Strengths and weaknesses:
- attention to detail
- ride and handling
- none obvious
Mazda3: another good Sport
ATLANTA – If you’re like me, when you think of the Mazda3 what pops into your mind is the image of a great looking compact hatchback.
If so, then you’re as surprised as I was to learn that only one out of every four Mazda3s sold in Canada is the five-door model. Sedans outsell hatchbacks 3:1. Perhaps it’s because the hatchback really stands out on our crowded highways that it’s so memorable. And for 2010 the next generation of the car has lost none of that “hey-look-at-me” quality.
The 2010 sedan was unveiled at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show and the hatchback made its debut a month later at the 2008 Bologna Auto Show in Italy.
Mazda calls the redesign of the Mazda3 an evolution, not a revolution, and both sedans and hatchbacks are instantly recognizable as updates of the compact car that took the world by storm in 2004. Both get a new, even happier face thanks to a redesigned grille, front fascia and headlamp assembly that makes it seem like the little car is smiling at you.
Drive one, and you’ll be smiling back. Check out the price, and that smile will turn into a big grin.
The new hatchback, again called Mazda3 Sport, began being shipped to dealers across the country on Jan. 27. Just like the sedan, it comes in three levels of trim – GX, GS and GT – with a choice of two engines and two transmissions.
When I drove the Mazda3 sedan back in November, I only got to sample models with the 2.5-litre engine. I now can report, after driving both the 2.5 and 2.0 on the Sport model, that either engine is more than acceptable. The 2.5, especially when equipped with the standard six-speed stick, is the most fun for enthusiastic drivers but the 2.0, even with optional five-speed automatic, is no slouch either. I was impressed with its passing power at sustained superhighway speeds as high as 125 km/h.
These are also quiet engines for inline fours, and the most extraneous sound entering the cabin is from road noise caused by the tires on bad surfaces.
The GX Sport starts at $16,995 – $1,000 more than the base GX sedan – but is packed with standard features such as ABS, electro-hydraulic power steering and power windows and locks. The GT adds such standard items as Bi-Xenon headlamps with adaptive lighting, dynamic stability control (DSC) and 17-inch alloy wheels.
As with the sedan, the top Sport model is the GT with GT-E package for an MSRP of $22,595. It includes items not usually found on cars in this class - push-button start, dual zone A/C, 8-way power driver’s seat with two memory settings, a driver’s multi information display (MID) with navigation system and Bose surround sound audio system with 10 speakers, among others. The only options for the Sport GT-E will be a power moonroof and the five-speed automatic.
Although the nav system’s screen is on the small side, its placement to the left of the steering wheel, above the main instrument panel, means it’s extremely easy to read and you don’t have to turn your head to see it.
Two million Mazda3 sedans and hatchbacks have been sold since the car debuted in 2004 as a replacement for the Protegé. More than 240,000 of those have been sold in Canada, which is the second biggest market for the car behind the United States, and the country where the new 2010 cars will go on sale first.
Mazda Canada product planner Nigel Smith says, “We are looking to exceed customers’ expectations again with enhanced driving dynamics, a sumptuous cabin environment and advanced safety features.”
Score the redesign a success on all counts. With a body stiffer, yet lighter than before, the Sport keeps up Mazda’s zoom-zoom tradition with nimble and predictable handling and a refined yet sporty ride. The cabin is 5% larger, although the new generation cars ride on the same 103.9-inch wheelbase. ABS, active head restraints and six airbags are standard equipment across all trim levels.
Mazda Canada spokesman Gregory Young would not predict how many Mazda3s his company hopes to sell this year, but said, “With this car we are very confident we can keep our 11%-12% share of the compact segment, even in a difficult economy.”
In 2004, the first generation Mazda3 raised the standards by which all compact cars are judged and was named Car of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. It has raised those standards even higher for 2010.