New car reviews

2009 Mazda MAZDA3

Perfect for Today

Steve Schaefer, Mon, 6 Oct 2008 08:00:00 PDT

Four-dollar-a-gallon gas no longer shocks, but is still a big concern. Every day we hear more about the threat of global warming. The Mazda3 is well suited to this world today.

Four-dollar-a-gallon gas no longer shocks, but is still a big concern. Every day we hear more about the threat of global warming. The Mazda3 is well suited to this world today.

My Metropolitan Gray Mica test car was a five-door, also known as a hatchback or small wagon. The rear door opened up and the car swallowed loads of stuff with no problem. With nearly 44 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seats dropped, schlepping a big acoustic bass was a snap.

Humans do well in the Mazda3, too. It's rated as a compact, not a subcompact, so real people fit in the front and rear seats, and with five doors, it's easy for them to get in and out. The car stands 57.7 inches tall, too, so there's no problem with six-footers getting comfortable.

You can opt for a four-door sedan model if you'd rather, but it's less practical and more conventional. The side window shape of the Mazda3 five-door is dramatic, and with its upward curve and pointed rear window, it makes the car look a little like an athletic shoe.

The four-door can be had as the "i" model, with a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine that puts out 148 horsepower and 135 lb.-ft. of torque, or the "s" model, with a 2.3-liter engine that generates 156 horsepower and 150 lb.-ft. of torque. The five-door comes only as an "s." That's a little sportier. As a "zoom-zoom" cousin to the MX-5 Miata sports car, what else would you expect?

All Mazda3s come with a manual five-speed transmission standard, but you can order an automatic, and my tester had one. Despite the ability to shift sequentially if you want to control the gear, it's less fun then the manual. At least you don't pay a price in fuel economy or carbon footprint with the automatic, although it will cost you $950 when you buy the car.

The Mazda 3 is one of the best cars you can buy environmentally speaking, short of a hybrid. In California, the engines are partial zero-emission vehicles (P-ZEV), so the Air Pollution number is 9.5 out of 10 and the Greenhouse Gas score is a 7 (and an 8 with the 2.0-liter engine). The P-ZEV California cars lose five horsepower and one lb.-ft. of torque.

The car feels tight and active as you zoom-zoom down the road. The little four-cylinder engine pulls the 2,950-pound car along quickly, even with the automatic, or at least if feels fast. The fully independent suspension and stiff body and frame give you plenty of road feel. I noticed significant tire noise on older freeway pavement, however, but that could be because in the modest price level where the Mazda 3 lives, sound deadening materials are not so generously applied.

Sitting in the Mazda3 is pleasant. The seats in my tester were covered in sturdy "sport" cloth. The overall interior styling is exuberant, although the abundance of black plastic subdues it a little. Light gray window pillars and ceiling, silvery accents throughout and the silver rings on the three-gauge instrument cluster relieve the monotony. It certainly felt more expensive than it was, thanks to a variety of textures and good fit and finish. The Mazda3 is assembled in Japan, unlike many of its Japanese-name rivals.

You can order up the five-door Mazda 3 in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring levels. The Sport offers power windows, locks and mirrors; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shirt knob; air conditioning; 17-inch alloy wheels; a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with auxiliary input jack; antilock brakes and more. The Touring adds safety with Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control.

Step up to the Grand Touring and get pampered with leather seats, the front ones heated, with eight-way power adjustment for the driver. You also enjoy automatic climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a trip computer, and LED taillamps.

Prices for the Sport with manual transmission begin at $18,025. The Grand Touring with automatic starts at $21,245. Numerous options can push those prices higher. My Touring test car had Sirius Satellite Radio ($430) and the Moonroof/6CD package ($800), bringing it to, with a $635 delivery charges, $21,330.

I have felt for years that the Mazda3 would be the ideal car for a great many people. It's attractive, inexpensive to buy and run, fun to drive, and gentle on the planet. Now in its fifth year, it's Mazda's best-selling vehicle globally. And remember, gas is even more expensive in most other parts of the world!



2009 Mazda MAZDA3 front view

2009 Mazda MAZDA3 interior

2009 Mazda MAZDA3 gauge display

2009 Mazda MAZDA3 rear shot

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