• Jul 30, 2009

2010 Mazda3 – Click above for high-res image gallery

We can't talk about the new Mazda3 without lovingly gushing over the old Mazda3. Introduced in 2003 and produced until this year, the first generation was a segment buster. For about the same coin as its competitors, the Mazda3 gave you more: More sportiness, more refinement, more space and, being a Mazda, more reliability. The Mazda3 was just a better car. And of course there was the beloved MazdaSpeed3 – aka lightning in a reasonably-priced bottle. For 2010, Mazda has built a new, slightly larger 3 packed with polarizing styling, a bigger engine and more creature comforts. But will the new car bust the segment like its predecessor did?

Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

In our First Drive, we mentioned the styling and how it's either a love it or gag on it proposition. Like many contemporary cars, the new Mazda3 has such complicated surfaces that when seen two-dimensionally via a computer screen, much of the subtlety is lost. Porsche's new Panamera shares a similar fate. In real life, the new Mazda is both flowing and cut. Of course, the big news is the grinning proboscis, which you either love, hate or love to hate. Again, we found it much more acceptable in real life than in photographs, but as with all things aesthetic, your mileage will vary.

We tested two Mazda3s, a 2.0-liter "i" sedan and a 2.5-liter "s" sedan. In other words, no five-door. As far as chunky little sedans go, with its new mega-mouth and stubby trunk, the Mazda3 shares a passing resemblance to the Mitsubishi EVO X – that's no bad thing. One aspect we particularly dig are the headlights. They're complicated yet elegant and finely shaped. Some reviews have pointed out the the clear taillights are pretty seven years ago, but we think they look fine. And Mazda did an excellent job with the wing mirrors.

Inside is a darker story. If you've ever found yourself inside a 1980s BMW, you get the idea. Lots of black and a bit of red. Darth Vader would feel right at home. The deep set gauges are inspired from the old car, but we're happy to report they're much more legible. The little 3 now comes with a nav screen (if you get the Grand Touring package), but it's the size of a credit card and hardly worth getting. Also, you can only map stuff with the steering wheel buttons, so its not very useful, either. The Grand Touring package adds all sorts of other luxury amenities including heated seats, dual zone climate, XM/Sirius radio and a quarter acre of leather. But it also burdens the steering wheel with 15 buttons.

Now we come to the transmissions. Our 2.0-liter "i" came with a five-speed automatic. It works just fine, but if you're craving any sort of sportiness from your three, you'd be much better served the five-speed manual. The autobox is simply a mechanical downer. Our 2.5-liter "s" tester came with a six-speed manual, and while we've long been a fan of Mazda's manuals (particularly the stellar 'boxes fitted to the RX-8 and MX-5), sadly, we were thoroughly underwhelmed by the quality of the row-your-own tranny in the new 3. It just felt floppy. The throws are old-school long, akin to a '70s Corvette, and the shifter comes off as chintzy. The "leather" shroud conceals a curved piece of metal where it's been spot welded to the bottom of the knob, and while that's hardly a deal breaker, we simply expect more from Mazda. Tumbleweed.

Our decadently optioned Grand Sport came in at $25,115, and now you're in WRX territory.
On the road, the tale of two engines isn't as different as you might think. Obviously the 2.0-liter "i" mill is aimed at the budget-minded consumer. It's 148 hp and 135 lb-ft of torque move it around and... that's about it. We would have liked to try wringing this motor out with a manual, but didn't get the chance. For those on a budget or worried about miles per gallon, this is your Mazda3 motor. The sad news is that those looking for some get up and go in the compact class, the 2.5-liter "s" motor isn't the answer. Yes, it's bigger and makes some more power (167 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque), but on the road there isn't very much difference. Considering the Subaru Impreza's naturally aspirated 2.5-liter boxer-four makes 170 ponies and 170 torques, yet the 2.5i Premium starts $1,000 cheaper than the s Mazda3 – $18,495 versus $19,490 – choosing the 2010 Mazda3 over the Subie becomes even more difficult. Thrown in the fact that our decadently optioned Grand Sport came in at $25,115, and now you're in WRX territory.

