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The 2011 Mazda3 built its reputation around being fun to drive, and it looks the part, with fit, flamboyant styling in either sedan or hatchback models.
Last year the Mazda3 was completely redesigned, with 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 sophisticated and plush, with refined shapes and expansive pieces of black and toned plastic
The entry-level 2011 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' models come 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.
No matter which model, handling is the Mazda3's key to delivering 'zoom-zoom' behind the wheel; the suspension tuning is athletic and firm, but compliant enough not to compromise ride comfort too much. The previous version was criticized for a stiff and noisy ride at times. The engineers seem to have made the new car more resilient, yet suspension and road noise sometimes overwhelms the cabin. That said, the interior is otherwise a pleasant place, with generous, supportive front seats and a reasonably accommodating back seat—plus a low, flat cargo floor with the seats folded down.
Fuel economy is the only area where the Mazda3's decidedly mediocre: ratings of 25/33 mpg for the smaller engine with the manual gearbox to 22/29 mpg for the larger engine with the automatic are barely up to snuff for the class.
Mazda continues to set the Mazda3 apart from other affordable compacts by offering features that are otherwise seen only on luxury-brand vehicles. The top-of-the-line 2011 Mazda3 Grand Touring includes bi-xenon adaptive lighting; a three-position memory function has been added to cars equipped with power seats; and features like rain-sensing wipers, a ten-speaker Bose surround-sound system, Bluetooth connectivity for cell phones and portable media players, a dock for iPods, and Sirius Satellite Radio are all on offer.