2011 Mazda MAZDASPEED3
    MSRP
    $23,700
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    2011 Mazda MAZDASPEED3 Expert Review:Autoblog

    The following review is for a 2010 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    2010 Mazdaspeed3 - Click above for high-res image gallery

    Last summer, our man Damon Lavrinc drove the then-brand-new 2010 Mazdaspeed3 around California's legendary Laguna Seca Raceway and then Caramel Valley's world-class back roads. And he loved it. I mention this because we're sure that under similar, near-ideal conditions, I would have been nearly as smitten. But reality has a funny way of tossing monkey wrenches at even the most lovely picnics. To wit: I had the Speed3 in Los Angeles during the recent torrential downpour/tornado warnings, then drove to Phoenix through a monsoon the same day/night that Russo and Steele got their tents blown across a freeway. Ideal? Hardly. Informative? Keep reading and decide for yourself.



    Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.



    We'll start with looks, because the new Mazda3 might be the single most polarizing mass-market vehicle design since the Bangled 2002 BMW 7 Series. After spending seven days with the car, my take is that the Speed3 is so deformed it's kinda cute. How can you not love that homely side view? It's mutated, it's bizarre, it's got muscular fenders leading to soft organic lines that finish in hardboiled creases all capped off by a handsome, purposeful wing. Then there are the taillights that actually extend a few inches off the body. The world hasn't seen lines like that since the fins of the 1950s. And of course, there's the mouth – and it's not nearly as smiley as the standard Mazda3. In Mazdaspeed guise, the grin is filled with scalloped gray teeth. Even if you hate what you're seeing up front, you must admit that the forged wheels are trés sexy. Summarizing, the Speed3 is so... unique that I can't help but like how it looks, especially painted Celestial Blue. Also, like the last generation Speed3, Mazda only sells it as a five-door, which is snappier looking than the sedan.



    The inside's not nearly as charming. First of all, as our photographer noted, "What's up with those seats?" What's up, indeed. They look like a psychedelic black and red test pattern, and they're done no favors by the gray leather bolsters. Luckily, you spend most of your time sitting on said seats, so outta sight, outta mind. Almost. This questionable pattern is repeated on plastic dash pieces with the front passenger bearing the brunt of it. Still, the seats offer plenty of sporty comfort and reassuring bolster, both of which are quite essential when you begin sawing the wheel.

    Speaking of the steering wheel, it contains 18 buttons. While I generally prefer my wheels totally button-free, I'm man enough to admit that a mute or volume button doesn't spoil the broth too much. But 18? In the parlance of our electronic times, FAIL, as you wind up whacking them during (*ahem*) spirited driving. Also, because of all the buttons, the steering wheel is awkward to hold and the thumb rests are too small. While I'm griping about the interior, the blue-on-orange gauges ought to be a hit with University of Illinois fans, but the rest of us find them difficult to read and much too bright. Sadly, if there's a dimmer, I couldn't find it – as far as I could tell, it's either full blast or diminished to nighttime levels.



    Okay, okay, okay – the Mazdaspeed3 is a performance car that exists only because Mazda saves money on stuff like the exterior and external design. Let's get down, dirty and start talking about driving. It's a poorly kept secret that vehicle-for-vehicle, Mazda offers better handling rides than any OEM save Porsche. Fine, maybe BMW. But the point is, Mazdas handle shockingly well. Of course, there's the MX-5 Miata, a sports car so good it has its own spec racing series, and if you can think of another sub-$25K car with a spec series, we'd love to hear about it. Then there's the sadly under-appreciated RX-8, specifically in R3 trim. Short of an open-wheeled car, I've never driven anything with such wonderful handling.

    That includes the Speed3. The day Mazda dropped the Speed3 off was the beginning of the big rains here in Los Angeles. The freeways were flooded, Tujunga's mud was sliding and there was a tornado in Long Beach. Mazda made a business decision not to over-complicate (read: keep the price down) the Speed3 with goodies like all-wheel drive. But man-o-man would I have appreciated some Subaru WRX-like grip once the heavens opened up, or perhaps just some all-season tires.

