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The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Used Car -

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.

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