2010 Mazda3
2010 Mazda3. Click image to enlarge

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Mazda Canada

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2010 Mazda3

Los Angeles, California – In some ways, successful vehicles are more difficult to redesign than unpopular ones. Consider these facts about the Mazda3: one in three Mazda vehicles sold worldwide is a Mazda3; in North America, the Mazda3 makes up 40 per cent of the company’s total sales; and in 2008, the Mazda3 remains one of Canada’s top-selling vehicles even though it was introduced here over five years ago.

How do you redesign a vehicle that seems to be doing just fine as it is?

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

“We didn’t see a need to re-invent the wheel,” said Mazda North America’s Group Manager for Research and Development, Ruben Archilla, at the vehicle’s introduction during the Los Angeles Auto Show. “We took an evolutionary path.”

And so the new Mazda3 sedan (the Mazda3 hatchback will be introduced in December at the Bologna Motor Show) is about the same size as the current one with similar cabin space and a slightly larger trunk. The wheelbase is the same but the overall body length has increased by 85 to 90 mm (3.3 in. to 3.5 in.) depending on the model.

The important changes are inside and underneath: a new 2.5-litre engine in the GT, improved automatic transmission, stronger body structure, redesigned interior and more available features. But it’s the Mazda3’s bold new front end that’s likely to raise some eyebrows.

Styling

The Mazda3’s Chief Designer, Kunihiko Kurisu, described the design concept as “remaining faithful to an inherited identity while evolving the design to make it more expressive.” The grille is certainly more expressive, being much larger and moved down below the belt line. To me, the front of the car appears to have a big smile on its face, but without the teeth.

Though the grille opening appears to be much larger, for aerodynamic purposes only the lower half of the grille allows air into the engine compartment. Two smaller non-functioning “grilles” flank the centre one, and include fog lights on top models; below those are two cooling ducts for the brakes. The Mazda3’s headlight covers wrap around into the bold front fenders which resemble those of the new Mazda6 and RX-8. For the first time, bi-xenon headlights are available on the Mazda3 GT.

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

The new car’s profile now has a distinct wedge shape rather than a horizontal theme, while the new rear taillights lenses wrap around the body narrowing as they merge into the trunklid. The Mazda3’s body-coloured rear bumpers feature black inserts with reflectors and a single tailpipe on base models and twin on top models.

Overall, the Mazda3’s new design is more aggressive and a little more complicated, but personally, I don’t think it’s very stylish.

Interior design

Ahead of the driver, the pods for the tachometer and speedometer protrude from the redesigned dash which wraps around into the centre console and into the floor console. A larger digital display on top of the dash shows radio, time and heater functions, and on top-of-the-line GT models, fuel consumption information and optional navigation. Mazda designer Jonathan Frear explained that the new 3’s driver-oriented interior is aimed at younger buyers who will particularly enjoy the increased number of steering wheel control buttons.

New for 2010 are Bluetooth hands-free phone system, Bose 10-speaker sound system, dual zone climate control, push-button ignition, memory feature on the driver’s seat, rain-sensing wipers and bi-xenon headlights. Six airbags are standard: front, side and curtain, plus new active front head restraints.

Headroom and legroom is about the same, which is to say that the rear seat is roomy enough for two adults if the front seats aren’t pushed back too far.

Powertrains

2010 Mazda3s will be available in three trim levels: GX, GS and GT (a Mazdaspeed3 model is coming later). Mazda3 GX and GS models have the same standard 2.0-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine as the previous Mazda3, but with some improvements to the air induction system to optimize performance and fuel economy. Horsepower remains the same at 148 hp @ 6,500 r.p.m. and torque at 135 lb-ft @ 4,500 r.p.m. A new five-speed automatic transmission replaces the previous four-speed automatic: Mazda claims highway fuel economy has improved by 11 per cent to 5.9 L/100 km, the same as with the manual five-speed transmission.

2010 Mazda3 GT with 2.5-litre engine
2010 Mazda3 GT with 2.5-litre engine. Click image to enlarge

Top-of-the-line Mazda3 GT sedans have a new 2.5-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine, borrowed from the Mazda6, that delivers 167 hp @ 6,000 r.p.m. and 168 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 r.p.m. That compares to the GT’s previous 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine with 156 hp @ 6,500 r.p.m and 150 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 r.p.m. A new six-speed manual transmission replaces last year’s five-speed manual, while the optional five-speed automatic returns for 2010 with some revisions to the shift patterns to improve fuel economy.

