For 2007, the Mazda3 undergoes numerous changes, including a mild facelift. But the biggest news is a new model, the turbocharged Mazdaspeed3 hatchback. Regular Mazda3 models continue to be offered in sedan or hatchback (“Sport”) configuration.

Across all Mazda3 models, new standard equipment includes anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution; side and curtain airbags; an auxiliary audio input jack; and 12V power input. New exterior colours Electric Blue Mica, Galaxy Grey Mica, Phantom Purple Mica, Crystal White Pearl and Phantom Blue Mica come in, while Indigo Blue Mica, Velocity Red Mica, Titanium Grey Metallic, Winning Blue Mica and Snowflake White Pearl are out. The model’s facelift consists of redesigned front and rear bumpers; hatchback models also have new rectangular fog lights. The sedan’s 15-inch wheel caps are redesigned, as are the 16- and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels on both models.

On sedan models, there are new white gauges and zebra-striped wood-finish dash trim on GX and GS; redesigned front grille with chrome insert on GX and GS, and body-coloured grille insert on GT; LED taillamps and heated cloth seats on GT; a rear centre armrest with two cupholders on GS and GT; cruise control, power package and air conditioning are now standard equipment on GS; a redesigned GFX Package of 17-inch alloy wheels, new bumpers with fog lights, new grille and side sills is now standard on GT; a sunroof is a stand-alone option on GT; and the Convenience Package on GX has been replaced with a Power Package, including power windows, locks, heated mirrors and wheel-mounted audio controls.

On hatchback models, heated cloth seats are now standard on GT, and that trim line’s Luxury Package now also includes Xenon headlamps with manual levelling, automatic climate control and micro air filter.

Mazda3 sedan models come with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic, in base GX or midrange GS trim; or with a 2.3-litre four-cylinder and five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic in the GT.

Features on the GX sedan include 15-inch steel wheels, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, manual remote mirrors, CD player with two speakers, fixed intermittent wipers, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, engine immobilizer theft system, 60/40 folding rear seats and floor mats.

The GS sedan adds 15-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, heated power mirrors, rain-sensing intermittent wipers, automatic light control, CD player with four speakers and wheel-mounted controls, cruise control, power windows, power locks with keyless entry, driver’s seat height adjuster, rear centre armrest, trip computer and locking glovebox.

The GT sedan adds 17-inch alloy wheels, sport-style bumpers and sill extensions, fog lights, LED taillights, CD player with four speakers and two tweeters, anti-theft alarm system, sport-type heated cloth seats, leather-wrapped wheel and shifter knob, and electroluminescent gauges.

The Mazda Sport hatchback comes only with the 2.3-litre engine, and with five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic, in GS and GT trim. Features are similar to the GS and GT sedan trim lines, but with the addition of a rear washer/wiper, and air conditioning is an option on GS.

Available options on Mazda3 models include leather interior, six-CD stereo, automatic climate control, sunroof and Xenon headlamps.

Based on the Mazda3 Sport hatchback, the Mazdaspeed3 features a 2.3-litre direct-injection turbocharged engine capable of 263 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, mated solely to a six-speed manual transmission borrowed from the Mazdaspeed6. The Mazdaspeed3 also includes a high-level torque management system and newly-developed limited slip differential, which suppresses sudden torque peaks to minimize torque steer and wheel spin. Extra bracing built into the body gives increased rigidity, and brakes are larger than on regular models.

The Mazdaspeed3 has the features found on Mazda3 GT models, along with traction control system, dynamic stability control, 18-inch alloy wheels with summer tires, six-CD Bose stereo with four speakers, two tweeters and subwoofer, alloy pedals, black leather-wrapped wheel with red stitching, jackknife key, tri-mode luminescent gauges, and Mazdaspeed-specific grille, spoiler, bumpers, side sill extensions, fog lights, sport seats, centre panel finish, door trim and floor mats.

The Mazda3 is an exceptional car for its price, with impressive handling, flat cornering, tight turning radius and snappy performance even from the 2.0-litre. It shares its platform with the Volvo S40 and European Ford Focus, but its powertrain is unique to Mazda. The new facelift freshens up the design very well; the interior remains roomy and comfortable, with plenty of storage space, including a 260-mm deep glovebox that will swallow a purse.

Caught in a perpetual three-way tie with the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, the Mazda3 holds its own against them, and should be test-driven against them when shopping.

The Mazdaspeed3 is a real blast: lightning-fast, well-balanced, marvelously stiff, and yet well-mannered enough that it’s comfortable to drive even in stop-and-go traffic. U.S. shoppers can get a base model, but Canadian buyers get the top-of-the-line trim line that’s marketed as the GT south of the border (a navigation system available there is not sold here). For now it only comes in red, and later in white; even if the colours don’t appeal to you, the performance definitely will.

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