YOU can see why the Mazda3 is a winner.
It is one of the great all-rounders scoring more than enough runs to dominate a market known for its cut-throat competition.
- IN A WORD
- Make: Mazda
- Model: Mazda3 sedan
- Price: From $20,330
- Road test: JOHN PARRY
There is no one attribute that stands out, it simply does everything very well. Jump in and it takes little more than a short drive to win friends and keep them.
Compact yet roomy, it has a taut and purposeful feel, lively performance, crisp handling, comfortable ride and good build quality.
Available in hatch and sedan, it is equally at home on the open road as it is in the urban jungle and has a solid reputation for reliability and retained value.
And now there is "Skyactiv", a flash tag for engine technology now becoming common among car makers.
Tricks include using direct fuel injection and a higher compression ratio to produce more power and torque and reduce fuel use and exhaust emissions.
Skyactiv is so far available only on the middle model of the Mazda3 range, the SP20 but is on its way for other models.
For the time being, the rest of the models, such as the entry-level Neo, make do with styling tweaks and a price cut to keep them not just at the top of their class, but also the number one selling car in the country, knocking the Commodore off its long-held perch.
Sales were up 12 per cent in January in a small-car sector down 4.1 per cent.
That's impressive for a model now well into its second generation.
If you're a car spotter you can tell the latest Neo by its revised bumpers and grille, new alloy wheels and upgraded seat trim.
There has also been some fine-tuning of the suspension to improve ride and reduce road noise.
No change to the engine though, which remains the proven 2.0-litre four producing 108kW and 182Nm of torque.
Performance is strong and eager and has plenty of punch through the five-speed automatic sedan (on test).
It stepped off the line smartly, was responsive mid-range and cruised calmly at around 2250rpm at 100km/h.
Fuel use is 8.2l/100km on combined cycle. The test car averaged 8.4l/100km overall and 6.4l/100km on the highway.
Inside, the Neo is warm and inviting with a bright informative dash and well padded front seats and plenty of adjustment for the driver. It is also spacious, nicely finished and well laid out with ample storage for oddments.
Rear seat headroom and width is average for its class but a bit tight on legroom for tall adults.
Handling is nimble, well-balanced with decent grip and minimal body roll.
Ride is firm, level and compliant and there is less tyre thump and coarse chip noise than previously.