2010 Mazda MAZDA3 Review

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The Car Connection

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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2010 Mazda MAZDA3

Styling

The restyled 2010 Mazda Mazda3 wins more than a few fans with its cutting-edge (and attention-getting) interior and exterior styling.

The completely restyled 2010 Mazda Mazda3 definitely makes a statement, and while most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com love the new look, a couple of reviewers aren't yet sold on the Mazda3 2010's reworked sheetmetal.

The 2010 Mazda3 is an affordable compact from Mazda that is available as a "four-door sedan and four-door hatchback (a so-called five-door)," according to USA Today. The 2010 Mazda3 boasts a completely new look compared to its predecessor, but Car and Driver says that the "various Mazda traits make the sedan immediately recognizable as a Mazda3." Anyone looking at the new Mazda3 2010 will immediately notice what AutoWeek calls the "stronger lines" on the latest Mazda3, as well as the "distinctive character lines that tie together the high rear deck and the front fascia." Cars.com reviewers report that they "really like the new shape of the front end, especially the flares on the front fenders," and they appreciate that "the 2010 Mazda3 looks radically different while still being recognizable as a Mazda." USA Today reviewers are much harsher on the new 2010 Mazda Mazda3, though, sniping that "whatever formula Mazda used to jazz up its compact Mazda3 sedan for 2010 certainly included two squirts of ugly," including the "open-mouth grille, like a fish, [that] makes the front look so heavy you expect the car to tip on its snout."

Although there is some dissent regarding the new exterior of the 2010 Mazda Mazda3, the interior draws high praise in nearly every review read by TheCarConnection.com. Cars.com remarks that the 2010 Mazda3's cabin "looks to maintain its classy feel with a sloped center stack and a new scalloped gauge cluster that flows over the center stack and, on higher trim levels, also houses an integrated navigation screen." Jalopnik loves how the "dash sweeps dramatically from its center to the cabin's sidewalls," while also noting that "the slant of the instrument panel optimizes operating efficiency while providing an attractive focal point." The only major criticism of the interior styling of the 2010 Mazda3 regards the Multi-Information Display, which Automobile Magazine says "displays information in white and in a dramatically different font and size than the main, red display—it looks so out of place that it might as well be from another car."

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2010 Mazda MAZDA3

Performance

The 2010 Mazda Mazda3 doesn't offer the best EPA numbers in the class, but for driving excitement, it's hard to top.

The Mazda3 2010 will arrive on U.S. shores next year with a moderate power boost, thanks to an available larger engine, and the same sharp, grin-inducing handling that characterized the first generation.

The 2010 Mazda Mazda3 is available with one of two engines, according to reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. AutoWeek notes that the 2010 Mazda3 gets an optional "2.5-liter four-cylinder engine borrowed from the Mazda6" that "produces 167 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque," while the "base engine remains a 2.0-liter, 148-hp, 135-lb-ft inline four." The various engines are denoted by differing suffixes on the 2010 Mazda3 lineup; 2010 Mazda Mazda3s with the 2.0-liter get a Mazda3 i designation, while those with the upgraded engine will be known as the 2010 Mazda3 s model. Both engines provide plenty of pep, with USA Today calling the 2.0-liter "sufficiently powerful for most conditions" and describing the 2.5-liter engine as having "enough go for most drivers, notably more than the 2-liter."

The available transmissions for the Mazda3 2010 also rate highly with reviewers, particularly the manual offerings. Among the available transmissions, Car and Driver reports that "a slick-shifting five-speed manual is standard with the 2.0-liter and a new five-speed automatic is optional," while "the larger engine comes with a six-speed manual; a five-speed automatic is optional." USA Today reviewers claim that the manual is "fun-to-shift," with a clutch that "seemed just so." Jalopnik also points out that an "electronically controlled Sport-AT automatic transmission" is available, which "offers enthusiastic drivers the control of manual gear engagement with the convenience and comfort of a conventional automatic."

