By Hafriz Shah
Deputy Editor

Built on the Ford Focus Mark 2’s platform, the original Mazda3 has always been blessed with tidy handling. Drive one now and you’ll walk away impressed by its composure through corners and solidity going over bumps.

Volvo uses the same basic platform for its S40 and V50 models, so you can be sure that safety was also designed into the architecture.

It’s not quite as fun and engaging to drive as Ford’s offering nor could it be as safe as the Volvo (locally-assembled versions only had two airbags up front) but what it loses in outright dynamic performance and safety net count, it more than makes up for in the looks department.

Mazda started the ball rolling with the RX-8 and since then, its designers have steadily penned attractive models that are appealing, yet ashamedly Japanese.

Though in some ways, the Mazda3 looks conventional, when you compare it to neighbouring rivals, it still looks outstandingly different – exposing Toyota’s and Honda’s reluctance to break from the mould and innovate their all-too-traditional designs.

In every other way, the Mazda3 is up there with the best saloon of the time. Cabin space is impressive, especially for those relegated to the rear and even 6-footers shouldn’t have their heads scraping the headliner.

The Mazda3 was available in both sedan and hatchback styles and the latter is no less spacious. But the hatchback is not easy to find as limited numbers were sold to start with. Prices over the past 12 months have ranged between RM70,000 and RM80,000, depending on mileage and whatever add-ons the previous owner has put in.

The Mazda3 has not been easy to find though but these gems are now beginning to appear in used car lots. If you have been eyeing an affordable C-segment model, this is a worthwhile alternative to the Corollas and Civics too. It may not be the default choice for many but that in itself is the Mazda’s greatest strength – and precisely why it should be at the top of your shopping list.

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