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First Drive: 2010 Mazda3

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2010 Mazda3

2010 Mazda3

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We were among the first journalists to drive the 2010 Mazda3 before the recent L.A. auto show--and we're happy to report that Mazda didn’t screw up the recipe for their best-selling vehicle.

On the contrary, the new 3 has been spiced it up a bit with a larger-displacement engine and made it a better-looking and more refined compact. From its manga-like smiling front end to its long list of available luxury options, the new 2010 Mazda3 should be another hot seller.

Mazda is launching the sedan version of the Mazda3 first, but a sleek five-door wagon is on the way in the 2010 model year. We had both the base “i” and the sportier “s” sedan at our disposal for a day of driving up the coast from Santa Monica to Malibu, and then for some twisty routes through the canyons inland.

We started out with the Mazda3 “s” manual and ended the day with the base “i” mated to a manual. Both delivered smooth performance and fantastic handling for a front-driver, but oddly, we preferred the base engine. In stark contrast to the vehicle it replaces, the base engine is peppy enough to live up to the “zoom, zoom” slogan and delivers a respectable 33 mpg on the highway. The Madza3 “s” at 167 horsepower is faster and incredibly smooth, but we don’t think the additional 19 ponies are worth the 4-mpg highway fuel mileage deficit.

After a day in various versions of the new Mazda3, we left impressed with the level of refinement throughout the car. The exterior styling is very expressive while maintaining the family DNA, the interior quality and design are class leading, and driving experience is engaging but not exhausting.

If we had any complaints about the car, it would be that all the “goodies” are only available with the bigger engine. We’d like to see the miserly engine available in a fully loaded car. Also, the driving feel may be a little too smooth for some--but an upcoming five-door Mazdaspeed3 should remedy that.

The 2010 Mazda3 continues the success of the previous model by offering the most engaging driving experience in the compact car segment along with class-exclusive features. Read more over at our full 2010 Mazda3 page, including our quick Bottom Line, and see a huge photo gallery of the new four-door sedan, too.--Joe LaMuraglia

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