2010 Mazda MAZDA3 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 2, 2009

The 2010 Mazda3 engages drivers like few other compact cars, though a little more room and less noise couldn't hurt.

TheCarConnection.com's editors have driven the 2010 Mazda3 to produce this hands-on road test. Editors also have researched some of the Web’s most reputable reviews to bring you a consensus of the new Mazda3's styling, features, comfort, safety and performance.

The 2010 Mazda Mazda3 compact has arrived in showrooms, sporting a wide-mouthed "grin" on its front end, a pair of four-cylinder engines to choose from, and a reputation for fun, quick handling. The Mazda3 represents one-third of Mazda’s sales, and it’s easy to understand why after spending time with one. It’s a fit, frugal, and fun compact car.

The 2010 Mazda3 comes in either four-door sedan or five-door hatchback body styles, both with front-wheel drive and a choice of two engines. The look is related to the former version, but takes the more generic shape of the 2009 Mazda3 and amps up its personality. Most prominent: a new five-point grille that is the new “global face” of Mazda. It’s a handsome, upscale look with some sportscar wedge to its profile and a “happy” face in front (look at the nose and headlights and maybe you’ll see its smile, too). Inside, the cockpit is more sophisticated and plusher than before, with refined shapes and expansive pieces of black and toned plastic, some of which looks less pleasing than other bits. It's a common refrain: carmakers have to balance out look and feel with the cost of the cabin, and the Mazda3 balances the two better than most, but some color choices accent the grainier plastics.

The entry-level 2010 Mazda Mazda3 “i” is equipped with a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to either a five-speed manual or automatic transmission. The sportier “s” model comes with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine from the Mazda6 that pumps out 167 horsepower. The larger engine gets a six-speed manual transmission as standard and the same optional five-speed automatic as the base car. The base engine does a competent job of producing commute-worthy power, and with the five-speed automatic, it's reasonably swift for lane changes and highway passes. It does tend to boom and whir more than you might like, though. The 2.5-liter four is a much happier prospect for enthusiasts--it picks up nicely in most gears and feels more refined. TheCarConnection.com's have no complaints with either transmission, but prefer the automatic's manual shift mode for this car's intended purpose. Fuel economy rates from 25/33 mpg for the smaller engine with the manual gearbox, to 22/29 mpg for the larger engine with the automatic--not best in class, though not bad.

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The Mazda3's athletic suspension delivers the promise of “zoom zoom” from behind the wheel. The previous version was criticized for a stiff and noisy ride at times. The engineers seem to have made the new car more resilient, though suspension noise is still an issue.

Like other compact sedans, the 2010 Mazda3 is rated as a five-passenger vehicle, but in reality, it is more comfortable with only four onboard.  Ingress and egress are good, and with fold-down rear seats, the trunk capacity grows considerably. The lift-over height is high, though, and the opening to the trunk is a bit narrow. Interior headroom is a major issue for tall backseat passengers--and if you order the sunroof, drivers will need to ratchet the front seat down to avoid major friction with the Mazda3's headline.

The Mazda3's crisp, responsive handling and standard anti-lock brakes go a long way toward avoiding a crash. Six standard airbags, active head restraints, and carefully engineered crush zones help you survive an accident when the handling can't help you avoid it. Optional dynamic stability control and traction control are standard on higher-end models of the 2010 Mazda Mazda3 but not offered on base versions, an important omission to note if you're purchasing this car for young adults or first-time drivers.

The original Mazda3 sets itself apart from its competitors in many ways, one being the availability of features that you can’t find in other compact vehicles. The 2010 Mazda3 continues this trend with first-in-class bi-xenon adaptive lighting standard on the Grand Touring model. A three-position memory function has been added to cars equipped with power seats—another first for the segment and not offered on any competitor's compact car. A navigation system is available, but it's a frustrating exercise to program with steering-wheel-mounted buttons; there's no touch controls on screen at all, and no way for the passenger to input destinations. Other available features include a Bose 10-speaker premium surround sound system, Bluetooth connectivity for cell phones and portable media players, a dock for iPods, and Sirius Satellite Radio. An advanced keyless entry system includes push-button engine starting. The Mazda3 options list also includes rain-sensing wipers, a sunroof, leather upholstery, and heated seats and side mirrors.

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