2011 Mazda Mazda3 Expert Review:Autoblog
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.
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.
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.
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.
Automakers have to walk a thin line when updating a sales success or perennial favorite. It's even worse when the outgoing model embodies both traits. The "evolution not revolution" line gets tossed around the engineering and design centers with the hope the two teams can build off the current model's strengths while simultaneously delivering the upgraded content consumers expect. The 2010 Mazda3 proves it can be done.
With nearly one-third of all Mazdas sold with a 3 appended to the rear, the 2010 model had to continue to meet and exceed expectations in its class, something that's difficult to do when battling it out for compact supremacy among Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics. Thankfully, the features that made the original Mazda3 the leader in its segment – an expressive exterior, well-appointed interior and surprisingly engaging driving dynamics – not only carry over for 2010, but have been improved across the board. After a day of driving, the new 3 wasn't the only one wearing a grin. And oh, what a grin it is.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Damon Lavrinc/Weblogs, Inc.
The new corporate face of Mazda is unexpectedly endearing in person. Pulled from the series of Nagare concepts that have graced show stands over the past three years, the new fascia is slightly overwhelming at first glance, but once you get past the massive five-point grille and start admiring the details, it's far more cohesive than it comes across in photos.
Despite the arresting amount of black plastic, the air inlet feeding the radiator is actually smaller than the outgoing model. Most of the stretched, diamond-shaped detailing is blocked off, further enhancing the new 3's aerodynamic shape that registers in at .29 Cd for the sedan and .31 for the wagon. The intakes flanking the grille are sculpted in such a way that they protrude out of the front bumper in a series of angles and lines that prove incredibly complimentary and tie in with the bulbous front fenders and swept back headlamps. The 3 is unmistakably Mazda, but fans of the Nagare theme may question if this was the best application of the marque's "flow" aesthetic.
The sides of both the sedan and wagon benefit from a subtle crease that begins at the leading edge of the front door, sweeps upwards and widens at the rear. While we've always been fans of the five-door over the standard sedan, the new four-door model is remarkably more attractive than before, losing much of the outgoing model's anonycar profile for something that's both aggressive and subdued.
More surprisingly, it's hard to pick a favorite rump between the hatch and the sedan. Both are completely reworked, with the four-door benefiting from a strong character line surrounding the trunk and a small lip spoiler that perfectly accentuates the organic creases. The hatch also undergoes an overhaul, but the design is much closer to the first generation model, save the stretched pentagon-shaped window inspired by the new fascia and a tweaked spoiler that bleeds off the roof. Both body styles feature distinctly different tail-lamps, each angular and each bulging off the fenders. They're incredibly attractive, although the clear housings are a nod to the '90s that disrupts an otherwise 21st century design.
Mazda isn't immune from the trend of making vehicles larger and safer – and thus, heavier – but with the strategic use of high-tensile steel, bending rigidity is up by 7% and torsional rigidity is the same as the outgoing model, helping the body-in-white drop some 24 pounds. However, when applying the new trim levels and optional equipment, the overall weight is increased by between 50 and 100 pounds. It's a nominal gain in this day and age, but still means the 2010 model can exceed 3,000 pounds depending on spec.
Although the wheelbase of the new 3 still spans 103.9 inches, the front and rear overhangs have increased the overall length to 180.9 inches. The larger fuel tank and redesigned exhaust suck up any additional space inside, but when an interior is this good, both driver and passengers alike aren't worried about a few fractions of an inch here and there.
Inside, it's clear Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" ethic doesn't stop with an exceptional chassis and competent drivetrains. The interior is focused on the driver, with all the primary controls within easy reach and in many cases, canted inward ala old-school BMWs. The instrument panel is comprised of an oversized speedometer and tach, with a digital fuel gauge and trip computer nestled in between. Disturbingly, there's no coolant temperature gauge, something we hope is rectified when the Mazdaspeed3 goes on sale later this year.
To the right of the driver are two displays: a multi-information screen showing fuel metrics, stereo settings and other useful tidbits (or houses the optional navigation system), with a smaller LCD to the right that displays the climate control and shows basic audio information. Both displays are clear and uncluttered, although the tiny screen makes the navigation system seem like an afterthought and the software's ease-of-use is hit-and-miss. More problematic: the controls for the GPS are only accessible by steering wheel-mounted switchgear, so passengers who want to select a destination are left twiddling their thumbs while the driver navigates through the menu substructure.
