2009 Mazda MAZDA3 S GT Sedan Review – The Renaissance Car

Expert Reviews Mazda

By Kurt Gensheimer


  • Top-shelf interior
  • Go-kart handling
  • Terrific balance of power and fuel economy
  • Unmatched value


  • Weak in the low-end grunt department
  • Low backseat headroom
  • No Sixth Gear?

Ruling: Power, luxury, style, sportiness, affordability, fuel efficiency, cargo room, comfort, yadda, yadda and yadda; this is the Renaissance Car of the decade.

In our lives we’ve all met people with exceptional and widely varied interests and skills. Whether it’s writing a novel, building a log cabin, flying a plane, playing in an 80′s butt-rock band, reciting the Dictionary or completing more than one Ironman triathlon, we all have friends with some unique and bizarre interests. But what if all these interests resided in one person? A person this multi-faceted is often referred to as a Renaissance Man, and often draws the respect and admiration of everyone he meets. And if there was ever a parallel car to match this beloved persona, it would be the MAZDA3 – The true Renaissance Car.

The MAZDA3 family, which includes the sedan, the hatchback and of course the rubber-melting Mazdaspeed3, performs in every category with remarkable success. It has attractive styling both inside and out, luxury options, incredible fun-to-drive-factor, exceptional balance of power and fuel economy, tons of cargo room, and in an economy that Warren Buffet recently described as a ‘financial Pearl Harbor’, the 3′s low sticker price won’t put you into monthly payment convulsions.

In a country where people drive hulking masses of sheet metal three times bigger than what they really need, the MAZDA3 is a car that almost everyone can use – compact enough to get great fuel economy and fit almost anywhere, but large enough (particularly the hatchback) to carry a small family or a couple with a bunch of cargo.

Driving Impressions

A week after testing the much bigger and heavier 2009 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart, and getting dropped by a bone-stock Civic on a local backroad, I went out in the MAZDA3 hunting for the red Honda. This time around the result was going to be different. No Civic was going to wax me so long as I was at the helm of the 3. Even though the MAZDA3 lacks the stiffer springs, anti-roll bars and other go-fast goodies the Mazdaspeed3 has, the regular 3 is stilly plenty athletic. It has remarkable balance for a front-wheel-drive car and is agreeable to most any winding back road. Unfortunately, the Civic never showed its grille, but no matter, I still put the 3 through it’s paces.

Turn-in is crisp with minimal body roll, and at the right rpm, the MAZDA3 rockets out of corners with zeal. You have to push the 3 to it’s absolute limits or completely botch a line to experience any understeer. It’s a very difficult car to upset, has incredible athleticism for not sporting a factory performance tuner badge, and unlike the Mazdaspeed3, doesn’t possess a ride that rattles your kidneys like maracas in a mariachi band.

The MAZDA3 comes in several different trim levels including base “i”; which features a 2.0 liter, 148-horsepower four-cylinder motor, and more optioned “s” trim; equipped with a 2.3 liter, 156 horsepower four-banger. Our test model was the “s” with the Grand Touring package, loaded to the gills with every option but a navigation system. And for a sporting experience, our tester also featured a five-speed manual transmission.

Although 156 horsepower doesn’t seem all that exhilarating, the Mazda 3 has plenty of motivation with acceleration, sprinting to 60 from nothing in just over 7.5 seconds. And at speed, so long as you keep the revs above 3,000 rpms, the powerplant rockets the 3 forward while singing a snarly, glorious soundtrack. But the 3 resembles the rotary-powered RX-8 in that it has almost no low-end grunt. One of the very few negatives about the 3 – and it’s a real nit-pick – is that when rolling away from a stop in second gear, there was so little low end grunt from the engine, we could barely keep it from stalling, especially with the A/C on. In addition, having a sixth gear in the 3 would help boost it’s already acceptable 22 city/29 highway economy numbers (2.3 liter; a few mpgs higher in the 2.0) to figures on par with leading econobox competitors.


Going from a Mitsubishi to the Mazda really was a contrast in build quality, especially with the interior. Quite simply, in it’s GT trim with leather seats and Metropolitan Gray Mica paint job, the MAZDA3 took on the appearance of a car 20 percent more expensive than its MSRP. Panel gaps are tight, doors open and close without that cheap tin can feel so prevalent on cars of this price range and on the road the 3 was completely rattle and squeak-free.

(Continued on page 2)

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  • derek says:

    Mazda plans to recall about 514,000 vehicles worldwide to repair power-steering systems because of the risk that they could lose power steering without warning.

    The recall will affect the Mazda 3 and the Mazda 5 manufactured in Japan from 2007 to 2009. Currently, Mazda has filed recalls for 215,000 vehicles in the United States and more than 10,000 in China. The recalls will also extend to Europe and Australia.

    The recall comes about a year after Mazda started fixing vehicles in Japan for the same problem. But Mazda told the NHTSA that since the “occurrence rate was low” in the United States it issued only a technical service bulletin to dealers telling them how to fix the problem.

    So far, three accidents related to the defect have been reported in the United States. None of these accidents resulted in death or injury.

    Mazda says the problem is that rust can form inside a high-pressure pipe in the power steering system and allow particles to enter the motorized power steering pump, causing it to shut down to prevent the pump from overheating.

    The automaker said it would begin to notify affected owners of the recall in September and send notices to all owners by February.

  • Jeff says:

    Thanks for the excellent review. Really covered all the bases.

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