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Entertaining yet sophisticated in demeanor, the 2006 Mazda 3 doesn't look, feel or drive like an economy car. If you're shopping for a small, inexpensive sedan or hatchback, this Mazda car should be at the top of your list.
Superbly refined suspension, steering and brakes, sharp styling inside and out, smooth engines, excellent build and materials quality, hatchback utility.
Ride might be a tad stiff for some, tight rear legroom, so-so fuel economy with 2.3-liter engine.
Available MAZDA3 Sedan Models
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Available MAZDA3 Hatchback Models
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For 2006, the Mazda 3 benefits from the addition of variable valve timing to the 2.0-liter engine and the availability of a five-speed automatic transmission on models with the 2.3-liter engine. Additionally, the 2.3-liter engine is now PZEV-certified in California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont. Models with air conditioning get a pollen filter and outside temperature display on the center console. ABS and variable-intermittent front wipers become part of the standard features list for all 2.3-liter models. Also, a couple of new Touring trims are added to the lineup.
Following in a long line of zippy compact cars from Mazda, the Mazda 3 replaced the Protege as the entry-level car in Mazda's lineup. It's available in both four-door sedan and five-door hatchback body styles. Mazda backs up the 3's sporty image with a pair of strong, refined engines. All i trims use a 150-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, while all s models use a 2.3-liter four-cylinder that bumps the horsepower number to 160 while offering significantly more torque.
Both engines are equipped with variable valve timing to improve response and efficiency. The Protege had a well-deserved reputation for superior ride and handling compared to most economy cars, and the Mazda 3 builds upon that tradition with the help of a few parts from the more expensive Mazda 6 midsize sedan. Spot-on chassis tuning results in quick turn-in, hardly any body roll and lots of grip on twisty blacktop. At the same time, the highway ride is smooth enough to please most commuters.
While most economy cars serve up generic interior designs with little or no concern for aesthetics, the 3's cabin has a cohesive layout that injects some style into the equation. From the individually recessed gauges to the symmetry of the center stack controls, the attention to detail is evident. Satellite steering wheel controls are a nice touch for a car in this price range, as is the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. Build and materials quality is outstanding for this class. There's plenty of room for taller drivers to get comfortable up front, and the rear seats are acceptably spacious for a car in this class. With all the personality of its predecessors along with more powerful engines and a sharp new interior, the 2006 Mazda 3 is an economy car that puts the "zoom-zoom" back into driving.
The Mazda 3 is available as a sedan in i, i Touring, s, s Touring and s Grand Touring trims. The four-door hatchback model comes in s, s Touring and s Grand Touring trims. All i sedans have a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a CD stereo. The i Touring adds 16-inch wheels, cruise control, an upgraded stereo and power windows, mirrors and locks. Air conditioning is optional on i models. The s models come with all of the above, plus alloy wheels, a height-adjustable driver seat and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with satellite audio controls. The s Touring adds 17-inch alloys to the mix, while the top-line s Grand Touring provides heated leather seats, auto climate control, rain-sensing wipers and a trip computer. Options include an in-dash CD changer, satellite radio and a moonroof.
The i sedans use a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine rated to produce 150 horsepower, while the s models use a 2.3-liter four-cylinder that bumps the horsepower number to 160. Both engines come standard with a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic transmission with an automanual mode is optional on i models, while s models upgrade to a five-speed automatic.
All Mazda 3 models come with four-wheel disc brakes. Antilock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) are standard on s models and optional on i trims. Front-seat side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are optional on all models. The 3 earned four out of five stars in NHTSA frontal-impact crash tests and was named a "Best Pick" for its performance in the IIHS frontal-offset test. In side impacts, the Mazda earned just three stars from NHTSA and a "Poor" rating (the lowest) from the IIHS, but neither agency has yet to test a 3 with side airbags.
Unlike most economy cars, the Mazda 3 offers a distinctive and upscale interior design. The sharp-looking gauges are housed in individual binnacles, while beautifully choreographed textures, nicely damped controls and tight-fitting panels give the cabin a top-quality feel. There's enough room for taller drivers to get comfortable up front. The rear seats are also comfy and supportive, though legroom is a little tight for 6-footers. Sedans offer 11.4 cubic feet of trunk space; the hatchback offers 17.1 cubes behind its rear seat and 31 when it's folded.
The 2006 Mazda 3 has refined road manners that will likely surprise shoppers expecting the typically flabby ride and handling of many economy cars. The Mazda car feels nimble and tightly controlled during cornering and its steering provides rewarding feedback. For everyday driving, both of the available engines are suitable, though the larger 2.3-liter offers stronger low- and midrange pull.
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