The list of options on our maxed-out S Grand Touring tester reads like a late-model Mercedes-Benz, and includes automatic, self-leveling bi-xenon headlamps; push-button start; dual-zone climate control; rain-sensing wipers; heated mirrors and seats; leather; an eight-way adjustable driver's seat with three-position memory; a Bose 10-speaker audio system with iPod and Bluetooth connectivity; Sirius satellite radio; and stability and traction control. In short, there's more kit available than the outgoing 3 and it comes in $240 less than a comparably equipped 2009 model. Looking to downsize, but still want a modicum of luxury? The Mazda3 has you covered. And fuel-economy and power is up to boot.
Two engines are available for 2010: the "i" model's 2.0-liter inline-four putting out 148 hp and 135 lb-ft of torque, or the all-new 2.5-liter MZR four-cylinder (which replaces the 2.3-liter mill). The latter puts out 167 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque in "s" trim. Coupled with either a five-speed auto 'box or a welcomed six-speed manual, the "s" with the manual gearbox is rated at 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, while the "i" variant comes in at 25 city and 33 highway.
Out on the road, everything we loved about the original 3 is present in spades. The steering is more communicative than some sports cars we've sampled, transmitting information directly from the road to your palms, yet the system avoids any sensation of on-edge skittishness. The brakes are both progressive and powerful, and after repeated threshold stops and ABS activations, they never faded and continued to offer a predictable pedal feel.
While the new 2.5-liter doesn't offer a particularly sexy or refined engine note, power delivery is linear and more than adequate for both runs around town and the occasional back-road excursion. The six-speed manual is exactly what we'd expect in a modern-day Mazda – smooth, precise and rewarding to row – while the learning curve for clutch take-up is as shallow as a middle-school cheerleader.
But more than anything, it's how all these pieces play together with the chassis and the 205/50 R17 rubber (on "s" models) that continues to amaze and inspire. Unlike its closest competitors, you get the sense Mazda's engineers put the driving experience at the top of their task list, but not at the expense of ride and comfort. The chassis soaks up road imperfections with aplomb, and only the most maniacal mid-corner corrections on less-than-perfect surfaces upset the 3's composure. When pushed, the Mazda3 shoves, transitioning from class-leading levels of grip to progressive understeer that's easily controlled with a slight lift of the throttle or a left-foot dab of the brake.
Although the tweaks to the 3's chassis are minimal – an additional mount for the steering rack (from two to three), the aforementioned structural enhancements and front and rear anti-rollbars positioned further outward – it all adds up to deliver a crisp, polished package that stands in stark contrast to the dynamically numb competition that often charge more and deliver less.
Both the Mazda3 four-door and five-door are available for almost every budget, ranging from the entry-level "i" sv sedan with a five-speed manual starting at $15,045, to the range-topping, automatic-equipped "s" wagon GrandTouring at $22,300. With a plethora of options that could keep even the most jaded luxury refugee pleased and a chassis that delivers almost all the dynamic thrills of a focused sports sedan, the 2010 Mazda3 is easily the final word on engaging transportation on a budget. And above all else, that's something to smile about.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Damon Lavrinc/Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Premium handling and amenities in a compact package.
The Mazda 3 is a premium car in a compact package. It's an affordable car that offers a pleasant interior environment, sporty handling, and useful space. Completely redesigned for 2010, the Mazda3 carries over into the 2011 model year with no significant changes.
Mazda3 comes as a four-door sedan or four-door hatchback.
The 2011 Mazda3 adds rain-sensing wipers, auto on/off headlights, bi-xenon headlights with auto-leveling, Adaptive Front lighting System, and LED rear combination lights to the Technology Package.
The Mazda3 is practical, with useful small items storage up front, as well as plenty of room for the front passengers. The back seat will fit two adults fairly comfortably, provided the front occupants aren't too tall. In both the sedan and hatchback, the rear seats fold 60/40 to create a mostly flat load floor. Flip the back seats down in the hatchback and you'll have lots of cargo room. With its sportier character, better looks, and more useful interior space, the hatch is our choice between the two body styles.
The Mazda 3 features a first-class cabin loaded with convenience features. Higher line models get a Multi-Information Display below the windshield that houses readouts for the vehicle information center, climate system, radio presets, and even the available navigation system. A unique cluster of buttons on the steering wheel controls these functions. The readouts are easy to see and the steering wheel controls work intuitively. The other controls are mounted high on the dash's center stack, and are also easy to see and use.
On the road, the Mazda 3 feels firm and composed, with moderate lean in turns. The steering is sharp and precise, and the brakes provide a linear pedal feel. The suspension deals well with most bumps, though large ruts can pound through with the available 17-inch wheels.
