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The Mazda3 2010

4 March 2009 by: Frederick Carle No Comment

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Atlanta, Ga. – It’s hard not to like the Mazda3 Sport, one of the sleekest and sportiest hatchbacks in the compact class. Though the outgoing Mazda3 wasn’t the newest car in the brand’s lineup, it remained its best-selling vehicle around the world.
2010 Mazda3 Sport (Photo: Mazda)
2010 Mazda3 Sport – Click to see the complete gallery (Photo: Mazda)

Mazda worked hard to preserve the characteristics that so many people loved about the current car for its second-generation follow-up. Unlike the daringly curvaceous new Mazda6 midsize sedan, Mazda purposely fine-tuned the 3, rather than starting from scratch.

“The first sketches of the new Mazda3 were radical, and there was some concern over alienating some markets,” says Nigel Smith, Mazda Canada’s product planning manager. “So we went more evolutionary in the end.”

Cheerful nose the biggest exterior change
2010 Mazda3 Sport (Photo: Mazda)
2010 Mazda3 Sport – Click to see the complete gallery (Photo: Mazda)

The new Mazda3’s “smiling face” is the most noticeable exterior change of the new model. Its visage, inspired by the sporty Nagare Concept, gives an overall impression of friendliness, though its bold grille and air vents give the new Mazda3 an aggressive stance.

The pronounced grey metal-effect bar on the GT’s grille looks out of place – it’s almost like adding a fake moustache to a fashion model. The overall package looks good, but it’s hard to get over that upper lip.

Higher quality, more toys
2010 Mazda3 Sport (Photo: Mazda)
2010 Mazda3 Sport – Click to see the complete gallery (Photo: Mazda)

The interior is where the most work was done on the new 3. The trim and material quality are as good to the touch as they are to the eyes, although there were some larger than expected gaps on the steering wheel of one early production tester. Both manual and automatic shifters are now placed closer to the steering wheel, where the instrument panel and centre console meet, leaving lots of room for two large cupholders between the seats.

All models include driver’s seat height adjustment, an auxiliary audio input for MP3 players, and an impressive array of safety equipment including ABS, active head restraints and six airbags (front, side and side curtains). All of this is standard, even on the stripper Mazda3 Sport GX, which is competitive at its $16,995 base price.

Value for money still key for Mazda3
2010 Mazda3 Sport (Photo: Mazda)
2010 Mazda3 Sport – Click to see the complete gallery (Photo: Mazda)

One of the Mazda3’s strengths is its generous standard equipment, and this generation keeps that tradition alive. Mid-level GS models add standard alloy wheels, air conditioning, automatic headlights, Bluetooth phone connectivity and steering wheel audio controls, a must-have for any channel hopper.

Bi-xenon headlights are now standard on GT trim levels, while swivelling headlights, satellite radio, and eight-way power, heated leather seats are a few key options. An available trip computer is now nestled atop the dash to minimize the amount of time needed to take the driver’s eyes off the road, when checking stereo and climate settings.

Mazda also now offers a navigation system slotted to the right of the trip computer’s display. It is controlled through a series of buttons on the steering wheel.

All of these features make it possible to transform this small car into a little rolling cocoon of luxury; but don’t be surprised when the base price swells up along the features list.

Larger engine, better performance
2010 Mazda3 Sport (Photo: Michael Bettencourt, Sympatico/MSN Autos)
2010 Mazda3 Sport – Click to see the complete gallery (Photo: Michael Bettencourt, Sympatico/MSN Autos)

The base engine for GX remains the 2.0-litre inline-four with the same 148 hp used in the current model. By comparison, the new GS and GT models receive a slightly larger 2.5L inline-four that’s shared with the Mazda6. It makes about 20 more horsepower than the base engine, and slightly more than the previous model’s 2.3L engine.

The bigger engine, which has a more pronounced growl, feels more powerful especially in the upper rev range. The new six-speed manual contributes to its brisk acceleration. However, there is a price to pay in city fuel consumption compared to the optional five-speed automatic. It consumes more (10.1 L/100 km v. 9.2 L/100 km) despite having an additional gear. As a result, the smooth-shifting autobox may be the best compromise for most drivers. Performance enthusiasts may wish to wait for the turbocharged Mazdaspeed3 coming this fall.

Underneath, the new 3’s suspension is mostly unchanged, as are its overall dimensions, so interior volume doesn’t change much. Headroom is plentiful, even on models equipped with a sunroof. The 3 Sport offers sharp handling, which is helped by its shorter height and lower centre of gravity. But what you gain in performance, you lose in practicality. The 3 lacks the flat-folding front seat and cargo bay height offered by rivals such as the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe.

It’s new, but is it new enough?

I can’t help but wonder if the new Mazda3 is different enough from the current one to continue its strong sales. Its subtle redesign might suggest it’s not an entirely new vehicle. However, when you consider the fifth and last full year of production (2008) for the 3 was also its second best-selling year, it’s easy to see that Mazda is delivering exactly what Canadians want.

2010 Mazda3 Sport

Price base (GS/GX/GT): $16,995 / $20,395 / $23,595

Type of vehicle: FWD compact hatchback

Engine: 2.0L, 16-valve, DOHC I-4 / 2.5L, 16-valve, DOHC I-4

Power/torque: 148 hp/132 lb.-ft. / 167 hp/168 lb.-ft.

Transmission: 2.0L: 5-speed manual/5-speed automatic; 2.5L: 6-speed manual/5-speed automatic

0-100 km/h (est.): 8.5 seconds

Fuel consumption (city/hwy., est.): 2.0L manual: 8.1/5.9 L/100 km; 2.5L automatic: 9.2/6.8 L/100 km

Competitors: Dodge Caliber, Hyundai Elantra Touring, Kia Spectra, Pontiac Vibe, Saturn Astra, Toyota Matrix, Volkswagen Rabbit

REVIEW SUMMARY

PROS
– Spirited performance
– Cargo room, practicality
– Stylish cabin, premium features

CONS
– More of an update than an all-new model
– Not as fuel efficient as rivals
– Pricey when options are added

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