2006 Mazda Mazda3

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Review: 2008 Mazda Mazda3

This 2008 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2009.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Mazda's best-seller provides a good blend of sportiness and practicality.
Pros:
  • Quick with upscale engines
  • Fun to drive
  • Good trim level range
Cons:
  • Long-throw clutch
  • Tight legroom behind a tall driver
  • Rather loud engines

This sporty, cleanly styled Japanese compact provides a touch of European flair.

The solidly built Mazda3 provides a format or trim level for most compact car buyers, which is one of the secrets of its success. The front-wheel-drive Mazda3 is available as a 4-door sedan or 5-door hatchback in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels. The sedan's Sport and Touring trims are also further broken out into "i" and "s" option packages, where all 5-doors get the uplevel "s" trim.

The sizzling MAZDASPEED3 (in Sport and Grand Touring trim) is available only as a 5-door hatchback. The Mazda3 was redesigned in 2007 and thus little is changed for 2008. However, "s" Sport trim levels add standard front-seat side and side-curtain airbags.

Engine Trio for the 3
Three 4-cylinder engines populate the lineup. The base 2.0-liter engine has 148 horsepower, while a 2.3-liter unit offers 156 horsepower and additional torque. The MAZDASPEED3 has a turbocharged, direct-injected, 2.3-liter four cylinder with 263 horsepower.

The base 2.0-liter engine is happiest in town, while the non-turbo 2.3-liter Four is comfortable for both in-town and open-road motoring. The turbo engine turns the Mazda3 into a real hot rod, enabling it to sprint to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds, with a top speed of 155 mph. The MAZDASPEED3 isn't for uninvolved drivers, since it's only available with a 6-speed manual transmission. The non-turbo Mazda3s are available with a 5-speed manual, or 4- and 5-speed automatics.

Not surprisingly, the hot-hatch MAZDASPEED3 delivers the lowest estimated fuel economy: 18/26 (city/hwy). Premium fuel also is required, while the tamer Mazda3s need only regular-grade gasoline. With the 156-horsepower engine, the Mazda3's mpg rating is 22/29 with both the 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic. The most fuel-stingy Mazda3 has the base 2.0-liter engine, with 24/32 and 23/31 mpg ratings with the 5-speed stick and 4-speed automatic, respectively.

Solid Mid-Lineup Performer
I recently drove a silver 2008 Mazda3 S Touring hatchback with the 156-horsepower engine. Lots of revs were needed for the best acceleration, but the engine spun-up easily. It was smooth enough, but rather loud during hard acceleration, as are all Mazda3 engines. My test car's manual gearbox shifted well and worked with a light, but long-throw, clutch.

This Mazda3 featured quick, but rather heavy, variable-assist power steering. Handling was good, despite the 60/40 front/rear weight distribution. The ride was firm but supple enough to easily deal with road imperfections. Wheelbase is rather long (for a compact) at 103.9 inches — and beyond increasing interior room — helps the all-independent suspension provide a smoother ride.

Stopping distances were short, and the brake pedal had a linear action that allowed consistently smooth stops. Both the S Touring sedan and hatchback ride on 50-series tires on 17-inch wheels. That's up from taller 65-series tires on rather small 15-inch wheels for the base Mazda3. The MAZDASPEED3 rolls on 45-series tires mounted on 18-inch wheels.

Plenty of Content
My Touring S hatchback ($18,425) was well-equipped, with air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/CD with steering-wheel audio controls, a leather-wrapped tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a rear center armrest, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, and power windows, mirrors and door locks. Safety items include front side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, anti-lock disc brakes, and traction/stability control.

Not that the base model is stripped — the entry $13,895 i Sport sedan's standard equipment includes a tilt/telescoping wheel with radio controls, AM/FM/CD player, intermittent wipers and rear window defogger. The $16,255 i Touring sedan adds air conditioning and power mirrors, windows and door locks with remote keyless entry, along with 16-inch wheels.

Functional Interior
Easily gripped outside door handles made it simple to enter the S Touring hatchback's colorful interior. The driver's seat is supportive and has a manual height adjustment. A tall rear passenger will find legroom tight if the driver's seat is more than halfway back in its travel. Rear legroom behind a front passenger is fine for a 6-footer, and the rear windows go down all the way.

Electroluminescent gauges can be read at a glance, and climate and sound system controls are nicely located and easily operated. Front cupholders are conveniently placed on the console and can be covered when not in use. Front doors have modest-sized storage pockets.

The sedan's trunk is fairly roomy, but the versatile hatchback provides more cargo space. Its opening is low and wide, and the hatch door swings up high via hydraulic struts to prevent head-banging. The hatch can be closed using an indented pull-down area without getting hands dirty on outside sheet metal. Rear seatbacks flip forward and lay flat to open up the cargo area, and there's a shallow covered storage bin beneath the cargo floor.

Much like its expansive trim choices, the Mazda3 gives compact-car shoppers a wide and affordable price range. The standard models run from $13,895 to $19,895, the turbocharged MAZDASPEED3 from $22,340 to $24,055.

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BB05 - 8/28/2014 6:14:58 PM