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Auto Corner: Climbing From Better to Best, the Mazda 3

28 August 2010   John Dickerson
The redesigned Mazda 3, starting at $15,000, had me at hello.

mazda3exterior
2010 Mazda 3 proves even great cars can get better.
Mazda has completely redesigned its best-selling compact, the Mazda 3, for 2010. When I first heard that Mazda was releasing an “all-new” 3, I was worried. The previous 3 was my favorite of the pocket-rocket hatchbacks. It was practical, affordable and sporty. In fact, I prefer the 2009 Mazda 3 to its nemesis, the Subaru WRX, which costs thousands more than the Mazda.

The good news is that somehow Mazda has improved the 3 in nearly every department, while retaining its fun-to-drive personality and charming good looks. The new Mazda 3 takes a step upscale with more refined touches. Unfortunately, its price tag took a slight step upscale, too.

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Even with its higher sticker, the 2010 Mazda 3 remains a good deal, when lined up to its closest competitors. Like its father, the new 3 is everything a sport-compact should be: easy to drive, fun to drive, great looking, good on gas, and practical for toting personal possessions.

Mazda 3 buyers can choose between a four-door sedan or a “five door” hatchback. Everything in front of the backseat is identical on the sedan and hatchback. That includes bi-Xenon swiveling headlights (the bouncing blue headlights you may have noticed as expensive cars drive toward you at night) and a hood that looks more Infiniti or Acura than Mazda.

The sedan’s redesigned tail resembles the compact Lexus IS, which costs about $20k more, and the tail of the new hatchback was swiped directly off the backend of a Subaru WRX – Mazda’s chief rival in the niche market of sport five-doors. (The “MazdaSPEED” high-performance version is only available as a hatchback.)

Inside, Mazda’s step upscale includes a litany of luxury options for this compact commuter. Buyers can choose from automatic climate control (for both driver and passenger), a 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint surround system, heated leather seats with memory, rain sensing wipers, LED taillights, and a gazillion other great add-ons.

Those compact buyers who don’t want such expensive options will be happy to know that the dash, gauges and steering wheel all feel and look refined, even on “base” Mazda 3’s.

The 2010 Mazda 3 offers drivers two choices of engines. Mazda’s 2.0 liter four cylinder returns as star of the show, delivering 25 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway. Drivers who want faster acceleration can opt for a new 2.5 liter engine, which delivers 167 hp and 168 lb-ft. of torque. That’s a potent powerplant for a car of this weight and size. When paired with the new six-speed manual transmission, the 2.5 liter Mazda 3 feels more like a sports car than an econo car.

Mazda has tweaked almost every piece an the all-new Mazda 3, but this compact is still a blast to drive. Given that the new Mazda 3 is even more refined, I grade it top of the class, as either a sedan or a hatchback. If you’re shopping in this price range or size, don’t make a purchase until you test-drive a Mazda 3.

mazda3interior

Mazda’s 3 steps upscale with interior options like rain-sensing wipers, heated leather seats
and mirrors and a 10-speaker Bose stereo.

© 2010 John Dickerson

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