2009 Mazda Mazda3 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Premium comfort in a compact package.
The Mazda 3 is space-efficient and exciting to drive, practical and economical, and it's available with a surprising list of comfort and luxury features.
The Mazda 3, or Mazda3, was developed on three continents, by Mazda, Volvo, and Ford, and Mazda did all the final tuning at its test track in Japan.
This is a premium automobile, exciting to drive, styled adventurously, and fully equipped with luxury features. There's nothing austere, basic or cheap about it. The seats are supportive and comfortable, good for long drives.
Sedan and hatchback versions look quite different. The sedan has the traditional appearance of a four-door, five-passenger car. The five-door hatchback is like the high-fashion station wagons from European manufacturers, offering the practicality of the five-door configuration with an emphasis on a premium driving experience. The Mazda3 is a good choice for drivers who have friends or lots of stuff: The sedan and hatchback excel at back-seat roominess when compared with the Honda Civic and other competition, and the hatchback excels at cargo space.
There's a high-performance version called Mazdaspeed3, motivated by 263 turbocharged horsepower.
The Mazda3 was launched as a 2004 model, then extensively updated and upgraded for 2007, with a revised appearance inside and out. The 2009 (and mid-2008) models get feature upgrades. The interiors are freshened, with piano black rather than woodgrain trim (with increasing amounts of it on higher-line models). Grand Touring models got a standard eight-way power driver's seat. The Mazda 3i Touring comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a CD player, and a color-keyed grille.
An all-new Mazda 3 is expected for the 2010 model year.
All 2009 Mazda 3 models come standard with ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist, side-impact airbags, and side air curtains.
All Mazdas come with a roadside assistance program, which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, throughout the United States and Canada.
The Mazda3 comes in a broad array of body styles, engines, and trim levels. The Mazda 3i is powered by a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; the Mazda 3s packs a 156-hp, 2.3-liter four-cylinder. The Mazda 3i is available only as a four-door sedan, whereas the Mazda3s comes as a sedan and five-door hatchback. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all models; a four-speed automatic is optional ($900) on 3i, while 3s offers a five-speed automatic ($950).
The base-level Mazda3i Sport ($14,490) comes with manual windows and door locks. It has a tachometer, a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat, a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, and a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with automatic level control and an iPod-friendly input jack. New for 2009 is a remote trunk release. All-season 195/65HR15 tires mount on steel wheels. Air conditioning is optional ($880) and includes an outside temperature display.
Mazda3i Touring Value ($16,895) adds air conditioning, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, power-adjustable outside mirrors, height-adjustable driver's seat, and an upgraded six-speaker audio system. For 2009, fog lights, a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel (with cruise and audio controls), and a color-keyed grille bar are also standard, along with 205/50VR17 tires on 17-inch alloy rims.
Mazda3s Sport sedan ($17,835) upgrades to the larger engine and to more deluxe upholstery and trim, inside and out. It also adds electroluminescent gauges, lighted vanity mirrors, and variable-intermittent wipers. Tires oddly downsize to 205/55HR16 on 16-inch alloy wheels. The 3s Sport hatchback ($18,325) is similarly equipped, plus a rear wiper, cargo management system, side-sill extensions, and a roof-top spoiler and aerodynamic antenna; it keeps the Value model’s 17-inch rims.
Mazda3s Touring sedan and hatchback share a price ($18,825) and add electronic stability control and traction control. Also, the sedan gets the same side-sill extensions and 17-inch wheels and tires as the hatchback.
Mazda3s Grand Touring sedan and hatchback ($20,595) add leather seating, synthetic leather door inners, heated front seats with eight-way power adjustment for the driver, HID headlights with automatic on/off, rain-sensing windshield wipers, automatic climate control, a trip computer, clear-lens LED taillights, and a theft-deterrent system.
Options include a power glass sunroof bundled with a 6CD changer ($890) on all but 3i Sport; on Grand Touring models the package also includes a Bose sound system and costs more ($1335). Grand Touring models offer Navigation bundled with Sirius Satellite Radio ($1950). A long list of extras, including the CD changer ($500) and Sirius radio ($430), can also be installed as dealer accessories.
