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A Best-seller, Mazda3 Raises the Bar in Sport Compact Segment

By Arv Voss, August 13th, 2011

The Mazda3 raised the sport compact vehicle bar. In fact, since its launch back in 2003, the Mazda3 has become the best-selling vehicle in the Mazda lineup. The automaker says one in every 3 of its models sold worldwide is a Mazda3.

With a starting price of $15,800, the 2011 Mazda3 is offered in sedan and five-door hatchback models. Power assignments for the Mazda3 lineup are as follows: "i" Series models draw their motive force from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 148 horsepower along with 135 lb.-ft. of torque. Standard equipped with the five-speed manual transmission the EPA rating is 25/33 mpg. The "s" Series vehicles scoot down the road courtesy of a 2.5-liter powerplant that cranks out 167 horses and 168 lb.-ft. of torque.

My Mazda3 tester was a four-door i Series sedan in the uplevel Touring trim, with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and 6-speed manual gearbox. It wore an exterior finish of Liquid Silver metallic, with a Black interior at $18,100.

Package/option changes for 2011 include the addition of rain-sensing front wipers; auto on/off headlights; bi-xenon headlights with auto leveling; an adaptive front-lighting system; and LED rear combination taillights to the Technology Package.

The Mazda3's dominant grille design separates it from bland competitors. A front-to-rear rise of the beltline gives the Mazda3 a crouched, expectant look of a predator ready to pounce. The low-in-front window opening provides excellent outward visibility, while the higher beltline in the rear seat area gives occupants a greater sense of security.

The elevated decklid surface serves as both an aerodynamic aid and a means of maximizing trunk room. Motorists who approach from behind see the vivid taillamp execution. A subtle reshaping of the front bumper beam last model year greatly diminished the turbulence of air passing through the grille while maximizing fuel economy and quieting wind noise.

The Mazda3 has a cockpit interior configured to support the driver in a dedicated manner. Two large instrument clusters are carefully positioned and clearly marked to deliver engine and road speed information. Main controls are located in the steering wheel spokes where they may be reached with minimum distraction. The Multi-Information Display screen contains navigation, audio, and trip information is positioned high on the instrument panel to avoid taking one's eyes off the road ahead.

The Mazda3i four-door Touring raises the bar for competitive sport compact vehicles. Its Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" appeal and "soul of a sports car" philosophy are attributable to elevated driving dynamics through its blend of comprehensive body, chassis and powertrain enhancements. The overall sophistication level actually travels outside the sport-compact market segment, rivaling much more expensive import models.

The Mazda3 is equipped with a host of active and passive safety systems and features that contribute to a secure sense. Acceleration is satisfying and responsive, with handling characteristics that are sporting in nature, and a ride quality that delivers both stability and comfort -- it is firm without being harsh.

The Mazda3i Touring sedan delivers a sufficient amount of Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" DNA to make it both interesting and fun for someone who wants performance that is on the sporty side of the field, but who is also forced to consider the issue of providing family transportation. The overall packaging of the Mazda3 provides the soul and spirit of a sports sedan, without doing serious damage to one's finances.

Specifications

Base price $17,500 (as tested: $20,320)
Displacement 2.0-liter
Epa mileage rating 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 14.5 gal.
Horsepower (net) 148 at 6500 rpm
Motor type 16-valve DOHC 4-cylinder w/EFI
Overall length 180.9 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 135 at 4500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Vehicle type 5-passenger FWD compact sedan
Wheelbase 103.9 in.
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