I previously owned the 1.6 petrol Katano version of the 3 (also reviewed here, incidentally) and was very happy with it. I just happened to see this TS2 ex-demo and got it for four and a half K below list price. I am very glad I did.
Outwardly, it is identical to the Katano, except for the bigger wheels. The same understated exterior, the same 'honeycomb' front grille (not the more aggressive barred one used on the sporty versions) and no spoiler. But here's the thing; it's no slouch like the 1.6. OK, it's not a hot hatch, but with 140bhp, 0-60 in under ten and a top speed of 125, it's not a tractor either. If, like me, you like a car with a bit of oomph that doesn't shout it at everybody, this is for you.
It pulls very well from 2000 revs in all but 6th gear, making overtaking a breeze. No changing down and thrashing past startled pensioners, as with the 1.6!
The six forward gears make for good fuel figures - 44 per gallon if you're a bit heavy with the right foot. The best I've achieved so far in combined driving is 49.9. With normal usage to and from work, I now fill up every 3 weeks instead of 2 with the petrol version.
Handling is, of course, different from the 1.6 - the great big lump of diesel up front sees to that. Cornering at speed is not entirely without drama even with the DSC switched on, but perhaps I'm just attacking those bends a bit more with this car? The ride is firmer, but potholes are negotiated better (the larger diameter wheels?). Motorway driving is brilliant - smooth, relaxed and fairly quiet for a Mazda. Warning - it's so easy to cruise way beyond the speed limit. Brakes on the Katano were good; these are better.
The rest is as for the 1.6. Climate control, fairly tasteful interior design, comfortable driver's seat (lumbar adjustment on this one!), visibility OK, sound system adequate (6-CD changer not acting up!). Enough storage in central armrest. Huge glove box (if you don't have huge gloves, try a laptop!). Buy a Mazda 6 if you've got leggy teenagers to ferry around - the 3 has plenty of room in the front, at the expense of those behind.
The front 'alloy' wheels (painted steel, more like) seem to be standing up to the ravages of brake dust and salt much better than the Katano's, which were pitted where the spokes joined the rim, after just 18 months (a bad batch, maybe?).
The bottom line: need a value-for-money, ultra-reliable, economical, far-from-gutless, not-bad-looking motor? You'd be a fool not to at least give this car a look, wouldn't you?