    Here's why. The Speed3 sends oodles of power to the front wheels alone: 263 horsepower and a very healthy 280 pound-feet or torque to be precise. Knowing full well that all that grunt would totally overwhelm the front tires, Mazda rigged a system that prohibits the motor's full fury in first, second and third gear depending on available traction and steering angle. Still, even with this nanny in place, the engine momentarily stumps up some frankly frightening torque-steer before the electronics cut in. So imagine flooring it, feeling the steering wheel about to wrestled from your hands, and then feeling the power drop. It's not exactly the best sensation on dry pavement, and it's straight-up nerve-racking in the wet and oily.



    The Mazdaspeed3's skittishness was compounded times infinity on our drive out to Phoenix. Admittedly, the conditions were so severe that they would have tested any car's mettle. It was like driving through the angrier parts of the Bible. Around Needles, I hit (what seemed like) two-feet of standing water and watched in terror as semi truck after semi truck slid off the road, into the desert and then oblivion. Why oblivion? Because the rain was falling so hard that visibility was around 50 feet. Maybe less. As you might imagine, the summer tire-equipped Speed3 proved to be quite the handful. In the car's defense, all that fright kept me wide awake on the 350-mile journey.

    But what about on dry land? Surely the Speed3 is a class-leading corner carver on sticky asphalt. Let me put it like this, if the Mazdaspeed3 existed in a bubble where its only competition was the Mini Cooper S and the Volkswagen GTI, the Speed3 would be the king of the winding road. But back to monkey wrench hurling reality, the Subaru WRX is a more capable, more enjoyable corner carver. The WRX is also nearly as potent (265 hp, 244 lb-ft of torque) and because the Subie's power is never interrupted, it's quicker in a straight line. There's also the not-quite-good-enough Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart that I'll grudgingly admit is a better, less darty back road companion than the Speed3.



    The Speed3's trouble really does start and end with its number one selling point: that turbocharged 2.3-liter brute of an engine. The previous iteration of the Speed3 shipped with the same power stats. Once again, 263 hp and 280 torques. However, during a way off the record conversation with a Mazda engineer, it was explained that the old Speed3 made its power under "ideal" circumstances, whereas the new car's engine ratings are totally legit. So take that for what it's worth (i.e. not much). Still, if you find yourself looking at a long, lightly curving on ramp and gun it, when fourth gear allows the full dosage of bada bing! to be dumped in the breach, hold on tight – the Speed3 will try to rip the helm from your hands. As such, this little guy's got one of the most severe cases of torque steer I've ever experienced. For those wondering, the worst was a 2002 Nissan Maxima. *Shudder.*

    Granted, all of the above foibles either have to do with the weather or what us auto journalist types jokingly refer to as "9/10ths." If you're not pounding the metaphorical snot out of the Mazdaspeed3 or driving through God's wrath, does it behave any better? Most assuredly yes. At a more comfortable, let's call it 7/10ths pace, the Speed3 is a very capable sporty little hatchback. But for $25,840 (the lone option on our tester was the $1,895 tech package) the enthusiasts among you would be happier and better served with a similarly priced Subaru WRX. Look at the bright side, the WRX is one of the very few cars that might actually be weirder looking than the Mazdaspeed3.



    Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

    2010 Mazdaspeed3 – Click above for high-res image gallery

    It's easy to dismiss Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" tagline as insufferable marketing frippery. Unlike other automakers who relentlessly cling to past motorsport achievements or well-worn brand imagery, with Mazda, there's an overwhelming sense that its U.S. arm is made up of tried-and-true enthusiasts who put a premium on driver involvement and revel in their status as The Little Guy.

    It's very grassroots. And it shows.

    Each of Mazda's products – from the divine MX-5 to the oft-overlooked CX-7 – embodies everything we want in a vehicle, regardless of size, capacity or utility. They just deliver. Steering, handling, balance – it's all there. And like every other automaker, we know they occasionally leave something on the table, but it never comes at the expense of the car/driver connection. Here's even more evidence: the 2010 Mazdaspeed3.



    All photos copyright Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs Inc.



    Like the recently revised Mazda3, we approached the 'Speed variant with a fair amount of trepidation. Its standard sibling is far and away our favorite compact, and the last Mazdaspeed version proved at least one Japanese automaker could still put out a proper hot hatch without trying to be all things to all people. It was niche, but embraced its status and didn't apologize for it.

