All photos: Anne Proffit
Driving the 2011 Mazda3 five-door Grand Touring was like visiting a favorite friend, as I once was owned by a Protege5, the car that started Mazda down the road to building great, hot little hatches.
The 2011 Mazda3 hatch is all grown up, compared to my 2003 model. It has a 2.5-liter in-line four-cylinder engine that makes a grin-inducing 167 horsepower at 6000 rpm (redline is 6250 rpm) and 168 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Mated to a slick six-speed manual transmission, the Mazda3 Grand Touring is heaven on four wheels.
Adding to the pleasure for this front-wheel-drive hatch are MacPherson strut and multi-link suspensions, together with stabilizer bars to keep the chassis tight and firm. It might be too firm for those desiring a truly compliant ride, but not for those of us who love to dwell in the land of Zoom-Zoom. Turning circle is an excellent 32.4 feet.
Brakes are all-wheel ABS discs with brakeforce distribution and brake assist; steering is an extremely positive power rack and pinion system, no slop here at all. The crystal white pearl Mazda3 five-door Grand Touring driven here has Yokohama 205/50R tires on handsome twinned five-spoke, 17-inch alloy rims.
When the Mazda3 lineup was refreshed for 2010, not everyone got on board with the big grin front end, but once behind the wheel, it's easy to see why Mazda chose this type of forward view - it mimics the face of the driver, who's bound to be captivated by the pleasure of driving this car.
From the engine's willingness to rev, the snicky transmission, the exceptional all-independent handling, the spot-on and well-weighted steering and positive-feeling brakes, there's nothing but enjoyment for the driver and four passengers. Double pipes enclosed in bodywork at the rear let everyone know you're coming - and fast.
Mazda's interiors have become the class of the compact field with ergonomics that can't be beat and near-luxury appointments. The driver uses pushbutton start/stop operation and sees black gauges with gentle-on-the-eyes orange numbers and silver pointers; there is a blue rim at night. The speedometer goes to 160 mph and, with the sporting gearing, 2850 rpm equals 70 mph. Not the quietest car in the world, but certainly sporty. There is no temp gauge but blue and red lights give essential information.
The compact Mazda3 five-door hatch stands 177.4 inches long, 69.1 inches wide, 57.9 inches tall and rides on a 103.9-inch wheelbase with minimal overhang. Ground clearance is an excellent 4.7 inches and, as equipped, this PZEV Mazda3 five-door Grand touring weighs 3065 pounds.
In Grand Touring guise, there are only a few options to add to the base sticker price of $23,805 including destination. This Mazda3 has the technology package ($1835) that includes self-leveling, automatic HID adaptive, pivoting headlamps, full-color navigation system that lies conveniently atop the central stack, rain-sensing wipers, satellite radio with six months free, keyless entry and start/stop button and perimeter alarm. There's a $200 charge for the gorgeous white paint and Mazda asks $50 for a rear bumper step plate, bringing the total to $25,890.
The leather-appointed seats offer good support without any extra lumbar settings and have good lateral grip as well; they are a bit on the hard side, just like the suspension. There are dual sunroof controls - this is a standard feature on the Grand Touring model as are the Bose acoustics - and operation is one-touch for opening functions.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel has audio and phone functions on the left and trip computer/navigation on the right side. The cruise control operation takes up the lower area of the steering wheel and is a bit large and clumsy. The fuel release is on the floor by the driver's door. There are five positions for the seat heaters.