The Mazda3 has been on the market for five years already, and yet it doesn't feel old. The S Touring sedan I drove recently could easily be mistaken for a newer entry. The S models have Mazda's 156-hp, 2.3-liter engine, which is a worthwhile upgrade over the 2.0-liter in the Mazda 3 i, even at a cost of a few MPGs. Tied to a five-speed automatic, it accelerates smartly, and sounds pleasant doing so, thanks in part to the presence of twin balance shafts. The cloth upholstery is more handsome than most-leather is an option-and the two-tone beige and black color scheme and gloss black trim is far nicer than the monochrome beige or gray in most small cars. At $21,330 (with a sunroof and satellite radio), the Mazda3 S Touring looks and drives like it costs more.
Mazda's North American chief of product development and quality, Robert Davis, was recently quoted in a trade journal talking up the notion of making small cars more enticing by adding content rather than by using incentives. A fine idea, we say. That's been part of the success of the Mazda3, which was originally expected to sell 70,000 units a year, but surprised Mazda management by zipping out of showrooms at a much faster clip. Last year sales topped 120,000, and so far this year they're running about 1 percent behind that pace.
In planning the soon-to-arrive next-generation Mazda3, we encourage Mr. Davis to take his own advice and make stability control standard-or at least optional-on all models. Currently, it comes on the S Touring and Grand Touring versions only, and is not available on the S Sport or either of the "i" models. Oh, and we know the sedan is more popular, but please don't abandon the four-door hatchback body style; it's our favorite of the current offerings.