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Buying used: Mazda3 was popular for a reason

By 2010, the Mazda3 had established itself as one of the most popular cars on the planet. It accounted for more than 30 per cent of the company's sales worldwide and was a huge home run for the company.

In that year, it also got a facelift, with various tweaks and adjustments. It still came as either a four-door sedan or hatchback, and had the same wheelbase as before. Most of the changes were in the form of refinements, but this iteration of Mazda's best seller was a bit larger and featured a completely new "smiley face" front-end treatment, among other things.

Fortunately, it was still a pleasure to drive. Mazda redid the inside of the car and, with automobile interiors getting more and more complex, the ergonomics were sensible, easy to deal with and more mainstream than before.

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The engine remained the same for the popular GS and GX models. It still displaced 2.0 litres and developed 148 horsepower. Fuel economy was also good, though not exemplary: the GS version, for example, delivered 8.7 litres/100 km in town and 6.0 on the highway, when equipped with the five-speed automatic. This transmission was new for 2010 and replaced a four-speed. A five-speed manual was standard issue with the GS and GX models, and the GT got a six-speed manual, with a larger 2.5-litre engine. There was also a formidable MazdaSpeed version of this car, which belted out a whopping 260-plus horsepower, making it one of the fastest models in this category.

Mazda also stiffened up the body structure for the 2010 model and it offered better NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) suppression than the Civic, for example. Suspension duties were handled by the usual arrangement of struts up front and a multi-link setup with coil springs in back. The GS came with 16-inch wheels and tires, and compared to the competition – Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Versa – had a firm stable ride.

Standard equipment level was reasonably high, and you could get air conditioning, power windows, central locking, keyless entry, tilt/telescoping steering and cruise control. Other equipment included four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and dual front, side, and side curtain airbags. Options included a Comfort Package, which featured a power sunroof, traction control system and a vehicle stability control system.

Two safety recalls are on file with Transport Canada. One concerns a possibly flawed daytime running light housing that can overheat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and possibly cause the lens to deform and, eventually, shut the running lights down completely. The second has to do with a wiring harness glitch that could cause the engine to shut itself off randomly, with predictably unsettling results. Poor transmission shift quality may be a symptom of this problem.

To this, we can add 11 technical service bulletins from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These range from "loud ticking noises" emanating from the engine bay, to fogged-up headlight lenses, to a glitchy electronic rear liftgate opener, to recalcitrant seatbelts, to doors that won't open or close readily. Comments from owners include: "Low tire pressure light came on suddenly," "Driver's side seat broke at welded point" and "Excessive rear suspension noise over any surface irregularities."

Still, a big thumbs up here from Consumer Reports. With a "Good Bet" designation, the 2010 Mazda3 gets top marks in every category but one. There can be some "squeaks and rattles" in some models – probably those with the optional suspension package. Otherwise, it's all sweetness and light. Some comments from owners: "Best used car I've bought!," "This is the car for any driving enthusiast," "Very slow heating in cold weather" and "The seats are on the firm side."

A mixed bag from market research firm J.D. Power. While the Mazda3 has no glaring bad points, most areas merely receive "about average" or "better than most" marks. Comfort is the exception – it gets a top rating. Overall performance and design is, according to this organization, better than most, while predicted reliability is about average.

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From a base price less than $20,000 in 2010, the 3 has kept up well. You won't find a good one for less than $10,000-$12,000 and the loaded GT models are well into the high teens. The hatchback versions are fetching $1,500-$2,000 more than the sedans.

Tech specs

2010 Mazda3

Original Base Price: $18,995; Black Book: $13,875-$17,075; Red Book: $10,400-$14,600

Engine: 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 148 hp/135 lb-ft for 2.0; 167 hp/168 lb-ft for 2.5

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Transmission: Five- and six-speed manual/five-speed automatic

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.7 city/6.0 highway(2.0 litre with five-speed automatic); regular gas

Alternatives: Honda Civic DX, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla LE, Ford Focus SEL, Saturn Astra

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