The Mazda3’s independent suspension (MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear) receives minor changes to improve roll control and agility while the braking system is carried over with some adjustments to improve brake pedal feel. The 2010 Mazda3‘s new body structure is stronger than before due to increased use of high tensile steel which now comprises 35 per cent of its “body in white” compared to 18 per cent in the current model.

Standard equipment

2010 Mazda3 GT (left) and GS
2010 Mazda3 GS
2010 Mazda3 GS
Top: 2010 Mazda3 GT (left) and GS; Mazda3 GS (middle and bottom). Click image to enlarge

Base GX models are well-equipped with 16-inch tires and steel wheels, four disc brakes with ABS, six airbags, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks, AM/FM/CD with four speakers, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, variable wipers, and split folding rear seatbacks. Air conditioning and automatic transmission are optional.

Mid-level GS models add alloy wheels, silver trim on the instrument panel, keyless entry, air conditioning, Bluetooth, two tweeters, steering wheel audio and cruise controls, anti-theft alarm, heated mirrors, and rain sensing wipers. A Comfort Package option adds traction and stability control, and power moonroof.

Sporty GT models add the 2.5-litre engine, six-speed manual transmission, 17-inch tires and alloys, traction and stability control, bi-xenon headlights, fog lights, dual-tipped chrome exhaust, rear lip spoiler, sporty bumpers, front sport seats with heaters, leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter, information display, six-disc CD changer, and dual zone climate control. A Luxury Package option adds leather seats, and power driver’s seat with memory feature.

In addition, a GT-E package includes a Multi Information Display with navigation, Sirius Satellite Radio with a six-month subscription, Bose 10-speaker audio system, auto headlamp leveling, smart keyless entry, and push button ignition start.

Pricing for both the 2010 Mazda3 sedan and 2010 Mazda3 Sport (hatchback) will be announced at the Montreal Auto Show in January, and is expected to be similar to current pricing.

Driving impressions

My brief four-hour test drive took me from L.A. up the Pacific Coast Highway and then north through the coastal mountains on some very windy roads, returning by the freeway and coast highway. I drove a red GS with the standard 2.0-litre engine and five-speed manual transmission, and a blue GT with the new 2.5-litre engine and six-speed manual transmission.

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

Of the two, I preferred the 2.0-litre GS. To begin with, I like the simpler nose design of the GX/GS models, in particular the fluted outboard “grilles” and the chrome strip in the centre grille. The GT’s small grilles and fog lights look awkward to me.

But most of all, and somewhat surprisingly, I prefer the 2.0-litre engine to the new 2.5. I found the 2.0-litre to be more refined and smoother-revving while the 2.5 seemed noisier and rougher (though not noisy and rough). Yes, the 2.0 has less torque and must be revved higher for the same performance, but it has sufficient power for typical commuting needs – and it gets better fuel economy too.

Both manual transmissions have easy shifts and light clutch pedal effort, so I can’t really recommend the six-speed over the five-speed manual. Unfortunately I didn’t get to test the revised five-speed automatic, which is likely to be the primary choice for most buyers.

The GS has the same tight body, independent suspension, four wheel disc brakes with ABS, and responsive electro-hydraulic power steering as the GT, and I found its ride and handling to be impressive and almost as good as the GT’s. Only the GT’s 50-series 17-inch tires give it an advantage over the GS’ 16-inch tires. Electronic stability control is an option on the GS and standard on the GT, but not available on the base GX.

The driving position is very comfortable in the GS while the GT adds higher bolsters for extra side support. Still, I thought both seat cushions were a bit thin. The electro-hydraulic steering makes quick work of snake-like roads and the car sticks to the road with confidence-inspiring stability. Driver visibility is very good. I really enjoyed the handling and ride of the new Mazda3, and prefer it to the Corolla and Civic.

In my opinion, if you want an economical, fun-to-drive Mazda3 sedan for around $20,000, get a mid-level GS with the optional Comfort Package. The only downside is that you have to take the sunroof to get the stability control. The GT is okay if you want extra luxury features like leather and navigation, but as an everyday car, the cheaper GS is a better buy.

If you want performance, wait for the Mazdaspeed3.

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