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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
a big-time favorite of tuners and enthusiasts
The i sedans are OK around town but lack midrange punch
the Mazda 3 tends to drive like a much more expensive sport sedan
Always impressed by the dynamics
The 2008 Mazda 3, depending on trim, is equipped with a four-cylinder engine, manual or automatic transmission, a firm, sport-oriented suspension, and good brakes.
All Mazda 2008 3 i sedans use a "2-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 148 hp and 135 [pound-feet] of torque, while s models use a 2.3-liter four-cylinder rated at 156 hp and 150 [pound-feet] of torque," reports Edmunds. The MazdaSpeed-edition 3 comes with a 2.3-liter turbocharged four with 263 hp and 280 pound-feet of torque, and it sprints to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, according to J.D. Power. It comes only with a six-speed manual transmission. ConsumerGuide notes the "Mazdaspeed is very quick, though acceleration is blunted a bit by turbo lag." In their test of a 2008 Mazda 3 Grand Touring sedan with the 2.3 and automatic, Edmunds reports "the Mazda did the 0-60-mph sprint in 8.6 seconds."
For the Mazda 3, 2008 models' availability with either a manual or automatic transmission is a feather in their cap. "Both engines come standard with a five-speed manual...A four-speed automatic with [manual mode] is optional on i models," writes Edmunds, "while s models upgrade to a five-speed automatic with [manual mode]." ConsumerGuide thinks the automatic transmissions are "smooth and responsive" and feels the manuals have "precise shift and clutch action." But Motor Trend, after their test of a Mazda 2008 3, cautions, "the [auto] tranny did occasionally suffer from 'erratic gear tenacity,' in which it refused to engage a higher or lower cog upon input."
Fuel economy is average for an economy car. Fueleconomy.gov lists the ratings for the 2008 Mazda 3 as follows: 2-liter with the five-speed rates 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway; 2-liter, four-speed auto rates 23/31 mpg; 2.3-liter, five-speed manual rates 22/29 mpg; and the 2.3-liter, five-speed automatic rates 22/29 mpg. The government site calls the turbocharged 2008 Mazda 3 "Speed3" and lists its rating as 18/26 mpg. ConsumerGuide tests a few models of the Mazda 3 and finds that 2008 manual s sedans "averaged 27.1 mpg in mainly highway driving." An s hatchback "averaged 20.8 mpg in mostly city driving, including gas-easting performance runs." A Mazdaspeed "averaged 20.6 mpg." The turbocharged engine requires premium-grade gas, and the others use regular.
Mazda 2008 3s are tuned more for sport handling, and that influences its ride. Edmunds says, "the Mazda 3 tends to drive like a much more expensive sport sedan...thanks to its performance-oriented chassis tuning." ConsumerGuide writes, "All 3s have firm suspensions that show good composure except over large high-speed dips and swells...and is among the best handling compacts." The Mazdaspeed, they note, is "nimble and balanced, helped by precise, linear steering with good road feel." They relate, "Braking on all is stable, but be sure to get ABS." Motor Trend, too, is taken by the 2008 Mazda 3's handling. "Around the skidpad," they contend, "the 3 s Grand Touring runs circles around its competitors...[and] perhaps most impressive is the Mazda's 60-to-0 mph, which at 112 feet, matches that of the all-new Pontiac G8 GT." Motor Trend sums it up: "Nothing else in this field feels so lively and well-planted -- you can feel the racing DNA in the 3's bones."
The 2008 Mazda 3 rewards drivers looking for sport on a small budget.