We’re all guilty of occasionally judging a book by its cover; it’s simply human nature. And it’s also true that no matter how fair we ultimately try to be, some covers can be awfully tough to look past. But we’re certainly glad we cracked the proverbial book that is the redesigned 2010 Mazda 3. It wears a face that only a Pixar animator could love, but it’s one good car.
More Displacement, More Power
In addition to its updated smiling—er, styling—the 2010 Mazda 3 s receives a bump in the displacement of its four-cylinder engine, which moves from 2.3 liters to 2.5. That increase comes with a gain of 11 hp and 18 lb-ft of torque for totals of 167 hp at 6000 rpm and 168 lb-ft at 4000 rpm. The new car weighs 90 more pounds than the old one, so it’s no surprise that we saw a 7.4-second 0-to-60-mph sprint—identical to that of a first-gen 3 s five-door we tested—but a substantial 4.5 seconds were chopped from the 0-to-110-mph time. The quarter-mile time also improved by 0.3 second and 2 mph, to 15.7 seconds at 89 mph.
Power delivery is buttery smooth, and the six-speed manual transmission—up one gear from the previous model’s—shifts with ease, although the clutch is rather numb. The 2.5-liter can sound thrashy at times, but the improved top-end power makes slicing through traffic a breeze. The EPA estimates 21 mpg city and 29 highway; we managed a respectable 25 mpg combined.
The 3 boasts an excellent combo of ride and handling. The steering is the same precise and communicative type of setup we’ve come to expect from all Mazdas. The well-controlled ride means the 3 is comfortable without sacrificing any athleticism. Our tester wore 17-inch wheels with 205/50 Yokohama Avid all-season tires, which helped it achieve 0.86 g on the skidpad, a rather impressive number for the class. Braking is another strong suit, with 70 to 0 mph taking 176 feet, better than average in this class.
The new interior is as pleasing as the 3’s driving dynamics. Soft-touch materials are found everywhere you’ll rest your limbs, and there’s no stretching required to reach a control. The seats are extremely comfortable, too, offering great lateral support. Rear-seat room is ample, although those over six feet tall might feel a bit cramped. The shortcomings are few. We did find that the audio controls required some time to master and felt that the steering wheel could use a couple more inches of telescoping travel. Also, the horizontal dash brightwork looks great, but it caused reflections in the side windows that washed out the side mirrors.
Our test car rang in at a reasonable $21,275, which consisted of the s five-door Sport base price of $19,900 plus a couple of options. One of the two add-ons was a 10-speaker, 242-watt Bose stereo, which came bundled with a six-CD changer and power sunroof for $1395. Opt for this pack and skip the navigation, and you get a nifty text-only display in place of the nav screen that allows the driver to toggle through various readings such as current and average fuel economy, fuel range, average speed, and vehicle settings. The screen will also display genre, station name, song name, and artist information for the Sirius satellite radio (the other option, at $430) in a Windows-folder-type format.
If it sounds like we liked this Mazda, it’s because we did. With its superb road manners, comfortable interior, and flexible hatchback layout, you can’t help looking at the 3 as the top of its segment—although we’d close the book on that goofy front end.
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