Two engines are offered. Mazda 3i models come with a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder that achieves an EPA-estimated 25/33 mpg City/Highway. We found it provides adequate power for most needs. Mazda 3s models offer a sportier driving experience with the more powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which delivers 167 horsepower and is available with a smooth-shifting 6-speed manual transmission or a 5-speed automatic with manual shift capability.
The Mazda3 comes in four-door sedan and four-door hatchback body styles, two model ranges, and an array of trim levels. Mazda 3i models come with a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a choice of 5-speed manual transmission or a 5-speed automatic with manual shift capability. Mazda 3s models come with a 167-hp, 2.5-liter four and a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic.
The Mazda 3i SV ($15,800) comes with cloth upholstery, power mirrors, power windows, reclining front bucket seats, tilt/telescoping steering column, 60/40 split folding rear seat, AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers, auxiliary audio input jack, and P205/55R16 tires on steel wheels. It is offered only with a manual transmission. The Mazda 3i Sport ($16,705) adds air conditioning, an outside temperature display and an available automatic transmission ($17,555).
Mazda 3i Touring ($18,100) adds power door locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, two additional speakers, a Bluetooth hands-free cell phone link, steering wheel audio and Bluetooth controls, traction control, electronic stability control, and alloy wheels. It's available with the automatic ($18,950).
Mazda 3s Sport sedan ($19,545) and hatchback ($20,045) models get a special front fascia, sport seats, electroluminescent gauges, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, front center console, Mazda's new Multi-Information Display, an iPod adapter, fog lights, rear lip spoiler, and P205/50R17 tires.
Mazda 3s Grand Touring sedan ($22,510) and hatchback ($23,010) add dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, leather upholstery, eight-way power driver's seat with memory, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, LED taillights, and heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals.
The Mazdaspeed3 hatchback ($23,700) comes with a 263-hp turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-4, 6-speed manual transmission, limited-slip differential, sport seats with special red and black cloth interior trim.
Options include the Moonroof & Bose Audio Package ($1395) which includes a 10-speaker, 242-watt Bose Centerpoint surround sound system with 6CD. The Technology package ($1,835) comes with navigation, a full-color version of the Multi-Information Display, Sirius satellite radio with a six-month subscription, keyless access and starting, rain-sensing wipers, auto on/off headlights, bi-xenon headlights with auto-leveling, Adaptive Front lighting System, LED rear combination lights, and perimeter alarm.
Safety features standard on all Mazda3 models include dual front airbags, front side airbags, curtain side airbags, active front head restraints, tire-pressure monitor, and anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution. As mentioned above, traction control and electronic stability control are standard on the Mazda 3i Touring and all s models.
The Mazda 3 is an attractive car, assuming you can get past that big smile. Mazda says the grille design helps the Mazda3 slip through the air better while taking in sufficient air to cool the engine. Mazda says the bold grille is purposely polarizing to separate the Mazda3 from impassive competitors.
The grille is flanked by a pair of angled headlights that wrap around to the sides. Bi-xenon headlights are available with the Adaptive Front-lighting System, meaning they point into turns as the steering wheel is turned. It's a useful safety feature on dark country roads, helping the driver negotiate narrow roads and helping the driver spot pedestrians. Fog lights are found in prominent flared pods that fill out the front end and also help improve aerodynamics.
The headlights come to a point around the side of the car, where they meet up with prominent front wheel flares that surround 16 or 17-inch wheels. The base car gets steel wheels, while highline models have attractive alloy wheels. The fender flares direct the eye to a rising beltline that starts at the front of the door, bisects the door handles, and leads all the way to the taillights. This line has a stronger wedge shape on the hatchback. On both body styles, another character line is found just above the rocker panel, and it rises as it moves toward the rear wheel. Like the outgoing model, the hatchback features triangular rear side windows and a rear roof spoiler.
At the rear, the sedan has a rear lip spoiler. The hatchback features a five-pointed rear window that reflects the shape of the grille. The taillights wrap around the side of the car on both body styles. LED rear combination taillights are available. Mazda 3i models have single exhaust and s models have dual exhaust with bright tips.
Mazda3 is based on a premium Volvo-sourced platform. This structure was further developed beginning with 2010 models to make it lighter and stiffer. This was accomplished by using more high-tensile strength steel and thicker steel in key locations, adding gussets to areas such as the suspension mounting points, and employing a technique called weld-bonding to strengthen areas such as the door apertures. Weld bonding, which combines spot welding with the use of structural adhesive, enhances the unibody's flex resistance. The result is an even better handling car beginning with the 2010 models.