It's obvious at this point that after a week with the "i" and a few days with the "s", we simply weren't feeling the new Mazda3. Both cars' saving grace is the eager to boogie steering. Regardless of engine/transmission, turning the 3's wheel feels fabulous. Like nearly all Mazda's, the brands sporting DNA shines the brightest through the suspension. The parts aren't novel – MacPherson struts with coilovers up front and multilink coilovers behind – but it's all tuned brilliantly. Maybe then, the key to the 3's salvation lay up in the hills? Off to the canyons we went.

We selected Glendora Canyon – a wonderful, curve-imbued 20-mile blast – to put the 2010 Mazda3 through its paces. We set off with a friend's Hyundai Elantra in hot pursuit. First of all, pounding the holy snot out of (relatively) underpowered cars is a very underrated endeavor. Because the limits are so low, you can reach them quickly (red line in third gear, why not?), and because the chassis are modern the (safety) first tendency is always to understeer. Unlike a Viper, little cars aren't actively out to kill you.

As suspected, up in the canyons is where the Mazda3 came alive. Speeds rarely crested 45 mph, but even still the 3 flowed from one curve to the next. The new 2010s come standard with stability control, which we left off for the entire run – it simply wasn't needed. Aside from the aforementioned understeer, there isn't any bad behavior. There's even enough torque to let the engine do most of the braking for you. This prevented us from riding the grippy 11.8-inch front and 11-inch rear disks into flaming oblivion. Case in point: At the bottom of the mountain the Hyundai's brakes sat and smoked for a good five minutes while the Mazda looked as if it had been strolling through a park.

Without question, the old Mazda3 was the best car in its segment. Luckily for the new model, it's a pretty weak segment. Aside from the nearly-absurd price of our Grand Touring test car, there's nothing glaringly bad about the new 3. But unlike the old car, there's nothing too great about it either. Still, minus a few options and/or trim levels, this is a vehicle that many people will purchase and happily own for years to come. The 2010 Mazda3 will undoubtedly remain the go-to choice for non-pistonhead family members, but for those of us craving more from our compact runabouts, we're keeping our fingers crossed for the 2011 Mazdaspeed3.

Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      2009 was fine dude (Mazda), what's with 2010's "polarizing (read: ugly) design? Good thing Mazdaspeed 3 still is 2009.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I completely agree with the statement that these new cars look different, and better, in real life. I, for one, like the new Mazda design language. I saw it first in concepts, then applied in production, but only in pictures. Then one day I saw a Mazda3 on a crowded Seattle freeway and it just looked fantastic. Yes, every subtle curve and sculpted line just made it stand out in a sea of common-looking cars. Good job Mazda.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Ugh...saw it on the road and it actually looked worse than in pictures. I like the previous much better. If I were in the market for a compact I would head over to the Mazda dealership first. But not with this new face.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Agreed, I *much* preferred the older model, both front and back ends.

        Sometimes progress takes a step backwards. :(
        • 5 Years Ago
        I got my mom a leftover 09 just a few months ago.

        I tried to tell her to wait and get the new "redesigned one" but we saw both at the dealer and she liked the old one better.

        I initially liked the newer one.. but after seeing the new one on the road.. I'm starting to think there are TOO many curves and TOO busy with the design.

        *I've owned economy cars in the past and this Mazda3 does not feel or drive like an economy car. The only car I haven't driven to compare it to is the Civic. I've been in and driven a Fit, Corolla, Yaris, Sentra, Elantra and this Mazda3 FEELS like a luxury small car compared to them.

        These cars don't come with features that are only available on cars twice their price though. Nav, Sunroof, leather, heated seats are available on MANY cars now. If the thing had rear camera backup, heated rear seats, dual zone climate THEN this car would have features for more expensive cars.

