Fun to drive, punchy engine, practical hatchback body, loads of luxury features, excellent driving position.
Too-firm ride for some, unpleasant engine noise, irritating iPod interface.
It's best to think of the 2010 Mazda Mazda 3 as a vehicle that got an all-new wardrobe rather than a complete makeover. The styling is obviously new, the interior is sleeker and higher in quality and the features list is stuffed with additional goodies. As for the vehicle underneath, though, the new 3 is the same marvelous car to drive as it was before, with a few relatively minor improvements to enhance your experience behind the wheel.
The particular flavor in question is the 2010 Mazda 3 s Grand Touring Five-Door. The s bit denotes the larger 2.5-liter four-cylinder that's the lone propulsion choice with the versatile five-door hatchback body style. The Grand Touring is the top-line trim level, with genuine luxury car features that make it seem more like a junior luxury sedan than a tarted-up econobox.
Yet regardless of body style, engine or trim, the Mazda 3 remains the compact car king -- even with its new set of clothes. While it may be a tad too sporty for everyone's taste (the Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra Touring would be good alternatives), the 2010 Mazda 3's remarkably well-rounded nature should satisfy the diverse needs of a majority of buyers in this segment.
The Mazda 3 s features the bigger of two four-cylinder engines (a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter is found in the 3i), increased in size for 2010 to 2.5 liters and 167 hp (up from 2.3 liters and 156 hp). Our test car came with the standard six-speed manual, a rewarding transmission with an easy clutch and a precise shifter. It works well with the robust four-cylinder, although the initial take-off from 1st gear elicited a rather agricultural groan.
It's not the sweetest-sounding powertrain in the world, but it's got more midrange punch than before, making the 3 better able to merge onto fast-moving freeways. It remains a zippy car around town, with a useful supply of low-end torque. As speeds rise, though, the engine starts to run out of juice. The 3 s made the 0-60-mph sprint in a respectable 8.1 seconds.
While its powertrain is certainly a significant asset, it's the 2010 Mazda 3's remarkable ride and handling balance that make it drive like a car worth thousands more. The lightly revised chassis remains a champ, exhibiting a balance and solidity that encourages you to go swifter than you'd think was possible in a car in this price range.
The steering is wonderfully linear, precise and communicative, transmitting more information to the driver's hands than most front-drive cars (it also transmits less vibration for 2010). The brakes are equally impressive, with fade-free stopping power capable of bringing the 3,048-pound Grand Touring five-door from 60 to zero in 119 feet. It all adds up to a car that's not only a hoot to drive on your favorite back road, but one that also has the goods to inspire confidence when the time comes to avoid an injurious vehicular event.
The 3's EPA-estimated fuel economy is 21/29/24 mpg (city/hwy/combined); over the two-week duration of our test, the car achieved 22 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. That doesn't seem particularly impressive, but compared to similarly powered compact cars (Toyota Corolla XRS, Mitsubishi Lancer GTS) the 3 is actually on par. It also uses regular gas.
If a soft, isolated ride is your cup of relaxing automotive tea, the 2010 Mazda 3 will probably be on the spicy side of Darjeeling. Bumps will be felt and you'll feel more connected to the road, but it isn't harsh like a sports car. Still, this is one area where the 3 will be less appealing to folks than a Hyundai Elantra or Honda Civic -- although the 3 is notably quieter than the latter.
With its eight-way power driver seat, the 3 Grand Touring is the most comfortable car in its class for folks taller than 6 feet thanks to an abundance of seat adjustment. A telescoping steering wheel aids in this area as well, along with a shifter that somehow manages to be placed a perfect distance for tall and short folks alike (one of the best, period, in this regard). The leather-wrapped front seats hug your body more than before -- perhaps too much for some -- keeping you in place through quick turns.
The backseats offer a decent amount of space for a compact car, with legroom ranging from generous to tight depending on who's driving. There is enough headroom for someone 6-foot-3. A rear-mounted child seat required the front passenger seat to be pushed far forward, while a front-facing one fit fine. However, the top tether anchors are located on the seatback, requiring you to remove the rear cargo cover for access. The rear seat also boasts a center armrest that was appreciated by all.
Mazda estimates that only 30 percent of the 3s sold in the United States will be five-door hatchbacks, which is sad since the five-door is far more versatile (we also think it looks better). Flipping down the 60/40-split rear seat and removing the solid cargo cover reveals a large space good for carrying bicycles, big boxes or other bulky items you couldn't possibly fit in a car with a traditional trunk. With the seats up, a golf bag has to be placed diagonally in the trunk to fit. Nevertheless, if your household only has one car, the five-door 3 is a very good choice.
When it comes to interior controls, the 2010 Mazda 3 doesn't boast the sort of simple stereo layout of the Honda Civic or Hyundai Elantra. There are a lot of spread-out buttons (probably too many), and the iPod interface that seems like a welcome feature is, in fact, an annoyance that left us plugging our Nanos and Touches into the standard aux-in jack.
Instead of relying on the present large radio tuning knob and color screen (which would duplicate the iPod's actual controls) as some other manufacturers do, the interface uses two toggle buttons and the nine-digit audio display. It takes too many button-presses to scan through multiple playlists that are barely identifiable (for example, both "My Mix 2008" and "My Mix 2009" are displayed as "My Mix 20").
On the upside, the dual-zone automatic climate controls are quite simple and a rare luxury in this class, which can be said for many of the Grand Touring's features. Memory power seats, auto-swiveling xenon headlights, five-level heated seats, keyless ignition/entry, Bluetooth and a decent-sounding 10-speaker surround-sound audio system are not the type of stuff you expect in a car that costs less than $25,000.
Marked by a wide grille, the 2010 Mazda 3's new face has been described as happy-looking. One previous-generation 3 owner described the new car's smiling visage as "adorable," although we've also heard less flattering comparisons to Guy Smiley, the Joker and Marlon Brando with an orange in his mouth. Either way, the car's distinctive grille serves a functional purpose, channeling air around the car for a better drag coefficient. In layman's terms, that equals better fuel economy and a quieter cabin.
Inside, the quality of materials has been improved to a level bested only by the Volkswagen Rabbit. The dash is covered in a high-quality squishy material, although it would be nice if it extended to the door sills. Switchgear is also quite nice, with a pleasing action to buttons and knobs.
Anyone in the market for a compact sedan or hatchback, period. Single-car households in particular will find the hatchback beneficial.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.