Mazda3 Hatchback — Second generation gets more zoom

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Mazda hit all the right notes with its first-generation Mazda3 compact sedan and hatchback, introduced for the 2004 model year. The Japanese automaker created a refined, stylish, well made, fun-to-drive compact that for six years has rivaled everything in its class.

Usually during a car’s five-or-six year life cycle, sales peak in the second or third year and start falling off; but people have discovered that Mazda uncharacteristically sold as well in its sixth year of existence as its first.

As an example Mazda3’s 2008 sales of 110,000 actually beat 2005 (97,000) and 2006 (94,000). Only the 120,000 in 2007 bettered 2008. And for 2009, through the first nine months Mazda has sold over 75,000 3’s; on track for another calendar year of over 100,000 units.

The nagging thought as we too
k possession of a second generation 2010 Mazda3 five-door was, “is this going to be as good as or hopefully better than the previous iteration?”

We thought it was a pertinent question because too many times over the years we have found to our dismay that automakers simply can’t follow up on success with more success. They screw up the formula attempting to reach too far.

We are happy — perhaps better described as delighted — to find that the new Mazda3 is better in many ways than the previous generation, entertaining and sophisticated with athletic handling and solid performance. And we very much enjoyed the utility the hatchback provides.

Mazda officials hope the auto-buying consumer feels the same way we do because the Mazda3 represents more than 40 percent of Mazda’s U.S. sales.

Mazda has kept prices attractive and in line with the competition, starting at $15,715 for the base car and more realistically at $16,645 for the next-up trim level that includes air conditioning and an automatic transmission. The Mazda3 is hard to beat no matter what manufacturer you visit.

There are a wide variety of models and two styles — sedan and hatchback — to pick from. If you want the best of the Mazda3 you can load it up to the point you will be driving a smaller version of a top-line Mazda6.

While the overall styling maintains the Mazda look, it’s here that criticism is perhaps legitimately directed.
We like the new sculptured sides and overall athletic appearance. But we dislike the grinning wide-mouth face. However, we discovered that it looked better in person than in pictures and it actually dissolved into the overall landscape of our black test car.

The new Mazda3 comes with two engine choices, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 148 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque, and a 2.5-liter. The smaller engine is unchanged from last year, but fuel economy has improved to 24 mpg city, 33 mpg highway with the addition of a five-speed automatic. Last year’s mileage was 22/30. All trim levels except the base model get the five-speed automatic.

The bigger engine is more powerful than the previous 2.3-liter, which was rated at 156 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. The new 2.5 four-cylinder outputs improve to 167-horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. And it derives slightly better gas mileage at 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway compared to last year’s 22/28. The 2.5-liter comes in all hatchback trim levels as well as the Sport and the Grand Touring models of the sedan.

It can be mated to either a six-speed manual or the aforementioned five-speed automatic.

We found the larger engine a delight in our top-line Grand Touring hatchback test vehicle, providing energetic takeoffs and plenty of mid-range torque for suspense-free passing and merging onto fast-paced four-lane highways. For comparison purposes, the 2.5-liter will propel the Mazda3 from 0-to-60 in around eight seconds.

Steering feel is precise and the sport-tuned suspension — stiffer than in some of the competitors namely the softer Toyota Corolla — gives the Zoom Zoom Mazda the athletic feel we have come to appreciate. Even with the stiffer suspension we don’t think the ride will offend many people. In the end the setup makes the Mazda fun to drive, and if your family car is fun to drive, well, you are blessed, indeed.

The dashboard layout is delightful, particularly at night when it is bathed in reds and blues. Blue mood lights on the center console and in the footwells give the car an upscale, soothing touch. The gauges are clear and the switchgear is easy to operate. The climate and audio controls bulge out from the center stack in easy reach. A digital readout high atop the center stack is a nice touch providing audio information, climate settings and outside temperature.

If the car is quipped with navigation, it is also housed in the same compartment. The downside here is that we think the navigation screen is too small, especially compared to some of the bigger screens now found on an assortment of vehicles.

We found the driver’s seat just right for our needs. Rear passengers will also find comfortable accommodations, but leg room can be tight if the front-seat passengers need their seats far back on the tracks.

The hatchback design is definitely the way to go with its 17 cubic feet of storage that comes with a privacy cover that can be pulled over the cargo. Rear seats fold down 60/40 to yield 44 cubic feet of carrying capacity.

While the less expensive Mazda3 models are relatively well equipped, someone desiring more of the automotive amenities of life won’t be disappointed. Get out the checkbook and virtually everything you want is available from pushbutton start to navigation.

Our test car, for instance, with a base price of $22,970 came with dual-zone climate control, leather-trimmed seats, power driver’s seat, Bi-Xenon headlights with foglights, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth hands free phone and tilt and telescoping steering wheel. 

Two option packages totaling $2,590 brought navigation, a 242-watt Bose sound system with Sirius satellite radio, pushbutton start, moonroof and a perimeter alarm. The bottom line was $25,560.

Whatever trim level fits your budget, you will find more than mere transportation every time you get behind the wheel. You will be rewarded!


Base price: $15,715; as driven, $25,560
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 167 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 168 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Length: 177.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,064 pounds
Turning circle: 34.2 feet
Luggage capacity: 17 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 44 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 29 mpg highway, 22 mpg city
0-60: 7.9 seconds (MotorWeek)
Also consider: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Ford Focus

The Good:

• Athletic handling
• Upscale interior
• Hatchback utility

The Bad:

• Ride may be too firm for some sensitive rear end

The Ugly:

• Grinning wide-mouth front end