The Mazdaspeed3 Sport hatchback ($22,740) comes with a 263-hp turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-4, six-speed manual transmission, limited-slip differential, sport seats with unique red-and-black cloth interior trim, aluminum pedals, automatic climate control, appropriately stiffer suspension tuning, and 215/45YR18 summer tires. Otherwise it is equipped similarly to the Touring models. A Grand Touring version ($24,455) adds leather interior, Bose premium audio with in-dash 6CD changer, rain-sensing wipers, trip computer, high-intensity headlights, LED taillights, and theft deterrence. The only significant factory option is the navigation/Sirius package ($1950), although again, dealer-installed accessories are available.
Safety features that come on all Mazda3 models include front airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, side air curtains, an energy-absorbing brake pedal, and a tire-pressure monitor. Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist are now standard on all models as well. Electronic stability control and traction control are standard on 3s Touring and Grand Touring.
The Mazda3 has far more visual presence than you'd expect from a car with a Japanese nameplate. The designers worked hard to give this car the kind of character that will set it apart from other compact cars, and the result is a surprisingly bold look. A broad palette of color choices further distinguishes the Mazda3 from other compacts.
The sedan looks a little clumsy in its stripped-down i-model iteration, but bigger tires give it a more substantial stance.
Meanwhile, the five-door is unique, more like a stretched-out coupe than a five-door hatchback, and it's especially appealing in a radical color choice.
The facelift for 2007 defined the style even more clearly, with a body-color grille surround and new front bumper with square fog lights for both the 3s models plus brighter and more substantial-looking 16- and 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels. There have been no changes in exterior appearance since then.
The Mazaspeed3 looks especially tough with its oversized air intake in the front bumper and the mildly flared fenders. The whole front fascia is unique, and the rear taillights and chrome exhaust tips set it apart as well. Big 18-inch cast-aluminum wheels clearly identify this as a high-performance car.
When it comes to compact cars, the game is all about space efficiency. Just how much space can be devoted to the passengers? And is the space useful for all the other tasks that are demanded of a small car?
The Mazda3 sedan offers 94.3 cubic feet of passenger space, which compares favorably with the Honda Civic sedan's 90.9 cubic feet. The Mazda and the Honda are close in front-seat room, with Mazda providing a bit less leg room but a bit more width. In the rear seat, however, the Mazda is significantly larger, most notably in leg room and shoulder room. The Civic and Mazda3 are also close in trunk volume, with the Mazda rated at 11.5 cubic feet, the Honda 12.0.
The utility of the Mazda3's interior is enhanced by a standard folding 60/40 split back seat, which enables you to increase trunk room for large loads. The back of the rear seat doesn't quite fold flat, but it's close. Thanks to this design, the Mazda3 five-door will accommodate 43.8 cubic feet of cargo behind the front seats when the second seat is folded down.
The Mazda3 seats themselves are supportive without being confining, and the use of high-quality foam in the bolsters makes them very comfortable during long drives. Every version of the Mazda3 except for the entry-level sedan features a height adjuster for the driver's seat, and this works with the standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel to enable a wide range of drivers to get a good fit with the controls. Grand Touring editions feature seat warmer for their standard leather seats, plus eight-way power adjustment for the driver.
When it's well-equipped with trim and features, the interior of the Mazda3 looks good, although black interiors seem very dark. For 2009, new “piano black” trim replaces the woodgrain and brushed aluminum used before. On i Touring Value, this means a single strip of glossy black material on the dash above the glove box, where the woodgrain used to be; s-models add more of the shiny black stuff to the center stack, steering wheel, and power window switch bezels. Gauges on i-sedans are now conventional white-on-black, albeit with orange illumination; where s-models still feature electro-luminescent dials, now with red and blue illumination at night.
The Mazda3 affords plenty of practical storage space, notably a cavernous glovebox. Two cupholders are integrated into the center console, while a small but deep box separates the seats. Rear-seat armrests have integrated cupholders.
The optional navigation display screen flips up from the top of the dash, and it offers a bright view, while the software logic for entering destinations and the like is straightforward. The navigation system's controls are located in the center console, however, and they're small and fussy enough (especially the joystick control) to be a chore to operate. But the Mazda3 is one of the very few cars in this price class to offer a navigation system.
The Mazdaspeed3's interior has the same overall look as its siblings, but red stitching in the steering wheel, shift knob and seats adds some motorsports style. The thick rim, leather-wrapped rim of the steering wheel feels substantial, while aluminum covers for the pedals enhance the presentation. The best thing about the Mazdaspeed3's interior is the high-bolstered sports seats, which cradle and support rather than confine. The strategic use of leather and cloth inserts in the Grand Touring version keeps you from inadvertently sliding around when you're driving at a quick pace. These are the kind of seats that will help you rack up a thousand miles of driving in a day.
