2010 Mazda3 First Impressions

2010 Mazda3 First Impressions
November 22, 2008 2010 Mazda3 First Impressions By Marc Bouchard
Marina Del Ray, California--Certain phenomenons in life are fascinating. The Mazda3, for example, is unique in its genre. More than 5 years after its official launch, not only is this little car still successful, but its sales figures are progressing, to the detriment of rivals such as the Honda Civic.

The new Mazda3 will appear at the end of January, just like its 5-door version that will share its powertrains and accessories.

In addition, the popular compact is in fact the foundation of Mazda's global success. And this year, despite some troubled times, the success is even greater, since Mazda is heading for a record year with over 51,000 units sold in Canada alone. The new 3 will appear at the end of January, just like its 5-door version that will share its powertrains and accessories.

Still Zoom-Zoom
The new Mazda3's challenge, as Mazda admits represents more an evolution than a revolution, is to preserve the sporty personality that's so important for the brand; to keep the famous Zoom-Zoom advertising line that now applies to the whole vehicle line-up.

To get there, they get inspiration from design studies called Nagare, which Mazda presented in all major auto shows in the past couple of years. Nagare, or fluid in english, is in fact a complete philosophy that reunites curves to surfaces, and inspired by nature. A little strange, no doubt, but easy to recognize when we pay attention and observe the prototypes... and the new Mazda3, even if in this case, we needed some explanations from designer Jonathan Fryer to spot it.

Change through continuity
The new Mazda3 picks up the same theme than its predecessor, keeping the same wheelbase and almost every outside dimension. It's a few centimetres longer because of a longer front overhang and a longer trunk, and is larger by just a few millimetres. These extra proportions are found inside the cabin, which is larger; a more slightly rounder design is also responsible for that.

the Mazda3's headlight and taillight cluster design is inspired directly from the Nagare concept car, with engraved motifs inside.

Up front, the five-point grille is back but reshaped, smaller and located lower on the schnoz of the car. It thus provides it with a sportier personality while playing a different aerodynamic role. As such, the new shape allows the cooling system to breathe better, while diverting unnecessary air outwards. The drag coefficient has been lowered to 0.29.

The 2010 Mazda3 GT boasts a 2.5-litre four that is shared with the Mazda6 and develops 178 horsepower.

The beltline is more present but lower all around the car, pushing its silhouette downwards while improving lateral and rear visibility. Finally, a major change here, the headlight and taillight clusters are bigger and sweep through the car's corners and stretch out to the beltline. In addition, the clusters' design is inspired directly from the Nagare concept car, with engraved motifs inside.

The flat hood with the Mazda logo on it instead of in the center of the grille completes the outer changes, while the interior is also redesigned and presents a two-tier dash that's more modern, yet still closely resembles the one in the old-generation car.

New engine, new power
Under the hood of our GT test car is a 2.5-litre four that is shared with the Mazda6. Derived directly from the company's old 2.3-litre unit, it develops 167 horsepower, but also delivers improved fuel economy figures.

Moreover, the new engine mounts and a lighter mechanical design, the 2.5 is more efficient and quieter, even at wide-open throttle, and even on the steepest Californian roads. It's mated to a sweet 6-speed manual, with short throws that make dynamic driving easier, and also proves agreeable in more relaxed driving conditions.

The 2.0-litre engine is back in GX and GS versions, but bolted to a 5-speed manual or an optional 5-speed automatic. The unit received only minor modifications to make it more fuel-efficient.

The navigation screen is pretty small and high on the top of the dash, which makes it sometimes hard to read.

Better-equipped than ever
The new Mazda3 not only keeps its sporty personality, but it also seeks to be the best-equipped compact in its category which, admittedly, is what might happen.

The loaded GTE version gets a navigation system, a Bose premium audio system and keyless start.

The base GX model, for example, offers standard-issue power windows, intermittent windshield wipers and side-curtain airbags, almost-unique features for a base model in its category. The GS trim adds Bluetooth connectivity for phones and audio devices, rain-sensing wipers and air conditioning.

Finally, the GT adds the 2.5-litre engine, traction and stability control systems (optional on the GS), bi-xenon headlights, heated seats and, by opting for the loaded GTE version, a navigation system, a Bose premium audio system as well as keyless start with engine start button.

Okay, now it's time to hit the road in the Mazda3 GTE, and the first thing we notice is that the navigation screen is pretty small and high on the top of the dash, which makes it sometimes hard to read. And using it isn't easier, dictated by wheel-mounted buttons that aren't ergonomically placed.

On the road, however, the 3 is a lively performer. Accelerations are brisk and amusing, while not being too noisy, and braking is effective. The transmission is easy to manipulate and makes for quick gear changes, while the steering is always as precise and is mated to a chassis that's 20% stiffer; all this add up to more-aggressive driving dynamics, even barrelling down California's twisty roads.

A negative score, maybe, for the suspension, despite it considerably limiting body roll; along the beaches of Malibu where I was puttering along in order to get a little attention, the car seemed to have a hard time swallowing street holes and bumps.

An evolved Mazda3? Certainly. A better Mazda3? Yes, no doubt, but the difference isn't huge. The bar was already raised pretty high, though, and this new 3 delivers gracefully and admirably.

A better Mazda3? No doubt, but the difference isn't huge.

photo:Marc Bouchard

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