Full 2010 Mazda MAZDA3 Review
What's New for 2010
Although it maintains much of its chassis architecture, the 2010 Mazda 3 is otherwise an all-new car. Highlights include revised exterior styling, improved fuel economy and power, a more modern interior design and new luxury-oriented features.
"Whatever you do, don't screw it up." Such is the prevailing sentiment whenever one ventures to follow up a successful first try, yet the second go-round often turns out to be a disappointment. The original Mazda 3 was a huge success in terms of sales and critical praise, and it only grew stronger as time wore on. As such, the redesigned 2010 Mazda 3 seemed like a prime candidate for sequel failure. Happily, though, the new 3 is a delight, more "Empire Strikes Back" than "Caddyshack 2."
The biggest fear for many was that the new model wouldn't be as fun to drive as its predecessor. Thankfully, that attribute is still firmly intact. The underlying platform is mostly unchanged, save for the added use of high-strength steel and a retuned version of the suspension, which combine to give the new 3 better body control without any additional ride harshness. The steering remains communicative and confidence-inspiring, while the amount of vibration transmitted to the driver's hands has been reduced. The result is a more polished version of what was already a highly refined and fun car.
The base 2.0-liter four-cylinder remains unchanged in terms of power, but fuel economy has improved thanks to a new five-speed automatic transmission. While not quite at the gas-sipping level of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, the new 3 can no longer be slagged for relatively gluttonous fuel consumption. The bigger four-cylinder gets pumped up to 2.5 liters and a healthy 167 horsepower, and its fuel economy improves by 1 mpg on the highway. These are two of the peppiest power plants found in the economy sedan class.
The biggest changes are on the styling front, with an all-new exterior and interior covering the 3's virtually unchanged dimensions. The smiley front end has garnered mixed reactions, but at least there's a rational explanation for it -- Mazda designed it to maximize aerodynamics for increased gas mileage and decreased wind noise. The flared wheel arches are an obvious Mazda family cue, while the tail ends of both sedan and hatchback body styles are curvier evolutions of their predecessors. The interior is less controversial, with a more modern, eye-catching design and improved materials. Uninitiated passengers might even mistake the cabin of the Mazda 3 in fully loaded Grand Touring guise for that of an entry-level luxury sedan.
For those who find the 3's ride too firm or its interior controls too complicated, the Hyundai Elantra and Honda Civic are good alternatives. The Volkswagen Rabbit and Jetta could also be considered against the 3's trim levels. Nonetheless, the 2010 Mazda 3 remains our top choice in the economy sedan category thanks to its pleasing driving demeanor, strong powertrains, ample equipment, excellent quality and versatile body styles. Far from screwing it up, Mazda has made the new 3 a thoroughly satisfying sequel.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Mazda 3 is available in four-door compact sedan and hatchback body styles.
The 3i model (sedan only) is offered in SV, Sport and Touring trim levels. Standard equipment includes 16-inch steel wheels, a 60/40 fold-down rear seatback, height-adjustable driver seat, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, power windows and mirrors, and a four-speaker stereo with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and steering-wheel controls. The 3i Sport adds air-conditioning, a temperature display and the option of an automatic transmission. The 3i Touring adds 16-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, power door locks, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio connection, and a six-speaker stereo.
The 3s Sport (available as sedan and hatchback) adds to the 3i Touring a bigger engine, different front and rear fascias, 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, dual exhausts, rear lip spoiler, more aggressively bolstered front seats, upgraded upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, trip computer and electroluminescent gauges. The 3s Grand Touring adds automatic bi-xenon headlights with auto-leveling and corner swivel illumination, heated side mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, leather upholstery and an eight-way power driver seat with driver memory functions.
Optional on the 3i Touring and all 3s trims is the Moonroof & Bose package that adds a sunroof and a 10-speaker surround-sound system with an in-dash six-CD changer. The Tech package available on the 3s includes keyless ignition/entry, satellite radio and a navigation system with steering wheel controls and a small, high-mounted display screen. Satellite radio is also a dealer-installed option on any Mazda 3, as is an iPod interface.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2010 Mazda 3i comes with a 2.0-liter inline-4 that produces 148 hp and 135 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual is standard, while a five-speed automatic is optional on all but the 3i SV. Estimated fuel economy is 24 mpg city and 33 mpg highway with the automatic -- the manual improves by 1 mpg city. This is a few miles per gallon less on the highway than class leaders.
The Mazda 3s is powered by a 2.5-liter inline-4 good for 167 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard here, with a five-speed automatic optional. In performance testing, a manual-equipped 3s went from zero to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds. Estimated fuel economy is 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway with the automatic (21 mpg city with the manual). Both fuel economy and acceleration are on par with similarly powerful small cars.
Standard safety equipment on the 2010 Mazda 3 includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, active front head restraints, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Stability and traction control are standard on all trims above 3i Touring, and not available on the 3i SV and 3i Sport. In testing, the 3s Grand Touring came to a stop from 60 mph in 127 feet -- a decent performance for this type of car.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2010 Mazda 3 is a class leader in terms of interior design, quality and feature content. Most Mazda 3 sedans and hatchbacks won't be optioned-out Grand Touring models, but they'll still greet their owners with high-quality materials, comfortable seats, ample space and easy-to-reach controls. However, the stereo controls in particular aren't as simple as those in a Civic or Elantra. The optional navigation system features a relatively small display screen, but it's mounted high and costs much less than rival systems.
The Mazda 3 sedan is less spacious than its competitors, but only slightly so. The front seat offers a wide range of adjustment (especially with the optional power seats), and the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel is a welcome feature. Taller drivers should note that the optional sunroof chews into front headroom considerably. The 3 hatchback would be our body style choice, since it offers all the sedan's high points while adding a greater level of practicality. Trunk space is 17 cubic feet with the hatch, but only 11.8 with the sedan.
The 2010 Mazda 3 has refined road manners that will likely come as a pleasant surprise to most economy car shoppers. Thanks to its performance-oriented chassis tuning, the 3 is blessed with minimal body roll and a healthy amount of grip on twisty blacktop, and the steering is quick and communicative. In the real world, this translates into a greater sense of driver confidence. The 3's highway ride is smooth enough to please most commuters, although drivers who prefer softly sprung compacts like the Toyota Corolla might think the 3 is too firm.
The beefed-up 2.5-liter engine in 3s models is the same one that powers the midsize Mazda 6. It's a wise choice for driving enthusiasts or those downsizing from a bigger, more powerful car. The smaller four-cylinder found in the 3i still isn't quite as fuel-efficient as those found in the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, but it's a bit more powerful.