2010 Mazda Mazda3

2010 Mazda Mazda3

When I first saw the 2010 Mazda3 all I could think was that the gaping front mouth had been lifted directly from a Peugeot. After having spent a week in the car I can now see the redesign has significant elements of Mazda’s Nagar design philosophy – specifically in regards to the RX-8.

FAST FACTS

1. For 2010 the Mazda3 offers segment-firsts like a push-button ignition and 8-way power driver’s seat with a memory function.

2. Base models come with a 2.0-liter 4-cyl that makes 148hp and 135 ft-lbs of torque, with the optional 2.5-liter making 167hp and 168 ft-lbs.

3. Pricing ranges from $15,045 to $22,300, plus options.

4. Fuel-mileage for the 2.0-liter automatic is rated at 24/33 mpg (city/hwy).

At first, and from a distance, the rest of the car looks mostly unchanged, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The new design is more aggressive all around with sharper edges and a strong line that runs the length of the car. The new bodywork actually gives the Mazda3 a more European look and also makes it appear like something more than just a compact car. Mazda, we should note, has done many things with the 3 to push the boundaries of the compact car class; but we’ll get to those later.

The new front-end design grew on me over the week (and has continued to do so after I returned my tester). The redesigned Mazda3 certainly has character, which is more than you can say of a Focus or Corolla.

One reason for the pronounced face is that Mazda is using the 3 to shape the brand’s identity. Often companies create highly stylized flagship cars and then water down those design elements for lesser vehicles. The 3 is the reverse of that philosophy, as Mazda hopes to better brand the company using a bottom-up approach, which is a good plan considering the popularity of the vehicle.

In fact, one-third of all Mazda vehicles sold are Mazda3s and in North America it’s almost one-half.

The new design also has an engineering advantage with the 2010 model sporting a drag coefficient anywhere from .29 to .31 cd, as compared to .30 to .32 cd on the previous model.

NUMEROUS BODY, ENGINE AND TRIM OPTIONS

If you’re about to head out to a dealership and test drive a Mazda3 (which you’re sure to enjoy) be certain to brush up on all the different models first. It’s definitely confusing.

The four-door sedan is offered in five different versions; with three trim levels for the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (called the Mazda3i) and two trim levels for the upgraded 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (called the Mazda3s). There is also a five-door hatchback version, which is offered in just two trim levels and is available exclusively with the larger engine.

We do like that Mazda offers the hatch (a rarity these days), but it would be nice to have a cheaper version of it.

But enough with the hot-hatches, lets look at economy and the sedan. Starting price is a competitive $15,045 to $18,350 for 2.0-liter models and $18,740 to $22,300 for the 2.5. My tester was a Mazda3i Touring, which, for the record, is the top trim level for the 2.0 four-door and with the five-speed manual runs $17,500 – not bad!

IMRESSIVE INTERIOR WITH SEVERAL SEGMENT-FIRST OPTIONS

It’s not a rocket ship and it’s not a luxury sedan, but at the same time it doesn’t leave you wanting. Standard equipment on all models includes power windows and a tilt and telescopic wheel with audio controls. Air conditioning doesn’t come on the base SV model but is standard on all others, while cruise control comes standard on Touring models but not on the lower two “i” models.

Power locks are also only included on i Touring models, which also come with remote keyless entry.  On 2.5-liter “s” models, a Tech Package upgrade includes Mazda’s advanced keyless entry, allowing a driver to open the car and turn it on without ever touching the key fob – a technology never before seen in this segment.

Standard audio equipment includes an AM/FM/CD player with MP3 capability and an auxiliary input. Four speakers come standard with six speakers on the Touring model, which also gets Bluetooth.

There is an optional 10-speaker Bose audio system that comes in a package with a sunroof for $1,395. If you want navigation you’ll have to purchase the 2.5-liter “s” model and then pay the $1,195 on top of that for the Tech Package (which also includes the Advanced Keyless Entry and Sirius satellite radio with a 6 month subscription).

As for how the interior looks, well, we’d have to say we’re impressed. It’s a whole level above cars like the Corolla.

The material quality is excellent and all the switches are top-notch. It’s even well designed with a look that says more than just economy. The shifter is in the perfect location and the tit and telescopic steering helps get you set yourself up right. The Mazda3’s center stack design is also driver-oriented with the audio and climate control info located on a separate readout at the top of the dash – ensuring the driver doesn’t have to look far from the road.

