Mazda is one of those car manufacturers whose cars whilst respected and well received by the automotive media tend to be overlooked in the marketplace. It’s hard to pin down why this is…tidy handling and reliable, I guess the main fault which can be leveled at many past Mazdas is their dull styling (and to a lesser extent interiors). However, by building on the strengths of the widely recognized MX-5 Mazda were, in the mid-00’s, able to carve out a niche in the market as a marker of cars that made you go ‘zoom zoom’…or so the adverts said.
This coincided with a shift in the naming strategy of the company; models such as the 323 and 626 were replaced by singular numbers (3 and 6 respectively), and their product line diversified to include models which might appeal more to the American market (its largest…albeit not profitable). They also benefitted from a (now defunct) partnership with Ford, which allowed them to share platforms and engines…the Mazda 3 being based on the well respected Ford Focus ‘C1’ platform.
Launched in 2003, the 3 has always been available in 2 bodystyles; 5 door hatch or 4 door saloon. Although neither of the original models offered particularly daring styling they were still moderately attractive enough to receive positive feedback and ensure a visual link with the other models in Mazda’s portfolio. Admittedly not as fun to drive as the Focus, the 3 offers tidy handling and a reasonable ride in a package which is slightly cheaper and has better residuals. In the US, the lack of a second generation Focus on the C1 platform meant that the 3 became renowned for its sportiness, something which was enhanced with the Mazdaspeed 3/MPS performance models which gave 263 bhp from its 2.3 turbo 4cyl.
In 2009 the second generation of 3 launched and came with refined driving dynamics and a new look inspired by the ‘Nagare’ concept car. Featuring plenty of swoopy lines and a ‘grinning’ grille…the car was at least more distinctive and did not stop it from remaining a success in the US market, even if in Europe sales did not match rivals such as the Civic or Astra.
Inside neither car has set the world on fire…the original was bland but tidily styled, with small buttons and lots of black plastic. Out back the boot did not have the space to match class leaders either. Not much changed with the 2009 update-a more driver focused console with inbuilt information screen compares with most rivals available in the US market, but comes up short again compared to the more talented opposition for sale in Europe.
Whilst the grimacing face of the current 3 may have put off some buyers, the new ‘Kodo’ styling direction which Mazda is bringing to its cars has led to some seriously attractive models (such as the new 6 and CX-5). The new 3 is due out at the end of this year and promises sleeker styling inside and out, as well as the efficient range of Skyactiv engines which have already impressed in the current car. Anybody looking an easy to live with hatchback would do well to consider the 3, a second hand one can be quite good value and the diesels are the same excellent Ford/PSA engines found in so many other cars.