2010 MAZDA3 Review – A First Drive with Mazda’s Remodeled Moneymaker

Expert Reviews Mazda

2010 Mazda MAZDA3
By Kurt Gensheimer


  • Breaks the bang-for-buck barrier into a billion bits
  • Six-speed manual
  • Top-shelf interior
  • Quieter cabin


  • Tight back seat
  • Styling a bit hard to warm up to – particularly in the i Touring trim.

Ruling: A car that everyone, and we do mean everyone, can love.

“Just because it isn’t fancy doesn’t mean it isn’t high quality.” That was a quote from Robert Davis, VP of Product Development for Mazda during a recent event at the company’s North American headquarters in Irvine. The quote was in reference to the way Mazda conducts it business and builds its cars, and it particularly struck a cord with me because that’s how I live my life; the highest quality with no frills attached. Davis was emphasizing Mazda’s continued focus on building vehicles that people are comfortable living with and being seen in. There is no stigma, attitude or social predisposition attached to a Mazda. You don’t have to be royalty, an heiress or have some kind of abbreviated title after your name. A Mazda is like your favorite pair of jeans; attractive, appropriate almost anywhere and so comfortable you sometimes forget you have them on. And if wherever you’re going doesn’t allow jeans, or a Mazda for that matter, then maybe it’s too fancy of a place to begin with.

Take for instance the MAZDA3 . Representing over 40 percent of Mazda’s sales, the brand would be floundering without this remarkable little runabout. If you read our 2009 MAZDA3 review, then you know how highly we regard this lovable machine. Quite honestly, if you hate the MAZDA3 , you’re either too highbrow, have insatiable standards and probably find the touch of denim anywhere on your body most disagreeable.

First Impressions

When we first saw the 2010 MAZDA3 in sheetmetal last November at the Los Angeles Auto Show, our initial reaction was indifferent. Quite honestly, we preferred the exterior design of the existing Mazda3. And although we like the company’s attempt to create a consistent, trademarked RX-8 fender look across all its products, we’re slow to warm up to the facelift designers gave the new Mazda3, which also resembles the RX-8′s new gesicht. The 3′s grille looks almost cartoonish, particularly in the i Touring guise.

We drove both the base MAZDA3 i Touring and the fully loaded MAZDA3 s Grand Touring, and the very first observation we made with both is the incredible improvement Mazda engineers have made with reducing road noise. The NVH levels inside are noticeably lower, but still don’t quite compare to the 3′s biggest competitor, the Corolla.

The MAZDA3 i Touring humps itself with a 2.0 liter DOHC 16-valve four cylinder good for 148 horsepower and 135 lb.-ft. torque, and returns an impressive 33 mpg highway result. The 3s Grand Touring gets the 2.5 liter DOHC 16-valve four banger, also found in the base MAZDA6 , which lays down 167 horsepower and 168 lb.-ft. torque. Although the s has more motivation and a sixth gear if you opt for the manual transmission, seat-of-the-pants acceleration wasn’t markedly different between the two. In fact, the 7.8 second 0-60 in the s is a few ticks slower than the previous generation, which is attributable to both 150 pounds more heft and the extra shift required to get to 60 mph in the new 3. The added heft and bigger engine also come at a fuel economy cost, but it’s slight, only dropping one mpg overall to 21 city/29 highway in the 2.5 liter.

2010 Mazda MAZDA3 sedan2010 Mazda MAZDA3 sedan

But even though the new 3 gives up a little in the acceleration department, it absolutely hasn’t lost any edge with its adroit handling. The MAZDA3 has always been, and probably always will be, the most fun compact car to drive. Robert Davis even highlighted this fact in his speech. Honda might own fuel economy and Toyota might own reliability, but when it comes to driving excitement, Davis was emphatic that Mazda’s ‘zoom-zoom’ ideology will never relinquish its tenacious grip on the title.


If you can find a better built, higher quality car for the money than a MAZDA3 , we wanna know about it. The interior plastics and gauges could pass muster in cars twice the price, and the NVH improvements makes the 3 feel even higher quality than the previous generation. It’s no surprise that the MAZDA3 comprises over 40 percent of the company’s sales.


Despite Davis’ remarks about Mazda not being fancy, seat yourself inside a fully-loaded s Grand Touring, and you’d momentarily question him; that is until you look at the anticipated sub-$26,000 sticker price. Heated seats with 8-way power and memory for the driver, keyless entry with push-button start, Bluetooth, navigation, adaptive front lights, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control…whew. The equipage is eye-popping, especially for the price. And not only does it come with a lot, but Mazda has actually improved upon an interior which we didn’t think needed any improving. The previous generation, with its red illuminated gauges evoked a sporty feel not found in any other compact. With the 2010 model, designers have stepped up the maturity level of the interior a bit, but without losing that energetic appeal.

2010 Mazda3 interior 2010 Mazda3 interior 2010 Mazda3 interior

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  • clippingimages says:

    Excellent pictures.thanks to share.

