Mazda3 is on a hot streak

The Mazda3s offers a 2.5-liter engine rated at 167 horsepower and 168 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpms.
Published: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 3:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 3:54 p.m.

The second-generation Mazda3 is on a hot streak, zoom-zooming ahead of the Honda Civic as the best-selling car in Canada as U.S. sales surged 53 percent in May.


2010 MAZDA3S

Type: Front-drive, five-passenger, compact sedan.
Price: $23,050 base, $24,835 as tested.
Key rivals: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cobalt.
Power: 2.5-liter, DOHC, 16-valve, 167-horsepower, four-cylinder engine; six-speed manual transmission.
Fuel economy: 21 city, 29 highway mpg; 15.9-gallon tank.
Chassis: Independent suspension with strut front, multilink rear; power rack-and-pinion steering; power disc brakes with ABS; 17-inch aluminum wheels; P205/50r17 all-season Toyo tires.
Standard: Front/side/head-curtain airbags; dual climate control; AM/FM/CD Bose audio with 10 speakers; remote keyless entry; push-button start; power windows/locks/mirrors; center console; split-folding rear seats; intermittent wipers.
Warranty: Three-year/36,000-mile warranty covers every part on the vehicle except those subject to normal wear; five-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty; five-year/unlimited-mileage corrosion warranty; 24-hour roadside assistance.

Remodeled for 2010, the Mazda3 has captured beaucoup plaudits from the automotive press along with sales to economizing consumers.

With a price range suitable for most pocketbooks, nice curb appeal and a stylishly well-equipped interior, the Mazda3 is not the kind of purchase likely to prompt buyer's remorse. Call it a safe bet.

For Mazda, one of every three sales is a 3. The first generation, sold for the past five years, found nearly 2 million buyers around the world while earning 90 major awards from car critics and enthusiast magazines. So, the Japanese maker pretty much lives or dies by the front-drive subcompact that is sold in sedan or hatchback form.

In launching the 2010 model, "we had no intention of merely protecting the position we held," says Mazda3 program manager Yoshiyuki Maeda. "Instead, our task was to keep the target moving for our competitors by further exceeding customer expectations."

To undercut its key competition, Mazda offers the base 3i at $15,295. That's $700 less than the Ford Focus, $360 cheaper than the Honda Civic DX and $55 below the Toyota Corolla.

The "S" trim level, with a stronger four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission, carries a base price of $23,050.

Mazda3 buyers are typically younger people, often buying their first new car. Designers catered to varied tastes with two body styles, three trim levels and four powertrain options.

Mazda3i models feature a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine that cranks 148 horses at 6,500 rpm and 135 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm. The engine is built with a light aluminum block and head construction with two chain-driven overhead camshafts operating four valves per cylinder. A nylon-reinforced intake manifold scoops up air in two modes, with runner lengths adapted to low- and high-rpm operation.

If you really like the control that comes with a clutch and stick, you'll enjoy Mazda's five-speed manual transmission. But you can also get an automatic that offers a manual shift mode.

In EPA testing, the Mazda3i automatic covers 24 mpg in the city, a 2 mpg improvement over the previous model. Highway mileage of 33 mpg represents a 10 percent improvement.

The pricier Mazda3s offers a larger, 2.5-liter engine rated at 167 horsepower and 168 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. The engine can be harnessed to a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed electronically controlled automatic with manual shift control.

Despite its superior power and displacement over the 2.3-liter engine in the 2009 model, fuel economy remains the same at 21 city and 29 highway mpg with a manual transmission and 22 city or 29 highway with the new automatic.

The review car had the stronger engine and a stick, which made for spirited driving in the city and nice entries to the freeways.

In the interior, Mazda managed to enhance the decor without sacrificing practicality.

Two large instrument clusters are positioned for easy visibility, and the most commonly accessed switches and controls are intuitively placed.

A new display screen - with navigation, audio and trip information - sits high on the instrument panel so the driver won't have to lose sight of traffic. A second screen to the right displays radio-station frequency and climate control settings.

The center console contains two cup-holders, a sliding armrest and a storage box. Ventilation and audio controls are large and well lit.

Seatbacks were reshaped for more lumbar support and extended by 1.4-inches for added shoulder support. Optional sport-seat upper bolsters tilt inward to keep passengers in place during hard maneuvers.

The Mazda3 has other new features not offered by its competitors: dual-zone automatic temperature control, heated seats and a Bose centerpoint audio system. The 5.1-channel surround-sound system includes digital amplifier, noise cancellation and 10 premium speakers. The upscale trim includes leather-wrapped steering wheel and a choice of cloth or leather upholstery.

Advanced keyless entry allows the driver to unlock the doors and start the engine with the key fob from a distance. With the fob in your possession, you can unlock the door by pressing a small button on the handle and start the car with push-button ignition.

In addition to antilock brakes, traction control and other active safety features, passive safety is provided by six airbags and active head restraints. Side-curtain air bags are a new fast-inflating design with 40 percent larger coverage area.

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