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TheCarConnection.com's team of car experts pored over road tests from respected Web sources to bring you this conclusive review of the 2008 Mazda 3. Experts from TheCarConnection.com also have driven the Mazda 3 sedan, wagon, and high-performance Mazdaspeed3, and can offer you a definitive opinion on this economical yet sporty line of compact cars. This review also looks at competitors to the 2008 Mazda 3 line so that you can be fully informed if you're considering a new vehicle.
Ask any editor at TheCarConnection.com, and they'll tell you that the 2008 Mazda 3 is one of their favorite compact cars. The reasons are pretty simple: The 2008 Mazda 3 is practical, affordable, and well built, and it has a sporty, fun-to-drive character.
The 2008 Mazda 3 is offered as a front-wheel-drive sedan and a five-door hatchback (some would call it a station wagon). Both wear a cleanly styled nose that has a contemporary look. The high-performance Mazdaspeed3 only comes in the wagon body style, and this special model includes many unique features, including wider front fenders, different front and rear fascias, and a spoiler attached to the hatch. Unlike some other factory hot rods, the Mazdaspeed3 doesn't scream "I'm fast, give me a ticket." The look is conservatively aggressive.
For the least expensive 2008 Mazda 3 sedan, a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is standard. Uplevel "s" four-doors and the five-door wagon get the 2.3-liter four-cylinder that generates 156 horsepower. The five-door also gets sporty body add-ons, 17-inch wheels, and fog lamps. Five-speed manual transmissions are standard on these models, and optional gearboxes include a four-speed automatic on the base sedan and a five-speed automatic on the uplevel Mazda 3.
On the road, the 2008 Mazda 3 is a fine-driving small car with agile moves. It's entertaining to drive. However, its ride is a bit on the stiff side for some drivers. Road noise is also present and gets tiring after a few hours on the road.
If you step up to the superquick 2008 Mazdaspeed3, the engine is a turbocharged 2.3-liter that uses a sophisticated fuel delivery system called direct injection. This technology improves both power and fuel economy. A six-speed manual is the only transmission available to handle this engine's 263 horsepower. Hang on, because the Mazdaspeed3 will take you for a great ride. Quarter-mile performance is musclecar strong, and its top speed is more than 150 mph.
Both body styles of the 2008 Mazda 3 are rated as five-passenger cars, but the truth is that fitting three in the backseat is tight. With only four aboard, the interior is roomy enough, but because this is a compact car, don't expect the space of a full-size SUV--or rear cup holders either. However, you can expect easy-to-use controls and a high level of fit and finish. The Mazda 3 is a quality piece. Seating and visibility for the driver are both good.
The Mazdaspeed3 edition is leather trimmed, has front seats that are more heavily bolstered, and sports bits of aluminum trim throughout to complement the car's impressive performance.
As you'd expect, the wagon carries more than the sedan, offering 43.4 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, 16.5 with the seats up. The sedan's trunk holds 14.6 cubic feet, but this increases when the rear seats are folded.
For Mazda, 2008 is the year the company significantly improved this car's safety by making side and curtain airbags standard. Government and IIHS crash tests show that this is a good move for consumers. The Mazdaspeed3 also offers electronic stability control as standard equipment, and the feature is optional on other models. Anti-lock brakes are standard on all but the least expensive "s" trim levels.
Available features span a comprehensive range, and they include a Bose audio system, heated leather seats, a navigation system, Sirius Satellite Radio, and high-intensity xenon headlamps. The top-of-the-line Grand Touring model features a leather interior, a premium sound system, high-gloss-finish 17-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing front windshield wipers, and automatic on/off headlights.
The new-for-2008 Ford Focus is a competent competitor, a likable mainstream product aimed at mainstream customers. Neither its styling nor its handling is as sporty as the Mazda 3, but the Focus does offer a two-door coupe body style and the Ford/Microsoft SYNC entertainment system.
The Honda Civic may be the Mazda 3's closest competitor in terms of quality and sporty character. You may or may not like the Civic's two-tier instrument panel, so try it first.
The Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass are both mini-wagons that offer the flexibility of slightly taller body designs and plenty of interior room. The Dodge Caliber SRT4 is a serious competitor to the Mazdaspeed3, and the Jeep Compass has the ability to do light off-road driving when equipped with all-wheel drive.
The Hyundai Elantra is another good value in the compact range of cars, and while you might be attracted to its price and warranty, the Elantra is not as refined or as quiet as the Mazda 3.
- Trim exterior style
- Quality of interior
- Excellent performance
- Good fuel economy
- Lots of standard airbags
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- Some may find ride a bit stiff
- Road noise
- No rear-seat cup holders