- 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.
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.
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.
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