All it takes is a drive around the parking lot to know that the Mazda3 is not your usual compact econobox. The car in question is the 2.5-litre sedan with six-speed manual transmission. The snug driver’s seat, sporty controls and direct steering give out clues that the Mazda3’s chassis is more substantial. Well, a quick banzai run through some twisty roads reveals the true nature of the Mazda3: it’s a driver’s car and it enjoys an enthusiastic drive.
The steering has just the right amount of feel and feedback from the front tires and combined with the taut suspension, allows the chassis to be entertaining and fun in the corners. There’s very good body control, which gives lots of confidence to the driver. Even the brakes have a nice feel for easy modulation when driven hard. Equally enjoyable is the smooth-revving 2.5-L four-cylinder that makes a nice racy growl at high revs. The throttle pedal and clutch is ideally designed for blipping when downshifting to lower gears, adding to the driving experience. I must admit: the Mazda3 2.5 GT has an ideal balance of power and handling without getting into too much trouble, as the speeds are not overly high to attract unwanted attention from you-know-who. There is, of course, the much more powerful Mazdaspeed3 with its turbocharged engine that can run with much more powerful cars like the BMW 335i or Mercedes C350.
Two body styles are available to choose from: a four-door sedan and five-door hatchback. Then there are three available four-cylinder engines: base models are equipped with 2.0-L, 148-horsepower, as well as higher grades with a 167-horsepower, 2.5-L engine that is also shared with the larger Mazda6 Sedan. The overachiever in the Mazda3 lineup is the hatchback-only Mazdaspeed3 with 263-horsepower from its turbocharged, direct injected and intercooled 2.3-L motor. Two transmissions are available and the popular choice will be the five-speed automatic that has a manual sequential shift mode for added driver involvement. The enthusiast choice is the slick shifting six-speed manual that is a joy to use, and combined with the light-feeling clutch, transforms the nature of the Mazda3 from an already great car to a serious sports sedan or hatch, depending on which one of the available body styles the buyer chooses. The manual transmission is the only choice in the Mazdaspeed3. On the safety side, four-wheel disc brakes come with anti-lock braking, and the 2.5-L and Mazdaspeed3 models also get a Standard Vehicle Stability Control System, which is a nice little insurance policy to have as backup if the driver runs out of talent!
In the styling department, Mazda3s stand out with their attractive sheetmetal and interesting look. The only area that could be toned down is the front facia with the overly large smiley face. The good looks also continue inside the high grade and spacious cabin with an attractively designed dash, seats and door panels. Unlike other cars with simple dash controls, operating the Mazda3’s audio and climate controls takes a bit more concentration.
In the crowded and competitive compact segment, the Mazda3 is also a strong sales performer as it offers style, driving enjoyment and that special something that is absent from most cars in this class.
Engine: 2.5-L 4-cylinder DOHC 16-valve, Variable Valve Timing
Torque: 168 lb. ft.
Fuel economy L/100km: City – 9.29 / Hwy – 6.8
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual or 5-Speed Automatic Transmission with Sport Mode
Base MSRP: 2.5-L GT Sedan – $22,995 / 2.5-L Sport – $23,995 / Mazdaspeed3 – $32,995