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Europe :Mazda Hoping 3's A Crowd Pleaser

Auto Express
by Chris Thorp

Then there were 3. Following in the footsteps of the 2 and the 6, Mazda has begun production of its new compact family hatchback, the 3, and these first official pictures show that it should be a real contender in the style race.

The designers of the car, which is set to be unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, have tried to incorporate a sporty theme in its appearance. At the front, the familiar five-pointed grille ensures the model is instantly recognisable as a Mazda, but the most distinctive features are a wide waistline and reverse angle D-pillar.

The 3's styling is based around the look of the MX Sportif concept, which was displayed at the Geneva Motor Show this year, and the final production edition has stuck closely to the design of that model. As it did with the 6, Mazda spent a sizeable chunk of the development budget on ensuring the 3 is a dynamically excellent driver's car. Class-leaders in this market sell on their fine ride and handling, so company bosses are hoping that a sporty driving experience will help to improve on the poor sales of the outgoing 323.

Based on the next-generation Ford Focus platform, the 3 will eventually be available as a four-door saloon as well as a five-door hatchback, but the latter is expected take the majority of sales. Despite the car only just going into production, prices have already been revealed to Auto Express. Entry-level models will cost £10,995, while top-spec versions are expected to sell for no more than £15,500.

These prices have been set to mirror those of the top-selling Ford Focus, which start from £10,645. The Astra is another key opponent, but Vauxhall's entry-level model undercuts the 3 by £1,220. Power for the new Mazda comes from a wide range of engines, with most of the petrol units being carried over from the 323. Entry-level cars get a 72bhp 1.3 unit, while 98bhp 1.6 and 131bhp 2.0-litre powerplants will be available as well. However, the pick of the bunch is likely to be a renamed version of Ford's punchy 1.8-litre TDCi engine. Even though pictures of the 3's interior are yet to be released, insiders have said that it is virtually identical to the cabin of the MX Sportif. That means a smart and sporty design with the familiar two-tone blue and black trim used in the 2. In its domestic market, the model will be called the Axela - a dovetailing of the words accelerate and excellent - although in all other countries the Focus/Astra challenger will be known as the 3, following the naming policy of the 6 and the 2. The car is already in production in Japan, where a European spec five-door in Winning Blue rolled off the line at the Hofu plant last week, followed by a short ceremony.

The model will go on sale in mainland Europe in the autumn and is scheduled to reach UK showrooms by the end of the year. Other body styles are expected in 2005.

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My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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