Zoom Zoom! That is the feeling that you think of when it comes to this car. The history of the Mazda3 goes all the way back to the late 1970’s. It all started with the Mazda GLC. The GLC was Mazda’s smallest offering, and at a time when competitors were moving to front wheel drive, it was notable for its rear wheel drive. The GLC was replaced by the 323 in 1986. The 323 was praised for its Germanic handling and quick powertrain, and an all wheel drive turbocharged 323 GTX was launched. Replacing the 323 in 1990, the Protege shared the 323’s fun to drive nature but also was one of the most roomiest and comfortable car of its class. Finally, the 3 replaced the Protege in 2004. This time, the Mazda3 shared a platform with the European Ford Focus, and it marked a new era for Mazda. The Mazda3 places emphasis on driving pleasure and looks.
First thing that crosses my mind when I see the styling is how sporty and purposeful the 3 looks. The body is taut and sharp, with a definitive shoulder line. The front is aggressive with a hint of feminism. The headlights are sleek, with black surroundings and detailed lens. The roofline is rakish, and lends a coupe-ish look to it. The sporty look continues to the rear. The exhaust and rear bumper are very detailed. I normally do not like rear diffusers, but it accentuates the design nicely. The taillights are just as intricately detailed as the headlights and they add to the sporty look. The wing spoiler also adds to the sporty look. The purposeful appearance is carried over to the interior. The interior lighting is eye catching red. Oddly, the seats have blue inserts in them. Overall the interior and the exterior give off a coolness factor that its rivals Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla cannot match.
After having the opportunity to review a 2009 Mazda3 S Grand Touring, I had high expectations for this 3 in terms of driving enjoyment. Fortunately, it did not disappoint. The steering wheel is loaded with feel, and it is linear and precise. The steering weight is just right, and turn in is crisp. It drives with such fluidity that you feel like it is an extension of your arms and legs. What I mean is that the 3 feels like it telepathically anticipates and responds accordingly. When you turn the wheel with a degree of quickness, the car reacts with the same degree of quickness. I could not stop smiling as I hustled the 3 on twisty mountain roads. The ride quality is taut but well controlled. Bumps permeate through the cabin, but it is not uncomfortable. It is composed, even on rough roads.
This S version comes with the top level 2.3 liter four cylinder engine. With 160 horsepower, the four cylinder engine propels the Mazda from 0-60 in around 7 seconds. It is slightly sluggish at low revs, but go beyond 2,000 rpm, and its pace quickens. The power tapers off towards high RPMs, but this engine performs exceptionally well. The four speed automatic shifts decently, but can hesitate to downshift. This might sound pessimistic, but this car needs a manual transmission. It is aimed for driving enjoyment, and a manual transmission would seem like the ideal match for this car, especially with this engine. I was not surprised when the owner of this car told me that when looking for a Mazda3 on Craigslist, most of them were manuals. Fuel economy is exceptional at 30 mpg overall. Manual versions get around 2-5 mpg better.
The 3 is not as quiet as it should be. There is constant tire roar, and thuds and creaks from road surfaces are heard. The engine is noisy too, but floor it and you are treated with a harmonic engine note.
The cabin decor is plebeian, as the cabin surfaces feel hard and scratchy to the touch. However, everything feels well assembled. The controls are easy to use, and they are logically placed. The front seats are comfortable, and it is easy to get a good driving position. Visibility is decent. The rear seat is cramped, and the trunk space could be better. The gauges are clean and laid out well.
I think Mazda did a superb job with the first 3. It has superb driving dynamics, sharp looks, good gas mileage, and it is affordable. I always admired Mazda as a company, because they did not give up their brand integrity for more sales. In the automotive industry, so many car companies have gone against what they stood for in order to garner more sales. Mazda restrained itself from doing so, and focused on what Mazdas do best: making their cars enjoyable to drive. The Mazda 3 stood out from the crowd because it is unique, and in a time when cars are conforming to the same approach, being unique is a good thing. Sure, the 3 may be noisy and a little too hard riding, but it does put a smile on your face whenever you drive it. Mazda has a saying, “If a car is not worth driving, it is not worth building”. This expression reflects its lineup. Whenever you drive one, or sit in one, you feel like this car was built out of love, not off a factory line. Love is the secret ingredient.