By Clint Williams
Green Right Now
Do I believe in love at first sight? Yes, I’m certain it happens all the time. Like when driving the 2010 Mazda3 to the grocery store.
We had just made a left out of our subdivision, accelerated sharply, hit a big sweeping country-road sort of curve and coming out the other end – less than two miles into a week-long test drive – I said aloud: “I like this car.”
Mazda’s biggest seller – 44 percent of North American sales in 2008 – is redesigned inside and out for the coming automotive model year, which, like Christmas, seems to get here earlier and earlier. The end result of all the tinkering is a compact that raises the bar for a crowded category that includes the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Nissan Sentra.
The Mazda3, unlike many econ-boxes, feels rock solid. The steering precision and feel is like that of a more costly sports sedan, the result, Mazda says, of adding a third mounting point near the center of the electro hydraulic-assisted rack-and-pinion steering gear.
The 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine is bigger than the power plant of earlier generations of the Mazda3. The 168-horsepower won’t snap your neck, but there is some fun-to-drive spunk.
Fuel economy is good, but not great. The EPA estimate is 22 mpg in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway. We got 23.5 mpg in a mix of driving that was heavy on suburban stop-and-go traffic.
The Mazda3 has earned the EPA’s SmartWay designation given vehicles that score 6 or better on a scale of 1-10 on each of the air pollution and greenhouse gas indices.
The interior design of this entry-level car is decidedly upscale, with a gauge and screen display unmatched in any car of any price. The display screen containing navigation, audio, and trip information is positioned high on the instrument panel to allow the driver to keep his/her eyes on the road. A second screen slightly to the right provides station frequency and climate control setting information.
The fit, finish and materials are good, and neon blue accent lighting is hidden behind the door handles. A cool touch.
Front passengers will be quite comfortable, but those riding in the back seat have, at best, just adequate legroom. The trunk is plenty big and a 60-40 split-folding rear seat expands the cargo compartment.
Safety gear includes side impact air bags.
The loaded test car – equipped with navigation system, satellite radio, moonroof and 242-watt Bose sound system – had a sticker price of $22,800.
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