Think "evolution" not "revolution." That's what Ruben Archilla, group manager of research and development at Mazda North American Operations, tells us about the 2010 Mazda 3. Our translation: Don't fix it if it ain't broke.
With sales of the 2009 Mazda 3 still high and the car widely recognized as a class leader, the idea of fully revamping it is kind of questionable anyway. The 2010 Mazda 3, then, is a complete restyling with just enough mechanical updates and new features to freshen up its feel and bump up its amenity count.
You know, more of all the stuff that already sets the Mazda 3 apart from those lowly cheap-and-cheerful cars in the compact sedan category.
More Power and Better Economy? For the new model year, the 2010 Mazda 3 is once again available in two trim levels — "i" or "s" — determined by engine displacement. The Mazda 3 i is equipped with a 2.0-liter inline-4 engine while the Mazda 3 s now receives the 2.5-liter inline-4 introduced by the 2009 Mazda 6.
The big news, of course, is the addition of the 2.5-liter engine to the Mazda 3 model mix. Once it's installed in the Mazda 3, this 2.5-liter MZR inline-4 is rated at 167 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque — a bump of 11 hp and 18 lb-ft over the former 2.3-liter mill. It's also 28 hp and 40 lb-ft more than the Honda Civic's 1.8-liter inline-4.
A six-speed manual transmission replaces the five-speed as standard equipment in s models and a five-speed automatic is optional.
Meanwhile the i model's 2.0-liter inline-4 remains virtually unchanged and is rated at 148 hp and 135 lb-ft of torque. It comes standard with a five-speed manual but can now be had with a five-speed automatic instead of only a four-speed automatic.
But here's the really good news. Every combination of engine and transmission in the 2010 Mazda 3 earns the same or better city/highway fuel economy as the current car. The s model equipped with a manual transmission is rated at 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, while the i model with manual transmission is rated at 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. In comparison, the Honda Civic EX sedan earns 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway when equipped with a manual transmission.
Bigger and (a Bit) Heavier Although the revised car's wheelbase remains the same at 103.9 inches, the front and rear overhangs increase marginally to bring total length of the 3 s sedan to 180.9 inches. That's 3.6 inches longer than a Honda Civic sedan and 2.2 inches longer than a Toyota Corolla sedan.
Because the additional length is a result of a larger fuel tank on s models and a new muffler layout, the increase in interior space is only nominal. Trunk space is 11.8 cubic feet — about a half cubic foot less than Toyota's Corolla sedan, although slightly larger than the current 3.
To minimize weight, Mazda used high-tensile steel in specific areas of the 3's chassis. This change increases bending rigidity by 7 percent over the current car, while torsional rigidity remains the same. The new materials lighten the chassis by about 24 pounds.
Even so, it seems all new cars are heavier thanks to greater levels of safety and convenience features, and the 3 hasn't escaped this pitfall. Depending on trim and option fitment, the 2010 Mazda 3 will weigh between 58 and 111 pounds more than the current car. A Mazda 3 s equipped with the automatic transmission weighs 3,025 pounds, which is not a small number in the compact sedan category.
On the Road Behind the wheel of the s model, the newfound power of the 2.5-liter engine and additional cog of the six-speed manual are welcome additions. With steering response and feedback rivaling the sports cars from many manufacturers, the 2010 Mazda 3 clearly retains the dynamic credentials it has inherited from the current car.
There's a sense of tautness in all of the 3's responses. Every control — steering, throttle response and brakes — feels as if it has been tuned by someone who knows and cares about driving. In particular, steering feel and response are outstanding; plenty of information passes through to the driver without relying on artificially high effort. Moreover, the chassis eats midcorner bumps with confidence while the brake pedal offers immediate effectiveness.
Changes beneath the Mazda 3's skin are relatively minor. Small geometry tweaks have been made to reduce understeer and increase rear grip. Three mounts now locate the steering rack instead of two, and the locating points for both the front and rear antiroll bars are farther apart for better effectiveness. The tire brands are new, but the size hasn't changed; 205/55R16 for the i model or 205/50R17 for the s model.
Damping and spring rates are well matched to produce excellent wheel and body control without overly compromising ride quality. The 3's ride is busier than that of a Civic EX or Corolla, but the return in feel and response makes the sacrifice worthwhile. This calibration makes the Mazda 3 a refreshing standout in a segment dominated by underdamped, slow-steering fuel misers.
Driver-Oriented Cockpit One design priority in the 3's revised interior has been to orient all primary controls to the driver.
As before, the speedometer and tachometer dominate the instrument cluster, but the big change comes from a mid-dash recess above the center stack. A multi-information display (or a screen for the optional navigation system) is on the left, and a display for the ventilation and audio systems is on the right. This layout positions the speedometer and tachometer in the same visual plane, which has been our biggest beef with the Honda Civic's two-tiered design.
The Mazda's navigation system features a smaller screen relative to its current competitors. It's controlled by buttons mounted on the right-hand spoke of the steering wheel, and we found it intuitive enough to figure out without doing any reading. The goal of using a small screen, we're told, is to reduce the cost of the optional system to be more competitive with portable navigation units — an admirable but difficult task. Mazda expects the option to be priced at about $500, which should help it find more buyers than the current $1,500-$2,000 systems.
In addition to the controls for the navigation system and trip computer, the steering wheel also incorporates buttons for the audio system, Bluetooth and cruise control. There's also an efficient three-knob/five-button arrangement for the dual-zone climate control system.
The New Look One criticism of the current Mazda 3 has been its fuel economy, which is marginally lower than some of its competition. Since the 2010 Mazda 3 has both more power and more weight, it doesn't seem like a recipe for better fuel economy. The answer? Make it slick.
As a result, the 2010 Mazda 3 is now more aerodynamic than any car in its class, featuring a 0.29 Cd. Though the new grille opening has been styled to look huge, it's actually smaller than on the current model. Look closely and you'll see that half the grille is just there for visual effect, not to admit air to the engine compartment. It's been carefully designed to meter in only enough air to accommodate cooling and combustion needs, while the rest of the air is routed over and around the body.
Much time was spent in the wind tunnel minimizing wind noise intrusion into the cockpit and it's obvious from behind the wheel, as the new 3 is one quiet machine. With the exception of the dual exhaust — a feature that has never made sense to us as part of a car powered by a four-cylinder engine — the design is largely purposeful.
Features Galore The new 3 offers an abundance of amenities never before offered in the compact segment. Bi-xenon, self-leveling adaptive headlamps, push-button start and a driver seat with a three-position memory setting are all now on the options list.
A Bose 10-speaker surround-sound system as well as iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, heated seats and rain-sensing wipers are also available.
Side and curtain airbags are standard across the model range. Stability and traction control remain an option.
This is a real sedan, not a stripped-down economy car.
The Bottom Line Mazda hasn't yet announced pricing for the 2010 Mazda 3, but it insists the new model will remain as competitively priced as the current car when it goes on sale in the beginning of 2009. A five-door model, which Mazda is yet to reveal, will go on sale at the same time.
With numerous innovative options, class-leading dynamics, engaging driving character and a new look, the 2010 Mazda 3 seems set once again to claw its way to class leadership. It might not be a revolution, but it clearly ain't broke.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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