough running or rattling from the engine of a potential purchase. If there’s any evidence, look elsewhere because replacing the chain is an expensive operation — and if it wears to the point of skipping, it could spell the end of the engine, an even more expensive job.
With its sporty handling, even in base form, the Mazda3 was a popular car with young drivers who might be tempted to push it quite hard. Look for signs of a hard life; also look for a regular servicing record. OWNERS SAY
Our Mazda3 drives well and is comfortable but the road noise drives us nuts.
Our 2009 Maxx Sport has done 52,000km without any problems. It handles well, has a solid feel on the road and handles our rubbish roads well.
Our 2012 model has done 40,000km. It could do with more power and the road noise is terrible.
Our 2012 Neo is excellent. I love the interior, the comfortable seats, the fit and finish, and sporty handling. I just wish it were quieter.
I love my 2011 Neo. It’s zippy, comfortable and economical. I can’t fault it at all. SMITHY SAYS Well built, solid and generally reliable small car that justifies its popularity.