First Drive Review: 2010 Mazda3
This 2010 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2013.
By Jim Hall of Road & Track
On the other side of the Atlantic, Europeans buy a lot of compact cars (for a variety of reasons, most having to do with fuel costs and taxes). As a result, these models typically are available with higher-end amenities that would surprise American car buyers — navigation, upscale sound systems and other high-tech features. Another surprising European/American compact market disparity? Cars on the Continent also cost way more than their U.S. siblings. But the 2010 Mazda3 is different. It offers amenities and technology at an affordable price.
The design theme of the all-new Mazda6 has been passed along to its smaller sibling, especially in its handsome, stretched trapezoidal-shaped headlights, taillights and foglight housings. There's also some of the swoopy front fender shape present, albeit with a less dramatic pontoon effect. The new grille is the result of both styling and wind-tunnel testing; the latter's influence — along with flat underbody panels and small "winglet" aero protrusions underneath the car just ahead of the front tires — help minimize drag to a class-leading 0.29 CD.
The well equipped new 3 is available with adaptive bi-xenon headlights, an 8-way power driver's seat, heated seats, hands-free Bluetooth cell phone and audio controls, keyless entry with push-button start, and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system.
Two engines are offered — a base 2.0-liter 16-valve 4-cylinder with variable valve timing, rated at 148 bhp and 135 lb.-ft. of torque, and a 2.5-liter 16-valve 4-cylinder with variable valve timing that produces 167 bhp and 168 lb.-ft. A 5-speed manual is standard with the smaller powerplant, a 6-speed with the larger. A 5-speed automatic transmission is available with either. The 2.0-liter's mileage is rated at 25 mpg city/33 highway (24 city/33 highway with the automatic) while the 2.5-liter achieves 21 city/29 highway (22 and 29, respectively, with the auto).
In my brief drive of the sedan, I found the new 3's clutch pedal to be pleasantly light, but with not much feel as the clutch begins to engage. The steering felt solid and crisp with none of the play common in the compact segment. What's more, the 3 had very good throttle response. Both engines operate smoothly, with no undue noise intrusion into the cabin. I didn't feel much of a power difference between the two engines, so it might be wise to opt for the smaller powerplant to take advantage of its better fuel economy. Driving at about 80 percent through a series of twisty turns in the Malibu hills, the new 3 cornered relatively flat, with little body roll. The shocks and springs are tuned to offer a pleasant and comfortable ride in normal driving.
The completely new interior takes a small step forward in material quality (the outgoing model's interior was already of a pretty high quality), but it is the layout that really advances, thanks to larger gauges, a new information display screen high on the center of the dash and canted to the driver, along with an overall more upscale look to all of the controls. An optional tech package adds Sirius satellite radio and a navigation system.
What happened to the Mazda3 5-door? No need to fret: Both the sedan and hatch will roll into Mazda dealers around the same time — the first quarter of 2009. The company chose to introduce the 4-door at the L.A. Auto Show first, as it makes up 70 percent of all U.S. sales. (Of note, the 5-door makes up 70 percent of European sales.) No pricing is available yet, but Mazda says that the new 3 will be competitive with the outgoing model, which starts at around $15,000.