        I think this car should top out at $23,900 for leather, nav etc. (Excluding the Mazdaspeed version of course which should top out at like $2,500 more) Thats just my personal opinion. I know they are priced quite a bit higher.

        -I paid for mom's Sedan Touring S - 2.3 - Automatic, Heated leather/sunroof and paid $19,895 +ttl. (Leftover).

      • 5 Years Ago
      i like how mazda is being bold with its design direction. this color really forces you to appreciate the lines and creases, while bringing mazda's look out of the 20th century and further into the 21st. that said, it will take a LOT of getting used to but i'm willing to bet if you slapped an "H" badge and called it a new civic people would be forgiving it already.
        • 5 Years Ago
        • 5 Years Ago
        If it had the "McH" badge it would never look nearly as cool...
      • 5 Years Ago
      I saw a 2009 and 2010 5 door hatch side by side on the dealer lot last week. I went back and forth between the two, studying every detail for about 5 minutes. I was just shaking my head in disbelief at how the mazda design team screwed it up. Not just the big grin face, every detail. Check out rear lights. What the hell were they thinking? Everything on the 2010 is just overly exaggerated.

      I was so eager for the new 3 to arrive. What a tremendous disappointment.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The whole car looks a WHOLE lot better in person than in pictures; I've seen a lot of them on the road lately, and they all look amazing in pretty much any color.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I owned a 2005 Mazda3 s 4-door, and hated the new styling when I first saw it. Major disappointment, since I was excited by the new 6 and expecting the same from the new 3. Well, having seen the new 3 in person instead of just pictures, it really grew on me. So much so, I now own a 2010 Mazda3 s Sport 5-door! Let me tell you: the new look is way sharper in person, and every time I look at it, I find more details and angles that obviously had a lot of thought put into them. Mazda's big blunder here is always sending out brightly-colored testers for PR. Mine is graphite metallic, which is a beautiful dark grey with pewter tones in it. The "smiliness" of the front looks more integrated and tasteful when paired with those darker colors.

      Now, for those talking reliability, I will say that my old 3 had 1 warranty issue with a warning light, and otherwise had no mechanical issues in 5 years of ownership - despite being involved in 2 fairly serious accidents.

      The interior? I love it. They bolstered the seats even further than the previous generation - hell, they might have even spread the old 'Speed seats across the entire line - and the feeling both connects the driver to the car and still manages not to smother. The Bluetooth functionality works perfectly and is easy to program. The addition of a full-time functional AC port in the armrest is a nice touch. (The old model's port would shut off w/o the ignition on.) They also opted for an extending armrest instead of a 2-tiered design, which is both good and bad. I like the extension, but miss the shallow storage above the deep storage. Also, all "s" model cars get accent lighting. Enter the car and the foot wells are softly illuminated in blue. Turn the car on and the foot wells go dark, but lights behind the door handles and above the center console light up instead. Not enough to distract, but enough to add a nice visual touch and help passengers find the various items in the dark.

      Wow, sorry! I didn't mean to write my own full review in the comments! Anyway, I'm an extremely satisfied return owner who's tasted both generations and door models, and found plenty to love about both. If Mazda had an answer for Subaru's AWD, there would be no competition.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Right on, Boggled. The blue LEDs are cheap little feature, but a nice touch that really ups the experience. I just finished filling out my Mazda e-survey and mentioned the gas mileage issue. Like you, I like to drive my car a little hard, but right now I'm at 20.8 mpg and not at all pleased with that. My last 3 was still getting between 25 and 28 with the same driving conditions. Overall, I think it's a great car that really sells itself once driven. I just wish they could package "zoom-zoom" without so much "chug-chug".

