2006 Mazda Mazda3

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2004 Mazda Mazda3

This 2004 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2009.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Mazda comes up with a zippy new affordable and practical model.
Pros:
  • Sporty
  • Practical
  • Fun to drive
Cons:
  • Small base tires
  • Hatchback version road noise
  • Small sedan trunk

The sporty new small Mazda3 should dispel any doubts that Mazda can back up its "zoom-zoom" advertising campaign. It's more fun than a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic, but is plenty practical.

The Mazda3 replaces this Ford-controlled Japanese automaker's slightly smaller Protege, which also was practical and fun but outgunned by cars from larger competitors. The Mazda3 is even more fun to drive and has greater sophistication.

Brand New Car
Not just an updated Protege, the sporty looking Mazda3 is a brand new car built on a new platform that is nearly 50 percent stiffer than the Protege's fairly rigid body shell. That means the Mazda3 feels more responsive, with better ride, handling and safety.

The Mazda3 is easily one of the most enjoyable small cars. The steering is sharp, the handling taut and the braking strong. Moreover, the ride is comfortable.

The Mazda3 comes as a front-wheel-drive sedan in $13,680 "i" trim and in higher-line $16,405 "s" trim. It's also sold as a versatile $16,895 "s" 4-door hatchback with rather controversial styling, thanks to input from Japanese, European and American designers.

Swinging for the Fences
Mazda takes chances with designs because it isn't one of the established players in the small car arena, such as Toyota and Honda, and thus can swing for the fences to capture less conservative customers who want something different.

The Mazda3 is a youth-oriented car, but the hatchback version is especially aimed at young drivers because of such things as its added versatility and larger tires for sportier handling.

With South Korean automakers offering lots of standard equipment in the small car market, Mazda is forced to do the same with the Mazda3. Even the "i" sedan is fairly well equipped, with such features as a tilt-telescoping steering wheel with radio controls, bucket seats, a center console, a split-folding rear seat, an AM/FM/CD player, intermittent wipers and a rear defogger.

Small Standard Tires
However, this version's 65-series tires aren't especially large and are not put on very wide (15-inch) wheels.

The "i" sedan has a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with 148 horsepower that delivers acceptable acceleration, but it works hard when pushed because of its rather small size. It works best with the slick, standard 5-speed manual gearbox because the $900 4-speed automatic transmission soaks up power.

Larger Engine
The s sedan adds a quieter, larger 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine that has more torque. That engine better handles the automatic without a performance loss. The bigger engine provides the liveliest acceleration with the manual transmission, which is best suited to the fun-loving nature of the Mazda3.

Mazda3 owners shouldn't have to make many fuel stops. The 2.0-liter engine delivers an estimated 28 mpg in the city and 35 on the highway with the manual and 26 and 34 with the automatic. Figures for the larger engine are 25 and 32 with the manual and 24 and 29 with the automatic.

Both trim levels with the stronger engine add such items as air conditioning, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry, height-adjustable driver's seat and power windows, door locks and mirrors.

Wheel size for the s sedan moves up to a more respectable 16 inches, and its 55-series tires are wider for crisper handling.

The hatchback gets even larger (17-inch) wheels and wider (50-series) tires. Both the sedan and hatchback have sporty alloy wheels, which cost an extra $400 for the "i" sedan.

Key Extras
Stand-along options include $850 air conditioning for the "i" sedan and $590 leather upholstery for the s versions. A power sunroof costs $890 for all trim levels and comes with an in-dash 6-disc CD changer. The s sedan is offered with a cosmetic $490 sport package for a racier appearance.

Regarding safety, an $800 option package for all versions contains front-seat side airbags, head-protecting side-curtain airbags and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution for surer panic stops.

Assertive Appearance
This new Mazda has an assertive look, with a long wheelbase and passenger compartment, short overhangs and aggressively flared fenders.

The Mazda3 has one of the roomiest interiors in the subcompact car segment because it's one of the longest, widest and tallest autos in that crowded market. The hatchback is 176.6 inches long, while the sedan is 178.3 inches long.

There's lots of room up front in the nicely contoured bucket seats. However, despite one of the longest wheelbases in its class, the car's rear legroom becomes tight for a 6-footer with long legs if the driver's seat is more than halfway back. The hatchback has more rear headroom for tall occupants than does the sedan, which is only average in that regard.

The audio system has buttons that call for too much driver attention, but major controls are easy to reach and use. Unlike some older Mazdas, the Mazda3 has upscale interior materials. However, the hatchback's interior allows more road noise to enter.

Roomier Hatchback
The sedan's trunk has a low opening and is nicely shaped, although it's rather small. The hatchback provides more cargo room, but at least the rear seatback can be easily flipped forward in the sedan (and also in the hatchback) for more luggage room.

Ford is out to sell more Mazdas, and the Mazda3 promises to help it attain that goal.

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BB05 - 7/22/2014 11:05:21 PM