Improvements over the last model include front seat cushions that are almost an inch longer for better thigh support and redesigned seatbacks that are 1.4-inches wider and provide better lumbar support.

Mazda also offers a segment-first eight-way power driver’s seat with a memory function, however, it only comes on the top-level “s” Grant Touring models. The same goes for the heated front seat function and dual-zone climate control.

Our only real issue with the interior is that rear set legroom is lacking – even for the compact segment.

POWERFUL STANDARD ENGINE

As the Mazda3 is aimed at younger buyers, the all-important horsepower number is important. With 148 ponies, the 3 is trumped only by the Cobalt in this class. Torque is rated at 135 ft-lbs. (PZEV versions for California and some other states have 144hp and 132 ft-lbs of torque).

With more than adequate power, the 3 does have plenty of thrust and can be a lot of fun with the manual tranny. It almost makes the 2.5-liter engine seem redundant. For those who do want more, the 2.5 puts the Mazda3 into a quasi-performance arena (the real duty is saved for the MazdaSpeed3) where it competes head-to-head with cars like the Corolla SRX and Sentra SE-R with 167hp and 168 ft-lbs of torque (165 and 167 for PZEV models respectively).

Something we really love about Mazda as a company is that it understands the enthusiast market. For example, while most companies make their more powerful models only available with an automatic, Mazda offers a manual. Better yet, it’s not just the same old five-speed but rather a six-cog box for maximum fun!

As for that five-speed stick-shift, it’s an excellent unit, with short and smooth throws. A well-engineered manual transmission really adds to the driving experience and in the 3 helped me further appreciate the strong base 2.0-liter engine and excellent suspension and steering.

STILL LAGGING IN THE FUEL-ECONOMY DEPARTMENT

Mazda has made its performance bed, however, and will have to sleep in it, trading speed and power for fuel economy. The new 3 boasts an improvement in both city and highway driving over the previous model for a total of 25/33 mpg (24 city for the automatic), but that falls short (just a little though) of every other car in this segment – despite the fact that the 33 mpg rating represents a 10 percent improvement.

IMPRESSIVELY-SPORTY DRIVING DYNAMICS

The chassis, suspension and steering are all as equally competent and sporty as the engine. Steering is direct and the suspension is firm enough for spirited driving and equally competent at soaking up bumps. On the whole, the car handles very nicely, even with the standard 16-inch wheels (17s come on higher models). Corners come and go as they should on a properly tuned front-wheel drive car, with the rear rotating behind the front like it’s turning on an axis.

The usual array of safety features are present on the 3, such as ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and brake assist. Six airbags are standard while stability control only comes on “i” Touring models (like on our tester) with the lower two versions doing without. It’s common that lower models in this bracket wouldn’t get stability control and we look forward to seeing that change.

Another segment-first, which again isn’t offered on models like our Touring tester, is adaptive front lighting, a supposed safety feature that can swivel the lights up to 15 degrees to help driver’s see around corners.

Unfortunately many of the car’s standout features are only available on top-level models.

THE VERDICT

In the ultra-competitive compact car segment companies really need to bring their A-game, and Mazda has done just that. For 2010 the Mazda3 gets all sorts of small improvements as well as a modern new design and big horsepower rating that will have current and potential Civic owners doing a double-take. Despite an all new body and larger top-level engine, the 2010 Mazda 3 is definitely an evolutionary (rather than revolutionary) change from the past model, which is smart on Mazda’s part, as they got so much right with the first version.

And as it seems trends really are changing and people do want a much higher level of performance and luxury in a small package, Mazda is wise to offer segment firsts like an advanced keyless system, a push-button ignition and an 8-way power driver’s seat.

So if you want to dress-up your compact car Mazda offers all that you need, while at the same time for a reasonable price you can get an economical commuter that is also a lot of fun to drive.

On that note, however, Mazda has geared the 3 more towards the performance crowd than the green crowd and while it does get good fuel economy, in the compact car segment, a vehicle’s mpg specs can never be high enough.

Mazda has do doubt made a conscious decision to favor performance over fuel economy and we can’t blame them. With the vast majority in the compact segment catering to the penny-pinchers, it’s nice to see someone with the driving enthusiast in mind.

PLUS

Proper front-wheel drive handling
High-quality interior trim
Powerful base engine

MINUS

Stability control not even an option on bottom two models
Fuel economy still not up to par
Many segment-firsts, but only on top-level models

RELATED READING:

2009 Toyota Corolla
Nissan Sentra 2.0 SL
2009 Hyundai Elantra Review
2009 Ford Focus

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