Mazda3 1.6D TS2

Mazda3
Mazda3
Mazda3
Mazda3

IN the hugely competitive family hatchback market, where it is increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd, there is definitely something to be said for doing the simple things really well.

Mazda seem to have cottoned onto this concept with the 3 and it has been serving the Japanese firm really well.

More than three million have rolled off the production line since it first appeared eight years ago, which makes it the fastest selling car in the company's range.

It has certainly proved popular here in the United Kingdom where, in the 2010 financial year, it accounted for almost a quarter of Mazda's total sales.

And after getting behind the wheel, it is easy to appreciate the appeal of this unassuming mid-range motor.

The sharp design is very easy on the eye, managing to portray just the right amount of sportiness without being too in your face - a neat trick which means it will appeal equally to male and female drivers.

And underneath that stylish yet mild-mannered exterior there is an equally impressive balancing act struck between practicality and refinement and power and performance - particularly with the 1.6-litre diesel power train.

This engine provides pleasingly good pull throughout the rev range with response coming quickly when you put your foot down, which means you have plenty of punch under your right foot to cope with most eventualities, whether nipping around in town traffic or on the open road.

Coupled with the unfussy six-speed manual gearbox it provides great durability and versatility. It can become a little gruff on occasion but the noise is never objectionably intrusive and probably well worth enduring for the economic benefits the unit offers.

You'll be able to get well in excess of 60 miles per gallon in terms of average fuel consumption and the CO2 output of just 117g/km means that there is plenty of appeal for company drivers too.

In fact, I don't think I would be sticking my neck out too far to suggest that this may be the pick of the engines available across the 3 range - which also includes 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol options, a 2.2-litre diesel and a 2.3-litre hot-hatch petrol version.

The power steering is light and responsive and there's plenty of grip - even when throwing the 3 into faster corners - which makes it easy enough to drive for those who just look upon their car as a means of getting from A to B while at the same time offering an engaging enough drive to interest the enthusiast.

Inside, the cabin is spacious and well-appointed, with reach and rake adjustment on the steering wheel and a height adjustable seat meaning most drivers should find getting comfortable a doddle. Rear legroom is also good and there's headroom aplenty to accommodate four six-footers.

The control panel, while quite busy, is well laid out and the large rotary knobs and buttons ensure that everything is easy to find and use even when on the move - and there are also the now almost ubiquitous steering wheel controls.

Many of the plastics are unyielding but, nevertheless, have a quality look and feel to them and everything is reassuringly well put together.

Boot space is about average for a family hatch and the 60-40 split rear seats fold almost flat to offer a bit more versatility to the load space.

ABS, traction control, active head restraints and front, side and curtain airbags are all standard items and take care of the occupants' safety while the 3 also comes with some good levels of kit for it's competitive price.

Even entry-level S models have air con, electric front windows and remote locking while a step up to TS adds climate control, alloys, electric rear windows, electric wing mirrors and a rear armrest with cup-holders.

FAST FACTS

Mazda3 1.6D TS2

Price: £18,225

Mechanical: 114bhp, 1,560cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed: 116mph

0-62mph: 11 seconds

Combined MPG: 64.2

Insurance Group: 5

C02 emissions: 117g/km

Bik rating: 13%

Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles

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