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2010 Mazda3

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder…

      …And this auto scribe thinks someone whacked the 2010 Mazda3 with an ugly stick! But regardless of what I think of the wrapper the real measure is whether or not the 2010 3 follows the formula that Mazda patented with the original. That is to pack this entry-level compact hatch with as much content as they can squeeze between the sheetmetal and offer it at a value you just can’t resist.
      And that is more-or-less what they have done, again. The exterior is a stunning piece to be sure. Stunningly brilliant or stunningly awful, I will leave that up to you. The fact of the matter is, it is Mazda’s new corporate face and it is “polarizing” as the Mazda press kit says. The grille is a wide toothless smile adorned on either end with a pair of some very sharp looking and effective headlamps. Though you need to option up to the Grand Touring model if you want the HID’s and Nagare styled lamps. The greater portion of that blacked out honey-combed square footage is non-functional air-inlet, but it strikes fear into the heart of Honda Civics everywhere. The front fenders feature the same dramatic arc as the 6 sedan, which are derived from another favorite of ours, the RX-8 sports car. The far more elegant design is that of the rear three-quarter view, with the sharp scallop in the doors and the creased character line running the length of the vehicle. Finally, filling out the wheel wells on our Sport model were a rather handsome set of 10-spoke 17” aluminum alloys wrapped in Yokohama all-seasons.
      Inside there is a bevy of new features. Sitting atop the IP front and center is an optional 4.1-inch LCD nav screen buddied up with a driver information display. This minimalist system is no large fancy touch screen unit, but a functional piece able to get the job done. Whereas most compact car owners have to rely on aftermarket units, this one is integrated into the dash and you don’t have to stick it to the windshield. The main controls for the unit are located on the steering wheel, immediately at the driver’s finger tips. The radio head unit has been heavily revised, but anyone familiar with the 3 will smile over the retention of the “blinking” light bar. The satin finish bright work on the steering wheel, door pulls, and center console does wonders for breaking up the sea of black plastic, as does the crystal blue switchgear lighting. The seats feature aggressive bolstering and are wrapped in a high grade durable cloth fabric. Leather is available but only on the Grand Touring models. But more than anything else, the one piece I appreciate the most as a driver is the leather wrapped steering wheel. It says that Mazda is serious about the 3 being a driver’s car since this is the most important tactile interface.
      Under the hood we find a 2.5L inline-4 churning out 167-hp and 168 lb-ft of torque. Utilizing the same basic block as the 2.3L it replaces, the 2.5 features a larger bore and stroke thanks to the use of thinner and stronger steel-molybdenum cylinder bore liners. Horsepower gains over the outgoing model are minimal at only seven up, while the torque figure jumps 18 lb-ft over the 2.3. Yet, regardless of engine displacement growth and power improvements the Mazda3 hatch maintains a 22 / 29 city / highway EPA rating.
      Finally, this car offers something that most other compact car makers are running away from like scared chickens: the hatchback body-style utility. With the seats erect the cargo hold will stash away 17 cubic feet of stuff, something a good chunk of the crossover market can’t brag about. But fold the seats down and there is an instant 42.8 cubic foot maw just waiting to gobble up your prized collection of John Denver albums, Transformer toys, or whatever you feel like hauling.
      Put simply, the Mazda3 is a fun and capable car to drive. It handles way better than it should for a small front-wheel drive economically minded family car MSRP-ing (Muxlow, you just made that word up – Ed.) for $23,680. Every curve and corner is a delight. The steering, though electric, is communicative. The driver is always aware of where the limit is. The engine pulls strong in all scenarios, but will never get confused for the thunderous Speed3 motor or the silky smooth unit powering the MX-5. The 5-speed sport automatic handled our quick pulsed reactions well, but honestly, 5-speeds are nothing to brag about. Further, to fully utilize this motors potential, follow the tried and true AT motto: “stick with the stick”. While we haven’t had a go with this motor paired with the new 6-speed manual, everything we’ve experienced so far indicates that it will exploit the depths of this motor’s capability the way that no automatic will.
      Three things make the Mazda3 truly worth its asking price; the extra interior content, the dramatic styling, and the stereotype defying handling. It is a car that hauls (go) and a car that hauls (stow) equally well. Get past that big grin and the Mazda3 is a real delight. After all, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

The Good:
Solid handling, premium content at an entry-level price, dramatic styling, lots of room, great seats and a pause and play radio feature.
The Bad:
A face only a Mazda designer could love, only a 5-speed automatic.
The Verdict:
The best view of the Mazda3 is from the driver’s seat.


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