Test Drive: 2007 Mazda3 GT Sedan car test drives mazda
2007 Mazda3 GT sedan. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Haney Louka

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We live in a time where things constantly need to be new or better to generate excitement. How much memory does that MP3 player have? What’s the resolution of that LCD TV?

It’s no different with cars. Horsepower is up, standard features don’t seem so standard anymore, and people always want to know what’s different and why they should spend their dollars on the most recently launched new car.

In Mazda showrooms, the big stories surround their utility vehicles: the five-passenger CX-7 was launched last spring, and the seven-seat CX-9 is fresh off the ship from Hiroshima. And an all-new 2008 Tribute was introduced at the Detroit show last month.

But there’s quieter news at Mazda, too. Over at the high-volume end of the company’s line-up is the Mazda3. With 47,933 sold in 2006, it’s the best-selling Mazda and the second-best selling passenger car in Canada behind the Honda Civic. To say the car is both important to the company’s bottom line and an unqualified success is an understatement. So revisions to the car, now in its fourth year of production, are just enough to keep it current, without messing with the formula that has made it so popular.

Test Drive: 2007 Mazda3 GT Sedan car test drives mazda
2007 Mazda3 GT sedan. Click image to enlarge

At first glance, try telling the 2007 Mazda3 from last year’s model. Without a side-by-side comparison, one might not notice that the taillights are now of the LED variety, or that the below-bumper air intake is now honeycombed rather than a diamond pattern. And those fog lights? They’re rectangular, not round.

But there are some things you can’t see – and even some you never want to – that make news for 2007 here. Every Mazda3 model, right down to the base $16,795 GX, gets standard anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, front and side airbags, and side curtain bags. And MP3 players can now be connected through the auxiliary input jack and operated via the car’s audio controls.

Other standard equipment on the GX includes a 148-hp four-cylinder engine, four-wheel disc brakes, and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. Nice start.

There’s a mid-level GS ($19,995) that adds air, keyless entry, alloys, automatic wipers and headlights, cruise with wheel-mounted controls, and a trip computer.

Our tester started life as the $22,845 GT complete with a boost in power (more later), 17-inch alloys, six-speaker audio, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Mazda then added the $1,845 luxury package (heated leather seats, power moonroof, six-disc changer, xenon HID headlights, and automatic climate control). Our tester was dressed in sunlight silver metallic which, as with all metallic colour choices, added $105 to the bottom line.

Test Drive: 2007 Mazda3 GT Sedan car test drives mazda
2007 Mazda3 GT sedan. Click image to enlarge

So as usual, the manufacturer sent us the model with all the toys, which is sometimes a little distracting as the options can potentially hide deficiencies in the car’s intrinsic goodness. But in this case, we already know the 3 is a class leader. It was beneficial, then, for us to drive one that was dressed to the nines because Mazda has proven that this truly is a premium small car. One that, when compared to others like the VW Jetta and Acura CSX, makes excellent financial sense at $24,795 as tested. The others just mentioned would be in the neighborhood of $30K when similarly equipped.

The only option our tester didn’t have (thankfully) was the $1,100 five-speed automatic with manual shift mode (GX and GS models get a four-speed auto as an option). I’m a big fan of manual gearboxes in general, and this one is a particularly good example – slick, short shifts; smooth and progressive clutch take-up; and the close ratios are an excellent fit for the car’s powertrain.

A 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine occupies the space under the GT’s hood, pumping out 156 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. This same engine used to be rated at 160 horses, but a new standard of horsepower measurement defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers has brought that number down by a few. Nonetheless, it’s a quiet, smooth, and eager powerplant that feels genuinely sporty from behind the wheel.

Test Drive: 2007 Mazda3 GT Sedan car test drives mazda
2007 Mazda3 GT sedan. Click image to enlarge

Missing from the package are traction and stability control. The CSX doesn’t offer these things either, but the Jetta comes with traction control as standard equipment with stability control as an option. Just a few years ago, such features were unheard of in the sub-$30K club, but trickle-down is a wonderful thing.

Thanks to busy city commuting and temperatures that were 30 degrees on the wrong side of zero, the 3 consumed almost 13 L/100 km during its week with me; a far cry from the city rating of 9.2, but understandable under these circumstances. On the highway, the 3 is rated at 6.7 L/100 km.

The 3 makes a great winter car, too: its engine reaches operating temperature quickly to get warm air pumping through the vents. The seat heaters are fast and powerful. Too much so, in fact: I found myself cycling the seat heaters on and off every couple of minutes on really cold days because it’s either off or set to ‘rump roast.’ Look to VW for how to do seat heaters right.

Mazda also outfitted our tester with Semperit Ice Grip tires on 16-inch alloy wheels (the snazzy new 17s that come with the GT aren’t shown here). The tires are, in a word, fabulous. It didn’t snow much during my week with the car, but the roads were certainly icy and this rubber allowed the 3 to find grip where there should not have been any, demonstrating that Semperit has succeeded at this most challenging aspect of winter tire performance.

Test Drive: 2007 Mazda3 GT Sedan car test drives mazda
Test Drive: 2007 Mazda3 GT Sedan car test drives mazda
2007 Mazda3 GT sedan. Click image to enlarge

More success can be found inside, where the interior design is intuitive and classy, except for the orangey hue of the instrument lighting. It would be refreshing to see some good ol’ white-on-black gauges on that instrument panel. The centre stack knobs and dials also enjoy illuminated orange rings around them, which is a bit much, but something I’d be willing to overlook because of just how well the rest of the car is put together.

The seats are comfortable, but as one would expect at this price point it’s not the softest hide around. You really need to get into the $45,000-plus club before leather on the seats feels truly luxurious. Rear seat space is generous for this class, and with legroom measuring 922 mm, it’s certainly spacious for two, with room for three in a pinch.

By the numbers, cargo space lags behind its newer competitors: at 322 litres, its trunk is slightly smaller than that of the Civic (342L) or Sentra (371L). The space appears deep and wide, but another problem is that the opening is so small that owners are restricted to putting several small items in the trunk rather than one or two larger ones. A bit of a bummer, but something that reinforces my preference for hatchbacks and wagons.

Test Drive: 2007 Mazda3 GT Sedan car test drives mazda
2007 Mazda3 GT sedan. Click image to enlarge

Okay, one final complaint about the trunk: its release is cable-actuated, not electronic, which precludes the presence of a trunk release button on the key fob.

So the 3 scores low on cargo versatility but makes it up – and then some – with its unbeatable blend of performance and panache with a most agreeable price tag. And besides, the Mazda3 Sport hatchback is available for a few hundred dollars more if the sedan doesn’t fit the versatility bill.

Pricing: 2007 Mazda3 GT sedan


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