2012 Mazda Mazda3

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First Drive Review: 2010 Mazda3

This 2010 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2013.
By Tony Quiroga of Car and Driver

Mazda gave itself a tough act to follow. The original Mazda3 that launched in 2004 was an exceptional small car that delivered good fuel economy without sacrificing driving dynamics. That first-generation 3 didn't skimp on refinement or interior quality, either. Rich plastics, unique design, and a luxurious array of optional equipment made the 3 a luxury sport sedan in a class full of mundane transportation devices. Now with the launch of the next-generation 3, would Mazda keep these attributes for its replacement?

New Styling
Much to our relief, the sequel to the original 3 maintains what we liked and even manages to improve on the original. The exterior styling is completely new, but various Mazda traits make the sedan immediately recognizable as a Mazda3. Front-end styling cues borrowed from the Mazda RX-8 modernize the nose and help the 2010 3 confidently assert itself. Its flared front fenders and a sweeping character line at the base of the doors are subtle and attractive touches that make the old 3 look dated by comparison. Only the sedan version debuted at the 2008 Los Angeles auto show. A five-door hatchback will be shown at the Bologna auto show in early December.

Interior styling has also been modernized, but the curvaceous new dashboard doesn't go so far as to stray into the realm of the Honda Civic's spaceship console. Two large round gauges housing the tachometer and the speedometer remain in front of the driver, with radio and trip computer readouts moving to the top of the dashboard. In models equipped with navigation, a small color screen is nestled into the space formerly occupied by the trip computer. Several Chiclets-size buttons that control vehicle settings, the trip computer, the stereo, and the navigation system are confusingly arrayed on the steering-wheel spokes and take some time to learn.

Under the Skin and Behind the Wheel
The C1 architecture carries over from the previous 3 but with a host of upgrades that stiffen the structure without adding weight. Additional bracing for the suspension attachment points and an increase in the use of high-strength steel result in greater strength while avoiding a weight increase. Mazda claims the body in white (the bare unibody structure without any mounted body panels) is now 24.2 pounds lighter, and despite increased content, the 3 weighs only a few more pounds and is essentially the same size as the outgoing model. The wheelbase and the width are unchanged, and the overall length has increased by a couple of inches. The height is down by a few fractions of an inch, and the interior volume is unchanged over that of the previous 3, although trunk space has increased.

Connecting the new sheetmetal to the road is the 3's familiar strut front and multilink rear suspension that has been slightly retuned. Aside from the recalibrated springs and dampers, the chassis is largely unchanged. From behind the wheel, the base 3 i models feel softer and have more body roll than the firmer 3 s model. The steering feel on both remains light, but the light effort gives the 3 a feathery, deft feel. Harshness and road impacts are effectively filtered out by the chassis and structure before reaching the driver. Although suspension noise is distant and unobtrusive, excessive tire and road noise, as in the previous generation, continue to enter the 3's cabin. Aside from the drone of road noise, the 3 rolls down the road with a refinement and solidity that escape most of the cars in the compact class.

Powertrain Options
Buyers will face a choice of two engines: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 148 horsepower and 135 lb-ft of torque or the 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 167 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0-liter powers the 3 i trim level and is carried over from the previous generation with only a few minor tweaks to improve fuel economy. A slick-shifting five-speed manual is standard with the 2.0-liter and a new five-speed automatic is optional. Even mated to the manual, the 2.0-liter doesn't feel particularly strong, but the engine is smooth and fuss free in its operation, never flinching at runs to the 6500-rpm power peak. Fuel economy for the 2.0-liter comes in at 25 mpg city for the manual and 24 city for the automatic, and both transmissions achieve 33 mpg on the EPA highway cycle.

Moving up to the sportier 3 s trim level yields a 2.5-liter four-cylinder shared with the larger Mazda 6 that brings 19 more horsepower and 33 additional lb-ft of torque. The larger engine comes with a six-speed manual; a five-speed automatic is optional. Equipped with the six-speed, the 2.5-liter achieves EPA fuel economy numbers of 21 mpg city and 29 highway; automatic versions get 22 mpg in the city and also 29 on the highway. While those aren't stellar numbers for a car in this class, the additional torque of the 2.5-liter is immediately noticeable and the 3 s certainly feels quicker than the base car, although the 2.5-liter is louder and more coarse than the base engine. The 2010 Mazda3 five-door will only be available in the s trim level, like the outgoing model. Those with an addiction to speed would be wise to wait for the Mazdaspeed 3, which should be arriving within a year. Like the outgoing Mazdaspeed 3, the new one will be front-wheel-drive, turbocharged, and available only as a five-door.

Gadgets Galore
The outgoing 3 offered a navigation system, and like most factory-installed systems, it was very expensive at nearly $2000. The new 3 will offer a much cheaper system with a small screen. Mazda hasn't disclosed pricing, but we anticipate it will cost only a few hundred dollars, possibly making it the cheapest such factory-installed system. It will be controlled with buttons on the steering wheel, not a touch-screen interface. Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio capability and iPod integration also will be available.

Those seeking luxury will have to opt for the 3 s, which offers a number of luxury-car features including active bixenon headlights, keyless ignition, and an eight-way power seat with memory settings.

Both four-door sedan and five-door hatchback version of the 2010 Mazda3 will go on sale in March of 2009. Pricing has not yet been announced, but the new car is expected to continue to occupy the $15,000 to $23,000 price range.

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BB02 - 7/12/2014 11:29:38 AM