The character of the Mazda3 is determined by the engine you choose.
The Mazda3i has a 2.0-liter engine that will produce 148 horsepower if you roar it to 6500 rpm, but it requires that kind of intensity to wring out everything it has to give. The variable valve timing and variable intake length improve torque low in the rpm range. Still, this engine's mission seems to be a low purchase price and good fuel economy rather than performance. EPA ratings are 24/32 mpg City/Highway on regular-grade gasoline for the manual, 23/30 mpg for the automatic. (This is using the new EPA test procedures enacted for 2008 that are designed to more accurately reflect the way most people drive.)
The 2.0-liter is a good choice if you're concerned largely about fuel economy. The engine itself is great, but the Mazda3 is a little heavy, so you need all the power you can get. If you're looking for a combination to crawl in commuter traffic, the wide-ratio four-speed automatic is an acceptable choice. The transmission's semi-manual shifting feature gives the driver some flexibility and can be entertaining.
The 2.3-liter engine, on the other hand, delivers substantial power over a wide range of rpm. Its tractable mid-range punch helps provide good throttle response without the need to shift gears frequently. This character sets the Mazda 2.3-liter apart from its competition; it's more like the big-displacement four-cylinder engines in the mid-size Honda Accord and Toyota Camry than it is like its competition in the compact class.
Counter-rotating balancers, exclusive to the larger engine, substantially reduce vibration, making this a particularly smooth-running powerplant. At the same time, this engine really does its best work above the torque peak of 150 pound-feet at 4500 rpm as it pulls to its peak of 156 horsepower at 6500 rpm; so it, too, needs a little help from the driver's shifting skills to stay in the fat part of the power band. At the same time, the 2.3-liter's EPA fuel-economy ratings are 22/29 mpg City/Highway on regular gasoline.
Both the 2.0-liter engine in the Mazda3i and the 2.3-liter in the Mazda3s belong to Mazda's MRZ family, and feature such sophisticated technology as sequential valve timing (S-VT), variable intake system (VIS), and electronic throttle control. Both the sedan and the five-door are set up to take advantage of the strong personality afforded by these Mazda MZR engines.
The steering with its electro-hydraulic power assist responds crisply and accurately to your command, and the tires afford plenty of grip in the corners.
The brakes are up to the task as well. ABS with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist are now standard on all models; while Dynamic Stability Control with traction control is standard on 3s Touring and Grand Touring. As a fun-to-drive package, the Mazda3 has better credentials than its competition.
The Mazdaspeed3 is an entirely different product due to its turbocharged engine with direct fuel-injection that delivers 263 hp at 5500 rpm. The Mazdaspeed3 has all the hardware to keep up with so much power, notably a six-speed manual transmission that rips off quick, clean shifts in a way that no other front-wheel drive car can match.
The Mazdaspeed3 is a legitimate 155-mph automobile, with a relatively quiet, calm personality on the freeway. Yet the Mazda is really in its element in the corners, where there are no surprises in the way it handles. The chassis stays balanced and predictable right to the limit of tire adhesion, where the limited-slip differential still delivers optimal power to both front wheels. The Mazdaspeed3 carves through the corners in a way that's distinct from its all-wheel-drive competitors, the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
The Mazda3 is a driver's car that's practical. The Mazda3 is useful, space-efficient, economical and pleasant across a broad range of driving situations. It also has the style, comfort, features, and personality to transform any driving experience into a sporting proposition. It's slightly less refined than its competition from Honda and Toyota, but you seem to get more car for your money, and that means personality as well as features. Compared to the competition, the Mazda3 is a driver's car, meant for people who enjoy their time in an automobile.
Mazda3i Sport sedan ($14,490); Mazda3i Touring Value sedan ($16,895); Mazda3s Sport sedan ($17,835); Mazda3s Touring sedan ($18,825); Mazda3s Grand Touring sedan ($20,595); Mazda3s Sport hatchback ($18,325); Mazda3s Touring hatchback ($18,825); Mazda3s Grand Touring hatchback ($20,595); Mazdaspeed3 Sport ($22,740); Mazdaspeed3 Grand Touring ($24,455).
Options As Tested
power moonroof and in-dash 6CD changer ($890); front air dam ($550); all-weather floor mats ($78).
Mazda 3s Touring 5-Door ($18,825).
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