Compact cars typically feature high fuel economy as a major selling point, and while Mazda would like to market the 2010 Mazda Mazda3 as a class standout, it falls short in some versions. The EPA estimates that 2010 Mazda3 i models will get 24 mpg city and 33 mpg on the highway with the automatic transmission, while the manual gets a 25/33 mpg rating. For the more powerful Mazda3 2010 s, the numbers drop to 22/29 mpg with the automatic and 21/29 mpg with the manual. According to Cars.com, "neither engine beats the competition on the mileage front—the 2009 Toyota Corolla gets 27/35 with an automatic—but the Mazda3 has always been about the fun driving experience."

Speaking of a fun driving experience, the 2010 Mazda3 offers it in spades. AutoWeek reviewers agree, raving about the "direct and linear steering feel, rigid chassis and well-sorted suspension." Motor Trend also approves of the new steering system, noting that "the added stiffness and responsiveness when exercising the subcompact through hard accelerating uphill curves, as well as off-throttle downhill downshifts," made a significant difference in the overall driving experience. USA Today calls the Mazda3 2010 "solid" and "surefooted," while AutoWeek points out that "the braking system is upgraded with a new vacuum booster that provides good, light pedal response without overboosting hard braking."

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2010 Mazda MAZDA3

Comfort & Quality

The seats inside the 2010 Mazda Mazda3 are long-haul comfortable, but your ears will have to withstand a tire-noise assault.

All of the 2010 Mazda Mazda3s that the automotive press has reviewed at the time of this writing are pre-production models, meaning there are some quality issues to be ironed out, but the Mazda3 2010 still leaves a positive impression in this category.

For the 2010 Mazda3, Mazda's designers and engineers take a few steps toward improving overall passenger comfort, though that isn't necessarily a sore point in the outgoing Mazda3 model. Like its predecessor, the 2010 Mazda Mazda3 offers available seating for five, though reviews read by TheCarConnection.com suggest that four is a more realistic figure. Edmunds reviewers note that front-occupant comfort has improved, thanks to the fact that "Mazda's engineers added longer seat cushions and slightly taller seatbacks," while the power seats also include "a handy three-position memory setting." USA Today approves of the new seats, finding that the "leather bucket seats were comfortable and supportive" during their test drives, "with high bolsters that kept you in place as you flung the 3 about."

The 2010 Mazda Mazda3 may be completely redesigned from an aesthetic standpoint, but its dimensions, and therefore cargo capacity, remain virtually unchanged. USA Today's measurements show that the Mazda3 2010 in sedan form will hold "11.8 cubic feet" of stuff in the trunk, while the "hatchback cargo area is 17 cu. ft. behind [the] rear seat." The only slight boost in space comes from the marginally increased overall size, which Edmunds notes "is about three inches longer than its predecessor," though the "width is unchanged, while the height is up a couple tenths of an inch." Car and Driver brings some clarity by reporting that "the interior volume is unchanged over that of the previous 3, although trunk space has increased." USA Today reviewers dole out high praise for the sedan's trunk, finding that there was "no skimping" on the trunk, which offers "nice lining [and] classy hinges that don't eat luggage space."

The interior materials and assembly quality on the 2010 Mazda3 bring an air of sophisticated luxury that is well beyond the price tag of the 2010 Mazda Mazda3. Cars.com mentions that the Mazda3 2010 has a "classy feel," while Jalopnik reports that "the number of parting lines is minimized and soft-touch surfaces show an elegant grained texture." A wide range of optional luxury features can add to the luxurious ambiance.

Several reviewers point to the smoothness and refinement of the 2010 Mazda Mazda3 engines. Car and Driver says that even the base engine "is smooth and fuss free in its operation, never flinching at runs to the 6500-rpm power peak," and Automobile Magazine finds the same performance from the 2.5-liter powerplant, claiming that it "is so unbelievably smooth that you'll never hear or feel a vibration, from idle to fuel cutoff."

