Any time you try to make a good thing better, you run the risk of ruining it altogether. Such easily could have been the case with the Mazda3. When it first arrived for 2004, the goal of the fun-loving Mazda3 was to help revitalize, and yes, add more Zoom-Zoom, to the Mazda brand. Well its’ clear that the “3” met its goal. So now, after much tweaking inside and out, it’s time for a new 2010 Mazda3. Let’s see if it’s ready for an encore.
Although the slightly larger, second generation 2010 Mazda3 has much of the same architecture as the original, there are still significant changes. That goes for both body-styles: the trendy five-door hatchback and the more formal four-door sedan. Taking cues from big brother Mazda6, our test Mazda3 hatchback greeted us with a far bolder stance from front to back.
The restyled look begins with available bi-xenon headlamps for a more premium appearance. The grille follows recent Mazda concepts with a huge, single port smile. Too much grin we think. Still, Mazda says it provides better airflow than the former upper and lower inlets, while a dramatically rising beltline gives the Mazda3 an almost predatory stance. The 3’s curvier back-end flanks the large hatch with custom-look taillamps finished off by our “S” Gran Touring’s spoiler and dual exhaust tips. The base 15-inch steel wheels are gone. Available 16 and 17-inch alloys are also new designs.
Two four-cylinder engines are available now. A carryover 2.0-liter, for the sedan only, rated at 148 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque. New is a 2.5-liter from the Mazda6, replacing last year’s 2.3. Output is 167 horsepower - a boost of 11 - and 168 pound-feet of torque - a jump of 18. The forthcoming MazdaSpeed3 will sport a carryover 2.3-liter turbo-four with 263 horsepower, but with a tweaked suspension and even more flash. Front drive transmissions include a 5-speed manual, a new 5-speed automatic with manual shift mode, and a 6-speed manual with the 2.5.
The Mazda3 doesn’t sip fuel as well as some of its compact rivals, but efficiency has improved by as much as 10% over last year. Government Fuel Economy Ratings for a base 2.0 manual are 25 city/33 highway. Our 2.5 automatic rates 22 city/29 highway on regular gas, and gave us a respectable 24.9 miles per gallon in real-world driving.
Our “3” sprinted from 0 to 60 in 7.9 seconds, and through the quarter mile in 16.2 seconds at 87 miles per hour. There is good pep off the line, but we wouldn’t call it powerful. Letting the automatic shift itself is a somewhat slow process. Better if you do it yourself. Otherwise, tighter gear spacing would certainly speed things up.
The 3 exhibits very little front push, but body roll is more than we expected. To that end, there is an overall softness to the tuning which will be appreciated on commutes. Still, the revised steering gear is highly precise. Overall, handling is among the most solid and enjoyable in its class.
Braking is also above par, thanks to four-wheel discs with ABS and Brake Assist. Stops averaged to a concise 123 feet from 60 to 0, with good bite and no drama. The pedal is nice and firm, just the way we like it.
Inside, the revised cabin has greater focus on sportiness and optimal ergonomics, with most of the improvements targeting the driver. The redesigned panel features a slick, new Multi-Information Display positioned high on the dash. It contains audio and climate info, plus a small screen for the available navigation. There’s also optional Push-Button Start. Seats are reshaped for more comfort during long commutes, and more support for spirited driving. Leather trim, heat, and 8-way driver’s power were standard on our “S” Gran Touring tester. Our car’s Moonroof/Bose package brought with it just that, a one-touch glass roof with a killer 242-watt Bose Centerpoint 10-speaker surround sound audio system. Rear seat room is not spacious, but can adequately fit two for commuting and three in a pinch.
It also has a 60/40 split folding feature which helps extend the standard 17 cubic foot cargo area of the hatchback, or the 11.8 cubic foot trunk of the sedan. Pricing for the Mazda 3 starts at $15,715 for the I sedan, $19,410 for the S sedan, and $19,900 for the S hatchback.
Call it Zoom-Zoom. Call it the Soul of a Sports Car. However you phrase it, the 2010 Mazda3 is a near perfect evolution. It’s a flat-out better car then before, yet it’s still a Mazda3. Lucky for fans of this sporty compact, Mazda pulled it off, following one great design with yet another.
- Engine: 2.5-Liter
- Horsepower: 167
- Torque: 168 Lb Feet
- 0-60 MPH: 7.9 Seconds
- 1/4 Mile: 16.2 Seconds @ 87 MPH
- 60-0 MPH: 123 Feet
- EPA: 22 MPG City/ 29 MPG Highway
- Mixed Loop: 24.9 MPG