Much of the Mazda 3 appeal is the interior, which is first-class for a vehicle of this size and price. Mazda completely redesigned the cockpit for 2010, taking an approach based on human-machine interface studies that places controls and readouts in two key zones.
Controls most frequently used, including the radio and climate dials and buttons, are placed high on the center stack, where they can be most easily accessed. Readouts for the vehicle information center, climate system, radio presets, and even the available navigation system are found in a Multi-Information Display that is located just under the windshield. Mazda says it chose this location because it is very close to the driver's line of sight, making it easier and safer to check those readouts. Note that only s models have the Multi-Information Display.
The readouts in this display are controlled by a small grouping of six buttons on the right side of the steering wheel. It's a unique approach, but it works well. The buttons are set right by your right thumb and you don't have to look far from the road to see the readouts. When the navigation system is ordered, the screen is quite small, making it harder to read than most others, which are usually mounted on the center stack.
The look and feel of the dash would be appropriate in an entry-level luxury car. The dash is made of a nicely grained soft-touch material, the plastics that are used are sturdy and attractive, and s Sport and Grand Touring models get electroluminescent gauges with red numbers on a black background. Plus, the Mazda3 is offered with several features you'd expect in a much higher priced car. The goodies include a thumping Bose Centerpoint surround sound system with 10 speakers, leather upholstery, driver's seat memory, heated front seats, automatic climate control, push-button starting, and Bluetooth cell phone connectivity. That's premium equipment at compact car prices.
Small items storage is plentiful, with a nicely sized center console bin, an average-size glovebox, and two cupholders behind the shifter.
The front seat has plenty of head and leg room, and the s model's sport seats provide good support in turns. The rear seat has enough space for adults provided those up front aren't too tall. Those seats fold 60/40 to create a mostly flat load floor.
In the sedan, the trunk has 11.8 cubic feet of space. The hatchback has 17 cubic feet of space, and that can be expanded considerably with the seats down. Given the hatchback's sportier character, better looks, and more useful interior space, it's our choice between the two body styles.
The Mazda 3 is a fine handling vehicle. The feel is firm and composed, with moderate lean in turns. The steering is sharp and precise, and the driver feels connected to the road.
The suspension on the base models deals well with most bumps. Larger ruts, however, can feel harsh, especially with the s model's 17-inch wheels.
The brakes on both models have a linear pedal feel. The Mazda 3s has larger brakes and we prefer the additional confidence of larger binders.
The Mazda 3i model's 2.0-liter engine produces 148 horsepower, which will be adequate for most needs. Drivers can get the most out of this engine with the standard manual transmission. With the flexibility of five gears, the optional 5-speed automatic transmission works well with the 2.0-liter engine.
Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 25 mpg City/33 mpg Highway with the manual and 24/33 mpg with the automatic.
The Mazda 3s features a larger, more powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, also used in the Mazda 6, rated at 167 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. This engine delivers the type of power we expected in performance hot hatches just a few years ago. That's not to say it's a powerhouse, but it does provide the type of grunt that makes it fun on twisty mountain roads. Thanks to dual balance shafts, it's smooth, too, and fuel economy is pretty darn good at 22/29 mpg with the automatic and 21/29 mpg with the manual.
Drivers will have the most fun with the 6-speed manual transmission. The shifter isn't as tight or as precise as in the wonderful MX-5, but it is easy to shift, with relatively short throws and a natural clutch feel. Those who choose the 5-speed automatic get a manual shift mode, but no steering wheel paddles.
The Mazda3 is an attractive, premium small car at a reasonable price. Recently redesigned, it boasts a strong structure for good handling. The Mazda 3 costs more than its direct competitors, but it offers a sportier character and amenities normally reserved for luxury cars. We like the hatch for its sportiness and the utility and cargo space it offers. If you're looking for a compact, be sure to include the Mazda3 on your shopping list.
Kirk Bell filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com.
Mazda 3i SV sedan ($15,800); Mazda 3i Sport sedan ($16,705); Mazda 3i Touring sedan ($18,100); Mazda 3s Sport sedan ($19,545); Mazda 3s Grand Touring sedan ($22,510); Mazda 3s Sport hatchback ($20,045); Mazda 3s Grand Touring hatchback ($23,010); Mazdaspeed3 ($23,700).
Options As Tested
Technology Package ($1,835) includes full-color Multi-Information Display with compact navigation system, Sirius satellite radio with a six-month subscription, perimeter alarm, keyless access and starting, rain-sensing wipers, auto on/off headlights, auto-leveling bi-xenon headlights, pivoting front lighting system, LED rear combination taillights; 6CD MP3 ($500).
Mazda 3s Grand Touring sedan ($23,310).
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