2010 Mazda Mazda3: More of a Good Thing1
There are two kinds of automotive manufacturers. Those that focus heavily on building an unemotional, quality appliance and those that believe a vehicle should be more than just basic transportation. Mazda has developed into the latter. The 2010 Mazda3 underscores Mazda’s focus on producing stylish, performance oriented vehicles at an affordable price.
The 2010 Mazda3 is really the fifth generation of what we now call the Mazda3. It began with the ‘great little car’ – GLC, followed by 323, Protoge’, and previous generation Mazda3. From introduction, the Mazda3 garnered support from the press and consumers alike. Since Mazda relies so heavily on their little C-Segment car, it was imperative that 2010 iteration refine and improve the formula, evolving it rather than recreating it. We’re here to tell you that they didn’t disappoint. They’ve added more performance, more character and more options into the mix. The all-new Mazda3 is even more of a good thing.
Driving the new Mazda3
Our journey with the Mazda3 took us down one of the most dynamic roads in Southern California – the well-known Ortega Highway. This twisty two-lane road cuts through the Saddleback mountain range between San Juan Capistrano and Lake Elsinore. This challenging section of roadway gave us the chance to test out the new Mazda3 and take it to the limit… or at least our limit. It’s safe to say my co-pilot and I were impressed.
We’ve driven the MAZDASPEED3 and if that’s what you are looking for, wait until this summer 2009. You can have all the torque-steer and traffic tickets you want from that little five-door rocket ship. It will retain the 263hp/280 lb. ft. of torque turbocharged 2.3L at launch, while your basic Mazda3 is available with either the 2.0L or 2.5L I4.
2.5L: Balanced and Smooth
The normally aspirated 2.5L does not support illusions of grandeur, nor torque steer, but is remarkably well tuned and balanced. The very same engine as in the all-new standard Mazda6, it has the extraordinary ability to pull in sixth gear at 800RPM all the way up to 3000 RPM without complaining. Less refined engines typically don’t appreciate lugging that low in the rev range and then having the driver mash down on the throttle. It’s not something we recommend but it stands as a testament to how refined this inline-four actually is.
You could tell that the engineers had gone to the trouble of balancing this big I4 as it idled and ran very quietly with virtually no noticeable harmonic vibration as the throttle delivered a very linear response. This 2.5L is eerily smooth and quiet at idle. Though the 2.5L is a little heavier than the outgoing 2.3L, fuel economy is essentially unchanged (2.5L = 21 or 22 city/29hwy)
This stout 2.5L has the horsepower (167hp) and torque (167lb. ft.) to help you have fun, out there among the appliances. The competition surrounding the Mazda3 currently falls a little short. Today’s higher trim level Corolla puts out 158 out of its 2.4L I4 while the Honda Civic offers 140hp out of its 1.8L I-4; neither offers a six-speed transmission.
2.0L: Carryover Workhorse
After the 2.5, the 2.0L I4 (24/33mpg) does not mean a drop down in performance. As sweet as the 2.5L is, the 2.0L (at 148hp / 135 lb. ft. of torque) offers a competent and adequate choice for the value-conscious buyer. Just right for the Mazda3 owner not interested in a performance edge. The five-speed automatic in the 2.0L is basically the same transmission (except for gear ratios) Mazda bolts up to the 2.5L. Standard with the 2.0L is a five-speed manual, but then you’re stuck with single exhaust instead of the dual exhaust tips found on the 2.5L.
So, How Does it Drive?
It’s true, this sub-compact has a sweet four-cylinder engine. But most impressive about the 2.5L, specifically in Mazda3s GT form with seventeen-inch wheels, is the way this car sticks like glue in the corners. The suspension (special thanks in part to a more rigid C1 platform) is nicely tuned on both four-door Mazda3s GT and five-door Mazda3s GT, soft enough to soak up the bumps and rough patches but taut enough for a performance edge and precision feel.
We headed down a little-known offshoot (Blue Jay Campground), my co-driver turned into Tommi Mäkinen and hunted down switchbacks, abrupt shallow angled corners, and off-camber turns. The car behaved as if hooked to the ground. The hills were alive with the sound of accelerating followed by quick downshifting, as it was hard on the brakes and into the next corner. Thankfully, grab-bars are standard for all passengers!
Mazda offers Sport and Grand Touring levels of both the i and s models. The s models get the 2.0L I4 and s models the 2.5L, but there is no difference in suspension or drivetrain between Sport and GT packages.
Convenience Features and Options to Satisfy Downsizers
Mazda understands that good things come in small packages. The real magic behind the new Mazda3 is really the options. This small package features elements typically not offered in the sub-compact segment. Mazda has decided that this highly contested sub-compact segment, which makes up about 20% of U.S. light-vehicle sales each year, has become a destination segment, not just a segment where buyers are in transition. They believe that the C-segment will continue to pull in first-time new-car buyers but also those buyers looking to downsize.
So, available options include adaptive HID front headlights, dual-climate control, heated leather seats, eight-way drivers seat with three-position memory, NAV, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth (r), push-button start, and LED rear combination lights.
So, What’s Wrong with a Package that Sounds So Right?
Every vehicle has its weaknesses; while issues might be minor, Mazda3 is no exception.
While fit, finish, and build materials are overall upscale in this small car, one of the issues that we had involved the glove compartment. The angle the glove compartment door meets the dash and contacts the closing latch forces the door to move to the passenger side as it closes. But the glove compartment door actually felt cheap, especially as we opened and closed it. Also, if you opt for NAV, it comes with a weird plastic flap on the IP next to the NAV system. It looks like an after thought, but is an SD card port for uploading updated NAV info. The navigation screen is well-placed, and we liked the ability zoom in and out using steering-wheel-mounted control, but we would have appreciated a larger screen. Getting navigation is more expensive than it sounds, too. Before you can choose navigation, you must opt for the moonroof, six-CD changer, and Bose Audio Package for $1395. Though the navigation system is a reasonable-sounding $1,195, you really must shell out $2,590 to get it.
As nice as the speedometer and tachometer analogue gauges are on the 2010 Mazda3, we were not as excited about the digital bars that identify how much fuel is actually in the fuel tank. They simply seem less precise and upscale than the analogue gauges.
Mazda deserves kudos, though, for non-appliance like styling. They paid attention to design details and execution. They even forked over the extra money to pay for the tooling to stamp those compound curves found in the new sheet metal. This generation Mazda3, big goofy clownlike mouth/grille aside, is tastefully done.
All in all, Mazda successfully improved the 3, retaining their Zoom-Zoom attitude and refining the concept, and our criticisms minor.