The current Mazda 3 is among our favorite small cars, and with more than 1.8 million units sold to date, one of Mazda's most important models. Rather than mess with a good thing, the Zoom Zoom company isn't changing much for the new, second-generation compact sedan. (Mazda has chosen to reveal the four-door sedan now at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show; a five-door hatchback, our favorite version of the 3, will be revealed later.)
The new 3 is about three and a half inches longer than last year's car, and weighs about a hundred pounds more (depending on equipment level), but the other dimensions haven't changed, including the wheelbase. That's a good indication that not much has changed underneath the 3, either-and indeed while the 2010 3 has significant revisions to its chassis, including increased use of high-tensile strength steel to reduce the body-in-white's weight by 24 lb while stiffening the suspension attachment points, it rides on largely unchanged suspension and brakes. Don't interpret that as a bad thing-the last 3, even at the end of its six-year production run, was still at the top of its class in our book.
Choose 2.0-liter or 2.5-liter Four-cylinder powertrains
Mazda also didn't make any changes to the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which produces 148 hp and 135 lb-ft of torque. A gem of an engine, it's both rev-happy and torquey, and mates to either a five-speed manual transmission or a new five-speed automatic (which replaces last year's 4-speed automatic.)
Those buyers wanting a little more power can now opt for the Mazda3s, which uses the same 2.5-liter four as the larger Mazda 6i sedan. This new engine replaces last year's 2.3-liter, and produces 11 more horsepower and 18 more lb-ft of torque, for totals of 167 hp and 168 lb-ft. The engine also receives an additional gear-the manual now has six forward ratios. The automatic remains a five-speed.