2010 Mazda3 GS
2010 Mazda3 GS. Click image to enlarge

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Mazda Canada

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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2010 Mazda3

North Vancouver, British Columbia – The redesigned 2010 Mazda3 sedan arrived early in 2009 to generally positive reviews, apart from divided opinions about the big “grin” on its face. That doesn’t seem to have hurt its sales though, as even in a down market the Mazda3 (sedan and hatchback) remains the third best selling car in the compact class (YTD as of the end of September, 2009) behind number two, Toyota Corolla, and number one, Honda Civic.

Auto critics seem to like the new Mazda3 too: the sedan was recently named “Best new small car under $21,000” by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), while the Mazda3 Sport (hatchback) also won “Best new small car over $21,000”. It should be noted however, that AJAC’s awards compare only new or redesigned 2010 vehicles rather than all the vehicles in each class. For example, the Mazda3 sedan’s competitors in the under $21,000 category this year were limited to the new Kia Forte Koup and Hyundai Elantra Touring.

2010 Mazda3 GS
2010 Mazda3 GS
2010 Mazda3 GS. Click image to enlarge

While much attention has been paid to the Mazda3 GT model with its new 167-hp 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine (replacing the 150-hp 2.3-litre engine), the more affordable GX and GS trims with the standard 148-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder are arguably better value for money in the price sensitive compact class. Other than air conditioning and electronic stability control, 2010 Mazda3 GX sedans and hatchbacks ($15,995 and $16,995 respectively) come with a fairly comprehensive list of standard equipment including power locks, power mirrors, power windows with auto-down driver’s side, single CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary input, height-adjustable driver’s seat and tilt and telescopic steering wheel, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, variable intermittent windshield wipers, outside temperature gauge, and 16-inch tires. Air conditioning can be added as an option for $1,195 and five-speed automatic transmission for $1,200.

The mid-level GS sedan and hatchback (starting at $19,395 and $20,895 respectively) add standard 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, silver trim on the instrument panel, anti-theft alarm, keyless entry, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity.

This week’s test subject is a GS sedan with the optional five-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting mode ($1,200) and Comfort Package ($1,595) which includes electronic stability control, traction control and a power glass moonroof. Total as-tested price, including a $1,395 Destination charge and $100 Excise tax, came to $23,685, plus taxes.

Driving impressions
2010 Mazda3 GS
2010 Mazda3 GS
2010 Mazda3 GS. Click image to enlarge

During the week that I drove the Mazda3 sedan, I found it to be just the right-size for city driving. With a 10.4-metre (34 ft.) turning diameter, it’s easy to manoeuvre in parking lots and fits into most parking spaces – however, its high trunklid makes it impossible to see the bumper of the car behind you when parallel parking – a common problem with most sedans these days. It’s time rear parking sensors were made available in economy cars!

The Mazda3’s 148-hp 2.0-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine is a willing and smooth powerplant that provides all the power a typical city commuter needs. Equipped with the five-speed automatic transmission, the car goes from 0 to 100 km/h in 9.9 seconds, according to AJAC – that compares to the Honda Civic (manual) with 8.6 seconds, and the Toyota Corolla (automatic) with 10.1 seconds. The Mazda3 performs best in the 0 to 60 km/h range, typical city speeds, but it’s also relaxed and quiet at highway speeds, with the engine turning over just 2,100 r.p.m. at 100 km/h in top gear.

The new five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift gate, which replaces the previous four-speed automatic, improves highway fuel economy by 11 per cent to 5.9 L/100 km (Energuide figure), the same as the manual five-speed transmission. The transmission responds quickly to the gas pedal and shifts quickly and smoothly – I was very impressed with its performance. In manual mode, shifts are made with the shift lever (pull back to shift up, push forwards to shift down) but there are no steering wheel paddles. I found manual mode useful for holding the car in gear when going up steep hills, or when maximizing acceleration, but otherwise automatic mode seemed the best choice.

2010 Mazda3 GS
2010 Mazda3 GS. Click image to enlarge

Energuide City/Hwy fuel economy ratings are 8.1/5.9 L/100 km, but I was getting around 10 L/100 km in city driving. I would like to say I got better mileage but since I drove about 200 km and used 20 litres of gas, it’s pretty straightforward.

In my opinion, what makes the Mazda3 stand out from other compact sedans is its sportiness, a combination of its willing engine, responsive transmission, quick steering, and nimble handling. Its rack and pinion electro hydraulic power steering responds quickly to steering input without being too sensitive, and car tracks well at freeway speeds. Its fully independent suspension provides a comfortable ride over all but the roughest surfaces and body lean is minimal when cornering. The standard Bridgestone Turanza 205/55R16-inch all-season tires on my test car provided sure grip on wet and dry roads with minimal tire noise. However, I did notice a lack of sound insulation in the body structure that allowed the sounds of splashing water and debris in the wheelwells to seep into the cabin.

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