2010 Mazda3 GS
2010 Mazda3 GS. Click image to enlarge

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Test Drive: 2010 Mazda3 GT sedan
Day-by-Day Review: 2010 Mazda3 GT sedan

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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2010 Mazda3

Oshawa, Ontario – It’s a very fine balancing act an automaker must perform when it’s time to redesign a vehicle. And it’s even tougher when it’s both your company’s best-selling model and one that consistently ranks in the top three in sales across the country. Still, Mazda was up to the task, retaining the characteristics that make the Mazda3 such a fun compact to drive, while refining it to do battle for the next few years.

Several flavours of Mazda3 are available: a sedan that starts at $15,995, a hatchback the company calls the Sport, beginning at $16,995, and the high-performance Mazdaspeed3. The sedan and Sport come in three trim lines that also determine their engine size. The base GX sedan and my tester, the mid-range GS, use a 2.0-litre four-cylinder that’s carried over from 2009, while the top-line GT sedan is now powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder that replaces the previous 2.3-litre, and starts at $22,995.

2010 Mazda3 GS
2010 Mazda3 GS. Click image to enlarge

My tester also carried over its default five-speed manual from 2009 (the GT uses a six-speed stick). A major change for 2010 is in the optional transmission, which was previously a four-speed automatic, and is now a five-speed. My GS started at $19,395; the optional automatic would have added another $1,200. (Sport models range from $16,995 to $23,995.)

When it comes to everyday commuter vehicles, I usually prefer an automatic transmission; shifting up and down to go a few car lengths in rush-hour traffic is not my idea of a good time. In the Mazda3, I’d probably opt for the stick shift, though, as it’s a very sweet combination of light clutch and a shifter that slides smoothly into each gear. I was fine with the driving position, but my taller husband complained that his elbow hit the console box when he worked the stick, and a sliding box lid that might have been pushed back out of his way is only found on the GT.

The 2.0-litre makes 148 horsepower and 135 lb-ft of torque, compared to the 2.5-litre’s 167 horses and 168 lb-ft. Enthusiasts will probably go for the more powerful GT, but most drivers will probably be satisfied with the smaller engine, especially with the stick shift. It gets noisy on hard acceleration, of course, but that’s to be expected; otherwise, it’s quiet and very refined. Its published fuel figures are 8.1 L/100 km in the city and 5.9 L/100 on the highway, and in combined driving, I averaged 7.8 (36 mpg Imp).

2010 Mazda3 GS
2010 Mazda3 GS. Click image to enlarge

The Mazda3 has always been about the relationship with the steering wheel, and this newest version is no exception. The engineers have reduced vibration in the steering gear, tightened the suspension damping for flatter cornering, and reduced the weight of the rear multi-link setup. Key locations in the body structure have also been reinforced, but while everything is stiffer, the ride hasn’t been seriously compromised over harsh road surfaces. The 3’s signature handling is always far quicker and more responsive than I expect at this price, and it’s great fun to take it around curves and on winding roads. There’s a nice weight to the steering, without being too heavy, and it tracks accurately on the highway, without a need to constantly correct it. Torque-steer is non-existent, and the brakes bite firmly at the top of the pedal. This is a car that will easily satisfy driving fans, but without intimidating those for whom a vehicle is just transportation.

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