    When the team began development of the new Mazdaspeed3, there was talk of boosting output to over 300 horsepower and adding all-wheel drive. But as Mazda learned the hard way with the FD RX-7, going overboard with complexity and sending the price into the stratosphere takes its toll on mechanicals and consumers alike. Even so, Mazda looked above and beyond its direct competitors, benchmarking vehicles like the Mitsubishi Evolution IX for steering feel and handling prowess. As you'd expect, the result is evolutionary. But we suspect when current MS3 owners take a spin in the 2010 model, they'll be more than tempted to trade up – assuming they can get past the styling.



    If you haven't warmed-up to the Mazda3's new sheetmetal, the 'Speed version won't help matters. Whereas the outgoing model primarily benefited from a more upright, aggressive fascia and a prominent wing (creating a perfect sport compact sleeper), the new version takes the eccentric lines of the revised 3, adds a blowhole hood scoop, larger wing and a set of 18-inch multi-spoke wheels similar to RX-8 R3's. If it's any consolation, the scoop is wholly functional, directing air towards the top-mount intercooler and – unlike the previous version – providing an uninterrupted flow to the intake.

    Although the new ducting boosts efficiency, output is still rated at 263 hp at 5,500 rpm and 280 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. However, Mazda engineers confided in us that the turbocharged 2.3-liter four-pot is actually putting out a bit more power. So why isn't it rated higher? Mazda's boffins couldn't elaborate (or give us internal figures), but it came down to the SAE's testing methods. Take that for what it's worth, but color us intrigued... if skeptical.



    The redline remains at 6,750 rpm and, like the last model, the engine outruns the turbo at around 6,000 rpm. Forward momentum falls off, but it's not as precipitous as the last MS3, and the additional revs are welcome when you're flying towards a corner and don't want to shift up, only to be forced to immediately downshift before entering a turn. Thankfully, the six-speed manual transmission benefits from a new set of gear ratios that land directly inside the torque curve when short-shifting at the self-imposed six-grand redline.

    Mazda is still limiting power in first through third gears based on throttle input and steering angle to quell torque-steer, and while its presence can still be felt, the artificial reigns only manifest when skittering across broken pavement on power and when disabling the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and nailing the throttle in a straight line. If crab-walking was your biggest concern with the last model, it's been addressed and improved, but hardly eliminated. And Mazda admits that they could have done more to reduce the effects, but it would've affected outright performance and they "wanted to keep it a little rough."

    Dave Coleman, one of the lead engineers behind the project admitted that one of the primary goals of the new MS3 was to evolve the handling. "The old [Mazdaspeed3] was more of a muscle than a sports car," Coleman told us, "We wanted to bring the handling up to the level of the engine."



    With a more rigid chassis to work with, Coleman and the rest of the crew were able to engineer a stiffer suspension that wouldn't affect daily drivability. The geometry remains the same, but everything in between has been upgraded, resulting in a noticeably smoother ride. Those forced to endure the bombed-out roadways of the Midwest probably won't notice, but if your local municipality isn't bankrupt, you'll benefit from the tweaks.

    As for the rest of the upgrades, they're relatively minor. The Dunlop SP Sport 2050 tires have grown in width from 215s to 225s and like the standard 3, an electro-hydraulic steering system is employed to provide better feel at speed and ease-up when puttering around the parking lot. Inside, it's essentially standard Mazda3 fare, with the addition of thicker bolsters on the front thrones, red stitching on the seats and steering wheel, aluminum pedals and an LED boost gauge nestled in between the tach and speedo. Did we mention the wonky seat and door card fabric? In keeping with the times and tradition, Mazda is only offering one upgrade – the Tech Package – which includes the undersized Multi Information Display (MID), a Bose Centerpoint surround sound system, six-disc changer, MP3 player connectivity, perimeter alarm and push button start. The Tech pack tacks on an additional $1,895 to the $23,195 base price, which starts just $455 more than the outgoing model.



    So... that's a wrap, right? The Mazdaspeed3 is slightly more expensive, benefits from a few substantive modifications, weighs in around 50 pounds heavier than its predecessor and comes clothed in functional love-it-or-hate-it styling. It's not nearly that simple.

    Although the gestation of the MS3 was carried out in Japan, most of the drivability developments for the U.S. were done on and around Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. As such, you'd assume the 'Speed would be the perfect daily-driver turned (tuned?) track-tool. It is – to a point.

