May 24, 2013
Written by Steven Macoy
Thursday, 06 January 2011 12:51
We might have liked our Velocity Red Mica 2011 Mazda3 Sport even better if we hadn’t pressed it into a service for which it was never intended: a three-hour drive with two adult passengers wedged into the back seat. So we had to take time out from enjoying the privilege of driving this engaging little car to listen to the complaints — which, sad to say, were completely justified.Among compact cars, only the Volkswagen Golf seriously competes with the Mazda3 in this price range (high teens to low $20s) as a legitimate driver’s car. Other models, especially those built in Asia and America, may be less expensive, smoother riding, quieter, roomier or more fuel-efficient. A conventional reaction to these cars might be, “Not bad … I can live with this.” One word captures the Mazda3’s performance: “Wow.“
Mazdas have maintained a decided edge over most of their competitors in sheer sportiness since the 1970s, when their powerful rotary engines set them apart. They’ve also attained a reputation for durability, especially the old 626, now known as the Mazda6.
Mazda’s 2.5-liter, 167-horsepower inline Four is standard in the Mazda3 Sport. Bolted to a five-speed automanual transmission, this engine delivers a pleasing sound and plenty of muscle. The $20,485 base price climbed to $23,110 mainly because of one expensive option (Moonroof/6CD/Bose package, $1,395). Mazda3’s range from $15,800 for the base sedan with a stick shift and 148-horsepower Four, to $23,700 for the nimble, 263-horsepower Mazdaspeed3.
The car handles beautifully, but it isn’t just athletic. It feels reassuringly solid. The driving experience suggests Mazda engineers didn’t just avoid cutting corners; they went above and beyond.
The high-quality interior is beautifully laid out and implies a price point thousands of dollars higher.
Aside from the cramped back seat, the Mazda3 is a car with almost no weaknesses. True, an eight-way power driver’s seat would result in improved comfort for tall drivers, but this feature, standard in the Grand Touring model, is unavailable in the Sport. Given recent warnings about $5-a-gallon gasoline by next year, the Mazda3’s fuel economy might be an issue for some buyers. A number of non-hybrid competitors, including the Hyundai Elantra, are flirting with 40 mpg; the Mazda3 with the 2.5-liter engine is rated at 22 mpg city, 29 highway. The 140-horsepower incarnation of the Mazda3 does better (33 mpg highway), but in these times, perhaps not enough.
The five-door Sport is a hatchback with a cargo compartment whose 17-cubic-foot capacity (43 cubic feet with the rear seatback lowered) ranks with some large sedans.
The Mazda3 received top scores in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, as well as above-average reliability scores in Consumer Reports magazine reader surveys.
People who have their hearts set on maximum fuel economy and a roomy cabin may not be drawn to the Mazda3; they’ll be happy with an Elantra or Ford Focus — as long as they don’t test-drive a Mazda3 or VW Golf first.
Engine: 2.5-liter Four, 167 horsepower, 168 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 5-speed automanual
Weight: 3,064 lb.
Suspension: Four-wheel independent, MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 17x7-inch alloy
Tires: P205/50R17 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 17 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 43 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons
Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular unleaded
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