Our Four Seasons fleet was busy during the month of January as the Detroit auto show drew several contributors to Southeast Michigan. Our Mazda 3 landed in the hands of columnist Jamie Kitman, who had a significant attitude change toward the spunky compact in just two days of driving.
"I thought I hated the smiley grille on the new Mazda 3," Kitman noted, "But after a couple of days with the car, driving on and around the mean, icy streets of Detroit, I started to think, if nothing else, the smile was appropriate, because the Mazda 3 made me really, really happy."
Kitman's appreciation for the 3 was spurred by the balance of entertainment and usability that we've been enjoying for the past five months.
"This is the practical small car that America needs - seating for five, room for gear, and a sure-footed chassis that entertains without abusing the passengers," he commented. "I could use one of these as my daily driver, more than happily, and after spending a couple of days with it, I no longer feel like I want to wipe the smile off its face."
However, our editors who have spent more time in the 3 have picked up on some new niggling quirks. Web produced Evan McCausland has noted the 3's hatch release is difficult and awkward to use, requiring you to wrap your fingers around the grab point while stretching your thumb several inches to reach an electronic release button. A single grab with built-in release would be much easier to use, especially when carrying an armful of belongings. The low grab cutout also collects dirt and grime when the roads are filthy, occasionally making it a messy proposition to open the hatch. The unintuitive design was proven when the 3 received a U.S. Customs frisking at the Canadian border. The agent fumbled with the hatch for quite some time before barking at McCausland that the car was locked. It wasn't. The border guard just needed a little Mazda 3 coaching.
Senior Web editor Phil Floraday, who seems to constantly log four-figure mileage on the weekends, has noted the small fuel tank and mediocre fuel economy handicap the 3's cruising range. "Half the time I get gas, run a few errands, and I'm already down a quarter of a tank by the time I return home," he noted. Gearing that keeps the engine spinning well above 3000 rpm at 80 mph is likely one contributor to the fuel consumption, and it can also create a fatiguing cabin atmosphere on longer trips.
A fussy climate system compromises comfort with its tendency to blow hot or cold air at the extremes, rather than a moderate in-between. Floraday also questions why the stylish instrument cluster is so light on information. There's no water temperature gauge, a useful tool in Michigan winters to tell when the vehicle has warmed and you can blast the heat.
But our complaints seem fairly mundane considering the 3 still hasn't earned a single knock for driving behavior. It's that comfortable yet dynamic persona that keeps it at the top of our list for compact cars.
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: Continental ExtremeWinterContact winter tires
Tire Size: 205/50TR-17
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