  • Ed Peck says:

    I just leased a 2010 Mazda 3s after considering numerous compacts.
    It came down to this or a VW GTI which I probably would have enjoyed
    the driving experience more, but the lease price was quite a bit less, and the conering about the same. My other car is a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata so don’t fool yourself into thinking that the Mazda 3 is anywhere close to as much fun as a true 180hp turbo 2500 lb rear wheel car – its not even in the same ball park.I dont get why certain
    writers talk about road noise with this car because its ultra quiet , even with 4 dedicated winter tires. The only complaint I have is it doesn’t come with day time running lights, and if you use the night lights during the day, they won’t automatically shut off when you turn the ignition off. This last complaint really bugs me and I cant understand why Mazda chose no skimp on this safety feature when their
    Canadian cousins are required to have it, and the’re all made in Canada.There doesn’t seem to be any easy fix for the lights and despite my overall love for the car, it almost makes me wish I had gone with the GTI.

  • John says:

    Just because your review isn’t fancy does not mean it isn’t high quality.

    Nice writing style, easy to read, very informative, and your not afraid to have a strong opinion which is refreshing.

    Best Mazda 3 review I have read. I have been researching this car for awhile. I have a 2008 VW Jetta now, and after looking at 100′s of cars it has come down to the 2010 Mazda 3 GT or the 2010-11 VW GTI.

  • Adam says:

    Just purchased a 2010 Mazda3 s Sport Hatchback 6 speed (and a Mazda5 for the wife.) Every day I fall more in love with this car. I came out of a 2008 Altima S 2.0 6M, which is a great car; but the 3 is in a different universe (except for rear leg room.) Standard equipment is mind blowing–Bluetooth, ambient lighting, etc on the inside… it’s all great, but the best part for me is the power, handling and the seats. Absolutely phenomenal.

    I read a review recently that summed it up quite well, “It’s a lot more fun to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car slowly.” I blew through my first tank of gas with a whopping 17 MPG… I need to settle down.

  • JM says:

    “If you’ve labored tirelessly for years just so you can afford a status-symbol sled like a BMW 3-series, stop wasting your precious life for such an empty ego boost. Instead, save your money, go out and buy a fully-loaded MAZDA3s GT.” Lol, this is so true. I recently purchased a fully-loaded 2010 Mazda3 s Grand Touring with the Graphite Mica finish (dark gray) and the black leather interior. It has a moonroof, a 10 speaker Bose sound system, and push button start just to name a few. I’m an engineer; I can afford a BMW 3-Series, but BMW just looks boring to me. Besides, BMW is so cliche. For me it came down to a Lexus IS w/ nav system and a fully loaded Mazda3 s GT. Because of the way the economy is I decided it’s better to save money, so I went with the Mazda. I don’t regret it at all. I love this car! 7-2-10

  • Dave says:

    That old adage about not fixing what isn’t broken was completely ignored by Mazda. New owners wouldn’t realize what I’m talking about but as I owned the 1st Mazda3 model, I was disappointed with the dumb “fixes” made to the current model.
    1) On sunny days, that light grey driver’s side dashboard accent is beautifully reflected in the driver’s side view mirror.
    2) The centre console on the prior model was a two-door configuration. Now it’s a single container with a stupid tray.
    3) The rear cover that is connected to the hatch that keeps nosey people from looking into the rear window was articulated but not now.
    4) There was a very cool compartment that could be erected in the hatchback area that has been completely removed.
    Overall, I like the current car but the four changes mentioned above are, to put it bluntly, just plain stupid. Who ever approved them should be fired.
    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

  • jazzkat says:

    I have the 2010 mazda 3 touring I automatic. One of the tightest driving cars I’ve ever used—I love that feature. Precision handling makes it feel like a sport car. The 2.0 liter engine is smooth and fairly powerful. Getting on an uphill highway can be sluggish but you can open up the engine with the \tiptronic\ shifter. I also own the new Mazda 6 with the 2.5 liter engine. That car is so comfortable and the power is ample considering it’s a pretty heavy vehicle. For a full family trip the 6 is much better. For myself or with my wife the 3 is fun and very tossable. If you don’t appreciate good handling, don’t buy this car. Also, the front seats are very firm and it did take me a while to appreciate them. Now they feel quite ergonomic.

  • David says:

    Three months ago, I bought a new 2010 Mazda3 i Touring, white with sand interior and Bose/Moonroof package. I LOVE this car! It has the 2.0, five speed manual shift, and drives beautifully. One of the reasons that I was attracted to the Mazda 3 was the new styling. The older style was alright, but definitely more sedate than the 2010, and the old grille always looked like a \shovel nose\ to me. I am glad that Mazda decided to be unique and try a new style. Most of the other cars in it’s class look alike, even the new Forte. It seems that everyone is afraid of trying something new. Kind of boring. The entire 2010 Mazda is sharp looking, feels very upscale and the front end styling reminds me of cars like Ferrarri. I have only a few complaints with i level trim: lack of delay headlights; tight rear legroom; could use a chime to remind when the Moonroof is left open; and would be nice if the Bose system could have a readout of the CD tracks. I have been consistently getting between 33 and 35 MPG with combined city/highway driving. Sales and service could not be better. I look forward to many years of ownership with this car, and would recommend it highly.

  • Cars for sale says:

    The Mazda3′s a great car, it’s still fun to drive as it always was and very econimcal, even without sacrificing sportiness and performance. Interior’s pretty good. And it’s one of the few cars in the world that will smile at you. Thanks to its smiling grille.

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