With just over 10,000 miles on the clock, our long-term Mazda 3 hatchback is a quarter of the way through its test, and it’s racking up praise at a significant pace. Drama-free to live with yet lively behind the wheel, the little Mazda made it through winter’s worst (at least we hope it’s over) and is ready for some warm months of travel and driving fun.
The Michelin X-Ice winter tires we fitted in the fall helped the 3 slog through Michigan’s yearly helping of white stuff without injury, with our only out-of-pocket cost so far being the car’s scheduled 10,000-mile service. Total: $51, including an oil and filter change, tire rotation, and vehicle inspection.
Overall fuel economy remains a solid 24 mpg, and the Mazda is proving to be a welcome and trouble-free companion on longer trips. We are, however, looking forward to taking the five-door on adventures lengthier than the several Ann Arbor-to-Chicago runs it has under its belt. The healthy 43 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded should accommodate plenty of supplies for a quick blast to the West Coast or a camping trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
It’s been a struggle so far to find any major fault with the vehicle. A few of us still aren’t sold on the styling and the small navigation screen, and some of the more recent criticisms center on the 3’s somewhat tight back seat for adults and general shortage of storage cubbies—the lack of secure and convenient storage for iPhones and such, to be exact. Yeah, we’re stretching.
But most of the comments in the logbook continue to commend the 3’s surprisingly playful demeanor. The clutch and the six-speed shifter in particular have been called out for their light, smooth action, both of which make the long commutes of some editors to the office much easier. Even with the snow tires fitted, the 3 tracks smoothly, with quick yet predictable responses. “So quiet and refined on the highway,” read one logbook entry, “I forgot I wasn’t driving a German car.” Others, however, disagree, citing the more premium-feeling Volkswagen Golf as their preference in this class. Fortunately, we have 30,000 additional miles with the 3 before a final verdict is rendered.
In contrast to some of our more hedonistic long-term vehicles of late—among them a Mini John Cooper Works convertible, a Lexus IS F, and a BMW X6 xDrive50i—the latest addition to our fleet is rather plebeian: a 2010 Mazda 3 s Grand Touring hatchback. But given the 3’s election to our 2010 10Best list, it’s no wonder that we’re so fond of the little Mazda as it begins its 40,000-mile journey.
Loaded and Capable
Redesigned for 2010, the new 3 immediately won us over with greater levels of refinement while carrying over the first gen’s tossable, fun-to-drive nature. Yes, it’s a bit heavier than before and some of us have yet to warm up to its new styling, but we all agree it’s among the best choices in its class.
Starting at $22,750 and dressed in Graphite Mica paint—a hue chosen to lessen the visual slap of the awkward “smiley face” grille—our five-door 3 sits just below the range-topping Mazdaspeed 3 in the lineup and is propelled by a 167-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder backed by a six-speed manual gearbox. Its standard features are legion. A black leather interior, 17-inch wheels, xenon headlights, heated seats, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, and a plethora of airbags and safety equipment are all present. Additional amenities we deemed essential include the $1195 Technology package (nav, keyless entry and start, Sirius satellite radio, and a perimeter alarm) and the $1395 Moonroof/Bose package (power sunroof, 242-watt Bose audio system, and a six-CD changer); the latter package is required to get the former, though, so Mazda’s touting the navigation system as “affordable” is a bit of a stretch. An auto-dimming interior mirror with a compass ($200) and a protective step plate for the rear bumper ($50) also were fitted. As-tested price: $25,590.
Thankfully, the 2.5-liter’s additional 11 hp and 18 lb-ft of torque returned test results about the same overall as those of the old car’s 2.3-liter. On the track, the 3 GT hustled to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 15.8 at 88 mph. (It’s worth noting that we’ve seen as quick as 7.4 seconds to 60 from this model in other tests, and as with most long-term cars, we expect our 3’s numbers to improve.) Although those numbers are hardly extraordinary, the 3 always feels willing and can dart through traffic with ease. Credit the 2.5’s flexible power band, the six-speed’s closely spaced ratios, and the shifter’s light and precise action. The latter is a tad long in the throw, but the clutch is easy to modulate.
With 3064 pounds pushing down on 205-series Yokohama all-season tires, our tester stopped from 70 mph in 168 feet and stuck to the skidpad at 0.85 g—figures that provide quantitative backup to the 3’s subjective qualities: a spirited nature and dynamic composure at the limit. And with our average of 24 mpg and no mechanical issues yet to crop up, the Mazda is proving to be easy on our budget and our nerves.
What a Tiny Display You Have
Initial complaints have been few and mostly center on the ergonomics. Overall comfort and practicality are great, with only our taller drivers complaining of insufficient headroom—“stupid sunroof,” they say—or that the telescoping steering wheel doesn’t telescope enough. “The interior would be the nicest in the segment by far if the [Volkswagen] Golf didn’t exist,” senior editor Erik Johnson scribbled in the 3’s logbook, putting voice to most staffers’ sentiments.
The layout of the button-laden center stack has caused a bit of frustration, as has the small three-by-five-inch multifunction screen, which is positioned high on the dash near the driver’s forward sightlines. Controlled via buttons and a toggle on the steering wheel, the feature preserves real estate on the dash, keeps costs down, and eases manufacturing. However, the navigation maps are difficult to make out at times—it’s like reading a book through the wrong end of a telescope—and there’s no touch screen, meaning all inputs are done with the steering-wheel controls. Some like that at-your-fingertips convenience; others feel, well, inconvenienced.
What we can agree on so far is that, for the money, the 3 is a sweet little car that gives up little driving excitement in the name of mass-market appeal. With snow about to fall here in Ann Arbor, we’ve installed a set of 205/50-17 Michelin X-Ice Xi2 winter tires ($551 for four) on the stock wheels, which handicap the Mazda’s athleticism a bit but should pay dividends when we’re bounding through the white stuff. After all, although we’re not totally happy with the 2010 3’s wide-mouth front end, we don’t think sliding into, say, a retaining wall would do it any aesthetic favors.