    Around Laguna Seca, the Mazdaspeed3 is exactly what you'd expect: powerful, competent and composed. The steering is sublime, the shifter and gear ratios are beyond reproach and all that torque is delivered in a seamless wave that executes point-to-point track-attacks with ease. It's all incredibly civilized. Understeer comes on smoothly and predictably, allowing a quick lift to bring things back into line, and with that much twist available at nearly any rpm in any gear, mid-corner flubs are replaced with heroic exits. Even torque steer, which you'd assume would necessitate overly measured throttle inputs, isn't an issue. Just squirt and go. It's that simple, but not nearly as entertaining as we expected.



    However, leave the track, get on your favorite macadam road and prepared to be amazed. Regardless of the DSC setting, blasting down an undulating stretch of tarmac in the Mazdaspeed3 delivers one of those rare gearhead-affirming experiences each of us craves. Linking bends over pockmarked pavement, the MS3 becomes your surefooted best friend; a trust-worthy confidante that will keep you honest and engaged. The brakes are up to the task, the LSD dolls out the grunt, and finger-tippy steering and rhythmic pedal inputs generate one of the most consistent and rewarding front-wheel driving experiences on the market.

    Needless to say, we're smitten all over again. What the 2010 Mazdaspeed3 lacks in on-track exhilaration, it makes up for on the open road. And since that's where most of us spend our time, it's tuned to suit. If you're a dedicated track-addict, your circuit-ready ride awaits you on the weekends. For the days in between, the Mazdaspeed3 fends off the cravings.



    All photos copyright Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs Inc.

    The following review is for a 2010 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    Re-engineered premium car at compact price.

    Introduction

    The 2010 Mazda 3 is a premium car in a compact package. The Mazda3 is available as a four-door sedan or four-door hatchback, and offers comfort and luxury features we're not used to seeing in a small car. 

    The Mazda3 has been reengineered for the 2010 model year. It gets new styling inside and out, a larger, more powerful engine, new transmissions, and even more luxury and technology amenities than the generous helping it offered before. It hasn't been completely redesigned, however. It keeps the same basic architecture, with some upgrades. Introduced for the 2004 model year, Mazda calls the 2010 Mazda3 an evolution, not a revolution of the previous model. Built on a Volvo platform, the previous Mazda3 was a sales and critical success for Mazda. With that in mind, Mazda hasn't radically changed anything on its sales leader. Instead, the company set out to make incremental improvements. 

    Inside, the Mazda3 adds Bluetooth cell phone connectivity, a Bose Centerpoint surround system, and an available Multi-Information Display that adds a second level of information. The interior is first-class interior with lots of other available amenities. 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. It's a pretty trick setup. The other controls are mounted high on the dash's center stack, and are also easy to see and use. 

    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 2010 Mazda3 benefits from several architectural enhancements designed to make the structure stiffer. The result is a sporty car that feels firm and composed on the road, 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. The base engine is a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder that provides adequate power for most needs. Fuel conscious buyers will want this engine, as it delivers EPA fuel economy as high as 25 mpg City/33 mpg Highway. Those who prefer a sportier driving experience will want the new 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which delivers 167 horsepower and is available with a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic with manual shift capability. 

    Mazda rightly points out that in many countries a compact car is a destination rather than starting point for car owners, and that's partly due to fuel costs. The Mazda 3 is an affordable car that offers a pleasant interior environment, sporty handling, and useful space. 

    Lineup

    The Mazda3 comes in four-door sedan and four-door hatchback body styles, two model ranges, and an array of trim levels. Sedans are offered as 2.0-liter i and 2.5-liter s models, while hatchbacks are only offered as s models. Sedan trim levels include Mazda 3i SV, i Sport, i Touring, s Sport, and s Grand Touring. Hatchbacks are offered in s Sport and s Grand Touring trim. (The MazdaSpeed3 is expected to return later in the model year, probably as a hatchback.)

    Mazda 3i models come with a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Mazda 3s models trade a 156-hp, 2.3-liter four-cylinder for a new 167-hp, 2.5-liter four. Mazda 3i models are offered with a five-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic with manual shift capability; s models get the five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual. 

    The base-level Mazda 3i SV ($15,045) 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 ($15,975) adds air conditioning, an outside temperature display and an available automatic transmission. 

    The Mazda 3i Touring model ($17,500) 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. 

