2010 Mazda Mazda3
Base price: $15,795 – $22,250
As tested: $53,715
MPG: 25 city/23 highway (3i); 21 city/29 highway (3s)
- Sporty and affordable
- Good fuel economy
- Lots of standard features and desirable options
- No air conditioning on 3i SV
- Stability and traction control not available on 3i SV and 3i Sport
By Rebecca Antioco
Mazda has carved out an interesting niche for itself in the automotive market. They offer a typical vehicle line-up, but infuse it with a little sports car panache that carries through the line. Mazda calls it Zoom-Zoom. We’ve found that it’s more than just a catchy slogan, but rather a character that sets even the most basic Mazda cars apart from others in their class.
Take Mazda3, for example. Its U.S. sales have increased each year for the last five years, attracting younger first-time car buyers. Its popularity is helped, in part, by its versatility; the Mazda3 comes as a sedan or hatch, as well as a performance-oriented MazdaSpeed. A price point starting below $16,000 doesn’t hurt either.
So, what do you do with a vehicle that already accounts for 44 percent of your North American sales volume? You completely redesign it, of course. According to Mazda, there are four main reasons that the Mazda3 has been successful: design, performance, quality and “insightful” features. With the redesign, Mazda sought to improve upon those qualities, and enhance the 3’s strengths. We deem this experiment a success.
The four-door sedan is available as “i” or “s” models. The 3i comes in SV, Sport or Touring trims, and the 3s comes in Sport or Grand Touring editions. A 148-horsepower four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission powers the 3i; the 3s upgrade to a 167-horsepower four-cylinder and six-speed manual shifter. A five-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift logic and manual-shift mode is optional on all but the base 3i SV model. Only s trims are available in the hatchback style.
Power windows and mirrors, a steering wheel that both tilts and telescopes, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, height-adjustable driver’s seat and a four-speaker CD audio system with auxiliary input jack and steering-wheel controls are standard on all trims. You have to upgrade to the 3i Sport to get air conditioning. Take one more step up to the 3i Touring for alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, power locks, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and an upgraded stereo.
The s models, in addition to the bigger engine, have sportier exterior cues such as different front and rear fascias, bigger wheels, a rear lip spoiler and dual exhausts. Inside, the seats are more heavily bolstered, the upholstery is upgraded and the steering wheel and shifter are wrapped in leather. The top-of-the-line Grand Touring model gets heated mirrors, dual-zone climate control, heated leather seats an eight way power driver’s seat and bi-xenon headlights that auto-level and swivel to illuminate around corners. Not bad for just over $22,000.
Techies can rejoice at the range of options available, particularly on the top line i and all s trims. Moonroof & Bose package adds what the name implies; the Bose half of the moniker being a 10-speaker surround system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer. Satellite radio and iPod interface can be dealer installed. A navigation system is also optional.
Inside, the Mazda 3 is attractive and features high-quality materials befitting a car with a much higher price tag. Although theoretically built for five, four will be infinitely more comfortable, and the back seat is best suited for kids (adults only on short commutes). The hatchback is more utilitarian, increasing trunk space to 17 cubic feet versus 11.8 in the sedan.
We drove the 3s, which stuck tight to the road on corners, with responsive steering and minimal road noise on the freeway. The 3 is excellent as a daily driver, although the ride is sufficiently firm to please those looking for a sportier drive experience. This isn’t your typical economy car. In fact, the larger engine also powers the Mazda6, the next jump up in the Mazda lineup. This gives the 3 plenty of pep and power.
In terms of safety, all models and trims have advanced front airbags, front side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, active front headrests, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. Stability and traction control are standard on all but the i SV and Sport, where they are unavailable, even as an option. In government crash tests, the Mazda3 earned the highest rating of five stars for driver and front passenger protection in front and and side impacts. It received the second-highest four stars for rear-seat passenger protection in side impacts, and for rollovers. In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Mazda3 earned the rating “Good,” the highest possible.
In a market where the emphasis is on practicality, Mazda is among the few who realize that there’s still a lot to be said for having fun. And they know it’s possible to do so without sacrificing the other things that are important to consumers: safety, efficiency and affordability.