Wow, what a great little hatch. This 2.5-liter I-4 pulls very well from idle to fuel cut, and the six-speed manual transmission is superb. I can’t think of a better example of a small car that feels just as solid and rewarding as a “real” car. Of course, the last Mazda 3 was also terrific, so it’s not surprising that the 2010 Mazda 3 is so delightful.
The exterior of the Mazda 3 hasn’t earned universal praise, but the interior is quite well received. As West Coast editor Jason Cammisa pointed out in his review, the funky navigation display doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the interior, and the iPod interface is frustrating compared with many of the others on the market, but the materials are quite nice. Again, here’s a small car that doesn’t scream economy.
When asked about a quality compact car, many people immediately think , but the Mazda 3 is arguably a better choice – particularly in this hatchback configuration.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
I fall decidedly on the “love” side of the love-it-or-hate-it styling, as I find myself grinning back at the Mazda 3’s front fascia every time I walk by it. The smile doesn’t fade when you drive it. Clutch takeup was a little high for my tastes, but otherwise, it’s hard to fault anything. Behind the wheel, the 3 feels absolutely perfectly sized–small enough to feel nimble and precise but big enough to hold its own over pitted, potholed roads.
The 3 isn’t completely perfect. That nav screen is absurdly small, and some interior bits, particularly the center console, aren’t as solid as one expects from a high-quality Japanese compact. But the 3 has in spades something most competitors completely lack: character.
As Phil noted, the Mazda 3 should sit atop buyers’ small-car shopping lists, right alongside the Honda Civic. I’d also strongly suggest that people who automatically gravitate toward the mid-size segment give this versatile hatch some consideration.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The Mazda 3 has certainly not lost its allure in this, the second generation of the model. Once again, I find myself driving the 3 and thinking that in many ways this is a better car than the Honda Civic. For starters, it has far more character and a much more refined and interesting exterior design. What’s more, it’s available as a hatchback, which is what we had for a teste vehicle, and although that configuration is more expensive than the 3 sedan, it’s worth the extra money in my opinion. (I used the car to haul our household’s recycling to the township drop-off bins and, naturally, a hatchback is useful for many more exciting tasks of utility).
While playing around with the rear cargo area, I discovered that the optional Bose subwoofer is mounted in the well of the temporary spare tire; this is a clever use of space and avoids having the subwoofer intrude into the cargo compartment, which we’ve seen in other vehicles. The stereo itself is very powerful, maybe a bit too heavy on the bass, but overall very good. Love the huge, centrally located dial for tuning the stations. The readout for Sirius satellite radio artist and song was sensible and clear, but I didn’t even realize there was a navigation system in our car.
The powertrain is exemplary. Nice gearshifter, good clutch pedal, etc. It all works for me. Ride quality is firm but not harsh, there’s good steering feel, brake pedal isn’t mushy–it’s all good.
Interior quality is impressive. You don’t feel like you’re slumming it in this vehicle. Of course, our car was fully loaded. I, too, noted the lack of a modern iPod interface, a curious oversight for a brand-new vehicle aimed at twenty-somethings. The A-pillars are a bit thick, too, which can impede vision into turns.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
The new Mazda face has loads of character: it’s modern and sporty, and its devilish perma-grin makes it look like it’s up to something… I like that. Like the previous generation, the new 3 is a joy to drive. The 2.5-liter four has plenty of power no matter the gear or where you are in the rpm range and it pulls all the way to the redline. The steering is nicely weighted and communicative, and the light clutch and smooth shifter make changing gears a snap.
It took several minutes for me to figure out that the only controls for the nav system are on the steering wheel. This means that either the driver programs the destination before the trip begins or is forced to pull over because the front-seat passenger can’t help. Also, the nav screen is too small and almost too far away to be useful. This is unfortunate, since the Mazda 3 is one of the few cars in its class to even offer a nav system. Minus a few hard plastics, the interior materials and fit are on par with the best of the class and exceed the expectations of a compact that starts out at less than $17,000. The seating position, pedal, and stick placement are perfect, although the high-mounted central console between the front seats makes the cockpit feel a little snug.
I find the Mazda 3 far more interesting than the Honda Civic. It looks and drives better and, unlike the Honda, offers the versatility of a hatch. Even more so than its predecessor, this new 3 is an effortless yet engaging vehicle that, because of its low price, should be at the top of any budget-minded car enthusiast’s must-have list.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
I don’t stand on the “hate” side of the fence, but I’m not exactly ready to profess my love for the revised Mazda 3. I continue to think the new nose looks more like a Peugeot than an RX-8, and my inner Luddite continually screams: “but the old 3 wasn’t broken!”
For the record, neither is this one. If you can get past the 3’s new threads, you’ll find much, if not all, of what made the first-generation car a hit. I cannot sing enough praise for this car’s chassis, which remains sharp in corners yet compliant over broken asphalt. This 2.5-liter I-4 provides plenty of oomph, and the six-speed manual (a surprising rarity in this class) is silky smooth. The interior also offers a host of amenities that aren’t typically found on a $22,000 hatchback, including leather seats, navigation, and a Bose surround-sound system.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
Like its predecessor, the new 3 clearly ranks at the top of the small-car category, especially when fun is factored in. In this “s” model, there’s plenty of power, and the six-speed manual helps make the most of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder. All new 3 hatchbacks are 167-hp, 2.5-liter “s” models, actually; sedan buyers, however, can opt for a 148-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the less expensive range of “i” models.
My biggest complaint about this car’s powertain is that the clutch engages extremely high in the pedal travel. A couple of my colleagues have also mentioned this in passing, but I honestly can’t think of another car that I’ve driven with a higher engagement point. It was particularly tricky to get used to on my way home last night after spending a weekend in our supersmooth long-term TDI. I did adjust very quickly to the Mazda‘s weird clutch on my commute to work this morning, though.
The 3’s very impressive interior is packaged well, with lots of bins and cargo space, but the plethora of handy features come along with countless buttons. Not that I think an iDrive-style controller belongs in this car–it just looks cluttered when you’ve got, for instance, a steering wheel with audio buttons, cruise-control switches, and buttons for the navigation/trip computer system (which has a supertiny screen).
The 3 looks nice in this color (called “velocity red,” I believe), but I’m still having a hard time adjusting to the Joker smile painted on the front end. Honestly, that’d probably be the only thing holding me back from buying one of these … Mrs. Blackwell, could you handle a new Mazda 3 with black paint?
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2010 Mazda 3 5-Door Grand Touring
Base price (without destination): $22,170
21 / 29 / 25 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 2.5L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 167 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 168 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Weight: 3005 lb
17″ aluminum wheels
P205/50R17 all-season tires