One of the most common complaints about the 2010 Mazda3 in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com is that the cabin is quite noisy. These issues have plagued the Mazda3 for some time, and despite Mazda's efforts at reducing noise levels, many reviewers are still disappointed by the decibel level inside the Mazda3 2010. Motor Trend warns that "there is still a little too much road noise coming through the floor" of the 2010 Mazda Mazda3, while USA Today refers to the "horrible tire noise" when driving on uneven surfaces.

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2010 Mazda MAZDA3

Safety

The 2010 Mazda Mazda3 might have a full roster of airbags, but it lacks standard ABS and electronic stability control.

The 2010 Mazda Mazda3 has not been in the public eye long enough to receive attention from either NHTSA or the IIHS, so crash-test data is unavailable at the time of writing, but the outgoing Mazda3 model earns decent marks. Unfortunately, the 2010 Mazda3 still lacks some basic standard safety features offered by some other vehicles in the class.

While the Mazda3 2010 edition hasn't been crash-tested by either major testing agency, last year, NHTSA awarded the Mazda Mazda3 four out of five stars for front impact protection, the only test they conducted. The four-star rating applied to both sedan and hatchback body styles. The IIHS test offered similar results, with the Mazda3 earning the highest possible rating, "good," for frontal offset impact protection. Once again, this was the only test conducted, and the score applied for both body styles. While the 2010 Mazda3 features all-new styling, much of its internal architecture is similar, so experts at TheCarConnection.com expect little variation in the test ratings.

For those of us who would rather avoid accidents in the first place, Mazda outfits the Mazda3 2010 with a few noteworthy safety features. Jalopnik reviewers note that "powerful disc brakes are standard Mazda3 features," and mentions that standard safety equipment includes "six airbags and active head restraints," which work to reduce the risk of whiplash by moving forward to meet the back of the head in the event of an accident.

However, Mazda cannot be congratulated for offering all the right safety features as standard on the Mazda3. Cars.com reports that "base models will not come with standard stability control," but rather "it and ABS will be optional equipment."

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2010 Mazda MAZDA3

Features

The 2010 Mazda Mazda3, at least in Grand Touring garb, is a high-end model selling for a serious discount.

Mazda has built quite a reputation lately for offering high-end features in price ranges that typically don't see many luxury items. The 2010 Mazda3 carries on that tradition with a wide selection of standard and optional features spread across the trims that should appease almost any sport compact customer, though some options aren't available on all trims.

The 2010 Mazda Mazda3 comes with an impressive list of standard features, even in its most basic trim level. Car and Driver reports that the 2010 Mazda3 offers "gadgets galore," including the Multi-Information Display that Jalopnik reviewers say "is positioned high on the center portion of the instrument panel" and shows "navigation, audio, and trip computer information." AutoWeek points out that, for the 2010 Mazda3, the "already sharp interior lighting goes interactive," and that "upon opening the door, foot well and door handle lamps illuminate, followed by the instrument cluster, center stack, audio and climate controls."

Based on TheCarConnection.com's research, base models of the Mazda3 2010 should start in the $17,000 range, but checking the numerous options boxes can move that price north in a hurry. Automobile Magazine deems the Mazda3 2010 "a compact car that offers many of the features available only in larger, more expensive cars," including "a 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint surround system, dual-zone automatic climate control, and an eight-way power driver's seat." Jalopnik adds that "connectivity for cell phones and portable media players," featuring a Bluetooth hookup, is available, while the 2010 Mazda Mazda3 "options list also includes rain-sensing wipers [and] heated side mirrors." The only major downside to all the available features, at least based on research conducted by TheCarConnection.com, is that they aren't universally available across the 2010 Mazda Mazda3 lineup. Automobile Magazine, for instance, states that "many of these options are available only with the top-spec Grand Touring trim level, which is available only with the larger 2.5-liter engine"; thus, "if you want the small motor, you can't have the heated leather seats, power driver's seat with memory, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers," or other features such as the navigation system on your 2010 Mazda3.

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