2010 Mazda3 4-Door SportPosted on July 29th, 2009
Mazda raises the bar with its second-generation compact sedan
By Nina Russin
Lots of companies make compact sedans: few make really good ones. Car enthusiasts on a budget who need the practicality of a four-door car need look no further than the Mazda3. What distinguishes Mazda’s entry-level sedan from its competitors is performance akin to more expensive European models.
What differentiates the 2010 Mazda3 from the outgoing model is a more refined, ergonomic interior, with better styling. A new instrument panel has much-improved fit and finish. The center console is higher, making the shift lever easier to reach. Key controls are within easy reach of the driver: many on the steering wheel or the top of the instrument panel to minimize distraction.
The front seats have longer seat bottoms for better thigh support. Seatbacks are redesigned for better lower lumbar and shoulder support. The leather wrapped steering wheel is small, in keeping with the car’s performance focus.
Second-generation Sport models feature a new, more powerful engine, paired with a six-speed manual transmission. Weld bonding, a technique first used in the new Mazda6, gives the Mazda3 better torsional rigidity, and reduces the weight of the body by 24 pounds.
Though most buyers with active lifestyles will find the five-door model more practical, the sedan is remarkably versatile. A standard pass-through extends the cargo floor, making it easy to carry snowboards, skis and other large gear.
The exterior incorporates the important elements of Mazda’s design language: broad shoulders, wide track, aero wedge and aggressive front end, in a fresh new manner. Available 17-inch alloy wheels dress up the exterior and enhance performance: ditto for a new standard chin spoiler.
Two available engines
Buyers can choose from two available engines: a two liter block rated at 148 horsepower, or the new 168-horsepower 2.5-liter engine. Mazda3i models equipped with the smaller engine come with a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. Mazda3s models with the 2.5-liter engine come with a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.
The test car is the Mazda3 Sport with the six-speed manual gearbox. The front-wheel drive sedan comes standard with a fully-independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and variable assist power steering. Antilock braking and dynamic stability control are standard safety features.
The new engine is similar to the block in the 2009 Mazda6i. Engineers increased cylinder displacement, while keeping the external dimensions of the previous block the same.
Twin balance shafts prevent noise and vibration that can be the bane of four-cylinder engines. A forged steel crankshaft is more durable than cast iron: insurance against mechanical failure on the high-revving block.
Variable valve timing enhances power under load, while maintaining good fuel economy. My average fuel economy for the week-long test drive was 26.9 miles-per-gallon: almost 3 mpg better than the EPA estimate.
The engine reaches peak torque at 4000 rpm: well below its 6200 rpm redline. This translates to excellent acceleration is the critical 20-50 mile-per-hour range. There is plenty of power on the high end to pass cars on the freeway, or make an evasive maneuver.
Engineers did a great job of making the manual transmission drivable, without sacrificing performance. The clutch pedal is light, and gears have wide range for drivers who have to commute through thick traffic. Variable effort steering produces more assist at low speeds for maneuvering through crowded parking lots.
On the highway, the sedan has exceptional on-center feel. I did a series of quick lane changes: the chassis remained absolutely flat. Standard front and rear stabilizer bars enhance cornering performance. I didn’t get the chance to drive in wet weather, but I noticed no tendency to push in the turns.
Visibility is good all the way around the car. I applaud chief designer, Kunihiko Kurisu, for creating a sleek modern exterior, without resorting to thick center and rear pillars. Redundant signal markers on the outside mirrors provide an extra measure of safety.
Inside, the sedan seats four adults. Legroom is plentiful in both rows of seats, with the exception of the center rear position. A floor tunnel and protruding center console make that seat impractical for anything but a child seat.
Sport bucket seats up front are easy to adjust and provide adequate lower lumbar support. Redundant audio controls, Bluetooth interface and cruise control buttons on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction.
A deep center console bin contains auxiliary and USB ports, as well as a removable tray for smaller items. There are two large cupholders in the center console: all four doors have bottle holders. Two, 12-volt power points recharge electronic devices on the go.
Two large gauges are easy to read in any light. A digital display between the gauges includes the odometer, trip and fuel meters.
Two digital screens at the top of the center stack display audio selections, average fuel economy, time and ambient temperature. For some reason, the ambient temperature gauge didn’t work: it never went above 100 degrees during a streak of 113-degree days.
A convenience package on the test car adds an audio upgrade and power moonroof ($1395). Sirius satellite radio is a stand-alone option ($430).
A fold-down armrest in back gives rear passengers two additional cupholders. The seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern: seat releases are on the outboard side of the seatbacks.
All cars come with front, side and side curtain airbags, active front headrests, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Mazda’s three-year bumper-to-bumper warranty includes free 24-hour roadside assistance.
Base price on the test car is $18,740, not including a $670 delivery charge. Mazda builds the Mazda3 at its Houfu, Japan assembly plant.
Likes: An affordably priced sport-compact sedan with performance rivaling more expensive cars. Mazda has improved interior fit and finish over the first-generation model. All cars come with a high level of standard safety, comfort and convenience features. The sedan’s standard rear pass-through makes it possible to load long cargo into the trunk.
Dislike: Cramped rear center seat, due to the floor tunnel and protruding center console bin.
Model: Mazda3 4-Door Sport
Base price: $18,740
As tested: $21,235
Horsepower: 167 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 168 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 21/29 mpg city/highway
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