Mazda has surfed the rising wave of small car sales as deftly as 11-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater. It built the right car for the right time, reinventing its successful 323 from the 1990s as a 21st-century compact hero.
Two years as Australia's No.1 (and No.2 now in run-out) show its phenomenal attraction. The giant killer, having claimed the sales crown from the legendary Holden Commodore, has always looked good, been finished well and built well, and provided solid value in a class where the long-term winners have been more than just basic transport.
It's more desirable than the world's small-car benchmark, Toyota's Corolla, because it's more than just a car and has almost always been bought by real people paying real money. It's not a stripped-down rental runabout or a vanilla fleet car.
It has lost its gloss over the past year, as the all-new Hyundai i30 and Corolla have scored hits, helped by the $19,990 price point, but is certain to bounce back in 2014.
Digging into the success of the Mazda3 uncovers the long-term strength of Mazda Australia, which has had local CEOs, managers and dealers over three decades. Only Subaru, also massively over-represented in Australia, has done a similar job.
Mazda has never had cheap cars yet the quality and secondhand strength has made them winners even through tough times, including fluctuating currency and a period under the ownership of Ford. The Mazda3 bottom line is simple: it's a car you'd happily recommend to your own family and your closest friends.
This reporter is on Twitter: @PaulWardGover