Introduced as an all-new model in 2004, the Mazda3 is unchanged for 2005. It comes in two models, a sedan or the Sport hatchback.

The sedan comes in three trim lines. The GX and GS use a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, while the GT features a 2.3-litre four-cylinder. The Sport comes in GS and GT trim, but both use the larger engine. A five-speed manual can be optioned to a four-speed automatic with sport mode.

The GX features 15-inch steel wheels, manual remote mirrors, AM/FM stereo with two speakers, tilt and telescopic wheel, cloth seats, 60/40 folding rear seat, and floor mats.

The GS adds 15-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing intermittent wipers, CD player with four speakers and wheel-mounted controls, power locks with keyless entry, and map lights.

The GT adds ABS, 16-inch alloy wheels, heated power mirrors, fog lights, six speakers, air conditioning, cruise control, and anti-theft alarm system.

On the Mazda3 Sport, the GS includes ABS, 16-inch alloy wheels, manual remote mirrors, rain-sensing intermittent wipers, CD player with four speakers and wheel-mounted controls, tilt and telescopic wheel, power locks with keyless entry, power windows, cloth sport-type seats, 60/40 folding rear seat, and floor mats.

The GT adds 17-inch alloy wheels, six speakers, cruise control, anti-theft alarm, and leather-wrapped wheel and shifter knob. Air conditioning is optional on both Sport models.

The Mazda3 is an exceptional car for its price; even in its base form, it’s hard to believe that it starts under $17,000. Although the powertrain is unique to Mazda, the platform is a corporate one that also slips under the new Volvo S40, as well as the European Ford Focus. It handles impressively, responding immediately to steering input, and cornering flatter than you’d expect from an economy car. A tight turning radius and good visibility make it effortless to park. The five-speed shifter is creamy-smooth. The 2.0-litre does an excellent job, but the bigger engine is even more fun to drive.

The Mazda3’s interior is roomy and spacious up front, and with adequate passenger space in the second row. The hatchback offers more cargo versatility, as well as sportier rear-end styling. Small-parcel space abounds, including a cavern of a glove box: it’s 260 mm deep and can swallow a purse. Interior fit-and-finish is excellent, and a tilt-and-telescopic wheel on even the base model helps to accommodate drivers of all sizes. The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla have their die-hard fans and justifiably so, but make sure you look at the Mazda3 before you make your decision.

The Mazda3 is built in Hofu, Japan.

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