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IT WAS a combination of elements - styling, performance and comfort come readily to mind - that saw the Mazda 2 scoop the coveted title of South African Car of the Year 2008.
Thankfully, traits from the smaller Mazda 2 flow through into the new generation Mazda 3 range. On review today we take a look at the 2.5 Individual.
For me, it is one of those vehicles you instantly feel at home in - comfortable seating, a high level of luxury features and, above all, an engine that lives up to its growing reputation in the highly-competitive hot-hatch segment of motoring.
The seats themselves are leather, as is the three-spoke steering wheel that is also home to a number of electronic functions including sound adjustment and cruise control.
Like so many cars today, it operates on a keyless ignition, which means it's simply a case of pushing a button to start or stop the vehicle. No more fiddling around in the dark trying to find the ignition slot on cold winter nights.
Being top of the range - there are three 1.6 derivatives - the 2,5 Individual has a long list of extras that come standard with the vehicle.
Those that make the drive a little more comfortable include a factory-fitted sunroof, multi-information display, cruise control, a seven-speaker Bose in-car entertainment system. The list is endless.
Under the bonnet the 2.5-litre 4 cylinder 16-valve engine is a pleasure to handle. Linked to a six-speed gearbox, you will find the gear changes not only effortless, but the amount of power more than adequate through gears 1-6.
The engine itself turns out a nicely-tuned 122 kW and 227 Nm.
The styling of the car, I'm happy to report, drew more than the odd cursory glance at the robots.
Twin exhausts poke out from the rear colour-coded bumper along with 17-inch alloy wheels. Colour-coded door handles and side mirrors send out a definite message to other motorists that this is no ordinary 3-series.
The instrumentation panel is not over-elaborate, with the essential dials (radio/air con) within easy reach.
l Mazda's 5-year-90000km service plan as well as the 4 year-120000km warranty are included in the price. There is also a 3-year unlimited kilometres roadside assistance and a 5-year corrosion warranty.