    The Mazda 3s Sport sedan ($18,470) and hatchback ($19,230) models get a unique 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. The s Grand Touring ($21,500 for both body styles) adds 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 comes with a 263-hp turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-4, six-speed manual transmission, limited-slip differential, sport seats with special red and black cloth interior trim. 

    Options include pearl paint ($200). The Moonroof, 6CD and Bose package ($1395) includes a 10-speaker, 242-watt Bose Centerpoint surround sound system. The Technology package ($1195) comes with a navigation system, a full-color version of the Multi-Information Display, Sirius satellite radio with a six-month subscription, keyless access and starting, and a 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. 

    Walkaround

    The original Mazda3 was a sharp car. The styling was just right. No line seemed out of place. The 2010 model uses the same wheelbase as the previous version but it's three inches longer in overall length. Some of the lines on the 2010 model seem somewhat askew, most notably the front end's goofy smile. 

    The smile comes from a bold new grille. Whereas the last model had a small, high-set grille with a prominent lower air intake, the new model has only the grille, now much bigger and set lower. The five-point shape seen on other Mazdas, including the restyled 2009 MX-5, creates the smiley face shape. Mazda says the new grille serves a purpose, making the Mazda3 slip through the air better while also taking in sufficient air to cool the engine. The result is a polarizing look that we fear customers may dislike. 

    The rest of the car is an evolution of the last model and is quite attractive. The grille is flanked by a pair of angled headlights that wrap around to the sides. Fog lights are found in prominent flared pods that fill out the front end and also help improve aerodynamics. 

    Those aforementioned headlights are bi-xenons on the Grand Touring model. They're also adaptive, meaning that they point into turns as the steering wheel is turned. That's a pretty neat safety feature on dark country roads, both for the driver and pedestrians. 

    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, but higher line 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, and they have LED lighting when the s Grand Touring trim is ordered. Mazda 3i models have single exhaust and s models have dual exhaust with bright tips. 

    Mazda3 is based on a premium Volvo-sourced platform. That platform worked quite well in the last (pre-2010) car, so Mazda stuck with that winning formula but tweaked it 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. 

    Interior

    Much of the Mazda 3 appeal is the interior, which is first-class for a vehicle of this size and price. Mazda has 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 quite a list for a car that doesn't reach $25,000. 

    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. 

    Driving Impression

    Mazda claims that every vehicle it builds has the soul of a sports car. While that may be a bit overstated, 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 carries over from 2009. The 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. New for 2010, however, is the optional five-speed automatic transmission that replaces the previous four-speed automatic, and the extra gearing improves the reponsiveness of the 2.0-liter. 

    The best news is the base engine's fuel economy, which comes in at an EPA-rated 25 mpg City/33 mpg Highway with the manual and 24/33 mpg with the automatic. 

    There are many compelling reasons to upgrade to the Mazda 3s, and the new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is one of them. It's the same engine used in the Mazda 6 and it puts out the same 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 six-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 automatic get a manual shift mode, but no steering wheel paddles. 

    Summary

    The Mazda3 is known as an attractive, premium small car at a reasonable price, and the 2010 update only reinforces that hard-earned reputation. It does cost a bit more than most direct competitors, but it also offers a sportier character and several amenities normally reserved for luxury cars. The hatchback body style feels even sportier and provides useful space. If you're looking for a small car, be sure to put the Mazda3 on your shopping list. 

    Kirk Bell filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com. 

    Model Lineup

    Mazda 3i SV sedan ($15,045); Mazda 3i Sport sedan ($15,975); Mazda 3i Touring sedan ($17,500); Mazda 3s Touring sedan ($18,740); Mazda 3s Grand Touring sedan ($21,500); Mazda 3s Sport hatchback ($19,230); Mazda 3s Grand Touring hatchback ($21,500). 

    Assembled In

    Hiroshima, Japan. 

    Options As Tested

    Moonroof, 6CD and Bose package ($1395) with sunroof, six-disc CD changer and 10-speaker, 242-watt Bose Centerpoint surround sound system; Technology package ($1195) with keyless access and starting, full-color Multi-Information Display, navigation system, Sirius satellite radio with a six-month subscription, perimeter alarm. 

    Model Tested

    Mazda 3s Grand Touring ($21,500). 

    *The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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