Our Mazda3 has been in the long-term fleet for just one month, but we've quickly rediscovered our love for the compact hatchback. For 2010, the 3 received its first major update, but it still possesses the character that earned it a 2007 Automobile Magazine All-Star award. A torquey engine, premium content, and a stout chassis set the Mazda apart.
"The Mazda feels so much more substantial than the typical small car. Not heavier, but very solid and well-rounded, with no mechanical weaknesses," notes senior editor Joe Lorio. "The suspension is incredibly composed, sopping up bumps with an almost Germanic stoicism."
For 2010, the most noticeable change- aside from the grinning front grille - is the larger four-cylinder engine, which now displaces 2.5 liters. Its adds 11 hp and 18 lb-ft over the old 2.3-liter, for ratings of 167 hp and 168 lb-ft. When put to work with the six-speed transmission and capable suspension, the new engine moves the Mazda through traffic like a running back slaloming into the end zone.
"Like the best small cars, the 3 makes every tight turn feel like you're in an autocross," writes assistant editor David Zenlea. "But like the best large cars, the 3 is perfectly smooth and comfortable on the highway."
With a starting price of $19,900, Mazda makes no bones that it's targeting a demographic above the typical compact buyer with the 3 hatchback. With a sporty persona and premium content, the Mazda3 has carved out a niche for the discerning driver or uncompromising downsizer. Standard equipment includes Bluetooth, steering-wheel audio controls, 17-inch wheels, and an upscale interior.
For $1195, the technology package adds a navigation system for about half the price of other cars. But you also get half the navigation system. The tiny screen is about four inches and the only controls are on the steering wheel. Some drivers have laughed at the concept of such a basic system, but a few are delighted that the novel setup retains typical functional audio controls.
So far, the loudest complaint from the staff is about the high engagement point of the clutch. The left pedal is undoubtedly more difficult to modulate than clutches in much more aggressive cars like Four Seasons Audi R8. Already, it has tripped up many drivers, regardless of their skill with a stick shift. However, the Mazda does win back points with an absolutely delightful gearbox. Quick, direct, and smooth, the transmission invites frequent shifts - once you've mastered the clutch.
On the downside, fuel economy is mediocre at best, with some V-6 engines beating the 3's 29-mpg highway rating. Some staffers have also complained about the interior space, especially in the rear seat. We'll see if our passion for this capable compact cools off in the next 11 months.
2010 Mazda3 s Sport 5-Door
Base price (with destination): $19,900
Price as tested: $22,570
Body Style: 4-door hatchback
Construction: Steel unibody
Size: DOHC 16-valve I-4
Displacement: 2.5 liters
Power: 167 hp @6000 rpm
Torque: 168 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel economy: 21 / 29 / 24 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Turns lock-to-lock: 2.9
Turning Circle: 35.8 ft
Suspension, Front: Strut-type, coil springs
Suspension, Rear: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes F/R: Vented disc/disc, ABS
Wheels: 17 x 6.5 in
Tires: Yokohama Avid S34
Tire Size: P205/50-R17
Headroom F/R: 38.1/37.4 in
Legroom F/R: 42.0/36.2 in
Shoulder Room F/R: 54.9/54.0 in
Wheelbase: 103.9 in
Track F/R: 60.2/59.6 in
L x W x H: 177.4 x 69.1 x 57.9 in
Cargo Capacity: 17.0 cu ft
Weight: 3005 lbs
Weight Dist. F/R: 60/40%
Fuel Capacity: 15.9 gal
Est. Range: 382 miles
Fuel Grade: 87 octane
Front, side, and side curtain airbags
Push-button ignition with intelligent key
Power windows, locks, and mirrors
Auxiliary audio input
Tire-pressure monitoring system
Moonroof/Bose Package $1395
-242 watt Bose Centerpoint 10-speaker surround sound
-Moonroof with one-touch open
-In-dash 6-disc CD changer
Technology Package $1195
-Color display with compact nav-screen
-Advanced keyless system with push-button start
-Sirius satellite radio with 6-month subscription