        I'm glad you love your ride, too! The other bit about being a Mazda owner is that you now belong to a dedicated fan community who are more than happy to talk shop and help you with any questions you have. Congratulations on joining our ranks!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Amen, brother. I just bought the exact same model (5dr S in graphite) after a guy made an illegal left in front of me and totaled my old beater Toyota earlier this year. Couldn't be happier with everything about it, and the look has really grown on me. I'm sure you've noticed that he one thing that everyone complains about is the front end; I'm very happy to have a unique looking car that looks good to me and does everything else right. I've never had a car that handles this well, and it's a step up in power from my previous rides as well, which makes passing on highways a fun proposition now. Also, is it just me, or are the little blue LED spotlights at night one of the coolest things about this car? I think they did a great job with the details like that and the instruments. Truthfully, I wish I got more than 24 mpg mixed, but I think it's acceptable considering my horrific stop & go commute and the fact that I love to drive it a little harder than I probably should. Cheers, I hope you enjoy yours for a good long time!
      • 5 Years Ago
      I love the styling on the new 3... I believe Franz von Holzhausen was lead designer at Mazda at the time. I'm a huge fan of his work especially now that he's at tesla motors (the model S is a fantastic looking car!!!
      • 5 Years Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I have had a new Mazda3 GT 5-door for about a month. The styling is a bit much, but in black the light plays nicely on the sculpted sides and the smile kind of goes away. Tan leather helps the interior, too, as the black interior (which seems to be on all of the press fleet cars) is a bit dour. I like the Impreza, but I wanted an automatic and the four-speed seemed rather antiquated. The Mazda drives like a different class of car than the Civic, Corolla, Sentra, etc, though at $24,000 it should. More like a Jetta, but without the problems. (My other car is a 2009 Jetta TDI - it has been a complete disappointment quality-wise.) While a fun drive topped my list of wants, the extras like swiveling xenon headlights, heated/power/memory seats, and a decent Bose sound system don't hurt. I just wish the windows were all one touch up/down and the seat had lumbar adjustment.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Great review Jonny. I appreciate the lack of porn references :) Keep up the good work
      • 5 Years Ago
      I just made this exact comparo while my P5 was in for service. Took out a 2.5L 6-speed "GT" and 2.0 5-speed auto "GS" around a short 10-minute route, but I came away with different impressions. The 2.0 felt light and tossable, with near-perfect steering communication and on-center feel. The 3 manages to be nimble on corners but steady and confident on highway straights. But contrary to this review, I found the 2-litre four-pot to be quite lively, more so than I can remember of any auto-equipped car in recent memory. The shifts held on around town for quick zips in and out of traffic, and shifted up almost unnoticed at higher speeds to drop down the RPMs. I also found the interior to be much more comfortable than described, and despite being dark, felt spacious and expansive. The sunroof option helps open things up as well.

      The 2.5L, on the other hand, felt heavy and labored. The 6-speed was reluctant and vague (could be because it had 25 Km on the clock), but overall it felt like it was trying to be too grown up. As the REV's climbed, the motor emitted a grumpy growl, not sporting in nature at all. For some reason the 2.0 felt more alive and in tune with the car's natural abilities. Absolutely the car can handle more power, as I'm sure the MPS will demonstrate, but it has to be as engaging and eager as the rest of the car's capable demeanor.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I hate the happy face... What were they thinking?!?!? Otherwise, it looks pretty good.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The hatch (and the sedan for that matter) look amazing in Black....
        • 5 Years Ago
        at least you can tell people the "grin" is functional. how many can say that about their celicas and their "ram air" slot. or even the mustang's hood scoops?
        • 5 Years Ago
        The ram air slot on pretty much all Toyota vehicles is actually fully functional.
        Even the 4 cylinder Camry has a ram air intake system (seriously pop the hood of a Camry and look, there's an air collector in the front behind the grille that pipes into the airbox).
        This is also why it's almost always a waste of money to install intakes on Toyota vehicles, since you often get less power than the factory design.
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