July 9, 2004

Consumer Reports rates Mazda3 top small sedan

Yonkers, New York – Consumer Reports has named the Mazda3 its top-rated small sedan, following tests of six small cars for the August 2004 issue. The Mazda3 out-pointed all other small sedans previously tested by CR, including the Ford Focus and the Honda Civic.

The Ford Focus had held the title of Consumer Reports’ Top Pick in the small sedan category since the spring of 2004, when CR’s Annual April Auto Issue was released. Previously, the title was held by the Honda Civic.

This is the third time since 1997 that Mazda has captured the top spot in Consumer Reports’ ratings of small sedans. The Mazda Protegé was CR’s1 Top Pick in 1997, and again in 1999 and 2000. The Honda Civic was CR’s Top Pick in 1998, 2001, 2002, and 2003. CR released its first list of Top Picks in 1997.

“Overall, the Mazda3 is a high-quality car with acceleration and interior quality that’s on par with many midsized sedans,” said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test facility in East Haddam, Connecticut. “The Mazda3 is quieter, rides more comfortably, and is more agile and fuel-efficient than its predecessor, the Protegé.”

Consumer Reports tested the Mazda3 against the Kia Spectra, Scion xB, Scion xA, Suzuki Forenza, and Chevrolet Aveo. The Mazda3 posted a “Very Good” overall score. The Spectra and xB were rated “Good” overall. The Forenza and Aveo were just “Fair” in CR’s tests.

Consumer Reports also purchased each of the six tested models in two versions-one with an automatic, and another with a manual transmission. As in the past, CR found that in most cars a manual transmission improved acceleration and fuel economy when compared with an automatic.

Consumer Reports is recommending only two of the sedans tested, the Mazda3, and the xB. To be recommended, the vehicle must have performed well in Consumer Reports’ tests, have at least average reliability based on CR’s surveys of its subscribers, and have performed adequately if crash tested or included in government rollover tests. The Spectra could not be recommended because it’s too new for CR to have reliability data. The xA, Forenza, and Aveo, all scored too low in CR’s tests to be recommended.

The Mazda3 is the most well-rounded car in this test group. The Mazda3 (U.S.$17,940 as tested) is equipped with a 148-hp, 2.0-litre four-cylinder that delivered excellent fuel economy-averaging U.S.30 mpg overall-and quick acceleration. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. The smooth-shifting manual delivered U.S.33 mpg. Braking performance was very good. CR expects the Mazda3 to have very good reliability.

The redesigned Kia Spectra has one of the most comfortable rides and quietest interiors in this class. Interior fit and finish was also impressive. But its mediocre cornering, middling acceleration, and so-so fuel economy hurt it in CR’s ratings. The Spectra EX (U.S.$15,905 as tested) comes with a 138-hp, 2.0-litre four-cylinder and four-speed automatic that deliver adequate acceleration and smooth shifts. The manual transmission shifts smoothly and was two seconds quicker to 60 mph. The test vehicle’s brakes rated “Good” overall. Consumer Reports doesn’t have reliability information yet on the redesigned Spectra.

The boxy xB offers an unusually spacious interior in a small package. The rear seat is as roomy as those in some large sedans, and access to the interior is as easy as in a minivan. But a stiff, choppy ride, and excessive noise make the xB tiring on long drives. The xB (U.S.$16,929 as tested) is powered by a 108-hp, 1.5-litre four-cylinder that delivers adequate performance and decent fuel economy. The four-speed automatic shifts smoothly. The xB equipped with the five-speed manual is smooth and precise. Braking performance is commendable. Reliability is likely to be very good.

The Scion xA has many of the shortcomings of its cousin, the xB, and doesn’t compensate with a roomy interior. The xA (U.S.$15,015 as tested) is equipped with the same 108-hp engine found in the xB. Braking performance was very good. CR expects the xA to have very good reliability.

The new Forenza is fairly well-equipped at about $15,000. But it falls short of competitors with poor fuel economy-U.S.24 mpg overall-and mediocre ride, braking, emergency handling, and interior noise. The Forenza S (U.S.$14,999 as tested) is equipped with a 126-hp, 2.0-litre four-cylinder and four-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly but delivers fairly weak acceleration. The model with the manual transmission is a bit vague. CR doesn’t have reliability information on this model yet.

The Aveo is basic transportation at best, with unimpressive fuel economy and acceleration, and clumsy handling. The Aveo LS (U.S.$14,530 as tested) is powered by a 103-hp, 1.6-litre four-cylinder and four-speed automatic transmission that delivers adequate acceleration and smooth shifts. The Aveo with the manual transmission was very vague and didn’t help performance or economy. Braking performance was very good. The Aveo is too new for CR to have reliability information.

Full tests and ratings of the six small sedans, and a separate report on how the vehicles with manual and automatic transmissions compared, appear in the August issue of Consumer Reports. The complete report is also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org. The August issue also includes a special look at vehicles that offer both performance and fuel economy.

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