Not everyone likes large cars, but there are very few small premium vehicles in the United States.&nbsp; BMW 1-Series, Volvo S40, Audi A3 make up the short list because last I heard, Cadillac has stopped pumping out the Cimarron.&nbsp;
Mazda, the folks that brought you the MX-5 Miata and that kid on TV who must be rich collecting royalties for whispering "Zoom-Zoom" has something for you to ponder: the new 2010 Mazda3.&nbsp; Most buyers will cross shop Civic, Cobalt, Corolla, Sentra, Elantra and Focus but the 3 seems to have higher aspirations than that.&nbsp; It can be ordered up with all sorts of luxury touches.&nbsp; For a nominal fee of course.
Drive small.&nbsp; Live large.
My tester is a high-end Grand Touring s model with the Moonroof/Bose Sound package.&nbsp; Throw in Sirius Satellite Radio and the total comes to $23,995 with destination.&nbsp;&nbsp; This may seem expensive considering a loaded Honda Civic with navigation stickers for $24,325.&nbsp; To get navi and an automatic tranny like the Honda, a Mazda3 window sticker zoom zooms up to $25,500.&nbsp; But that price includes automatic rain sensing wipers, adaptive HID headlamps, keyless ignition, Bose sound and power driver's seat with 3 memory settings.&nbsp; If you want these things, you'll have to shop at a Mazda store.&nbsp; I haven't even gotten to the horsepower yet.
I have now gotten to the horsepower.
Grand Touring s models get a slick 6-speed manual or optional 5-speed automatic.&nbsp; Delivering power to the front wheels is a thoroughly modern 167 horse 2.5-liter 4 cylinder.&nbsp;&nbsp; When shopping for a Mazda3 it's important to know the powertrains.&nbsp; The big engine is designated by an "s" and gets dual exhaust tips.&nbsp; Base Mazda3s with an "i" suffix roll with a smaller 2.0-b liter 148 horse engine.&nbsp; Its manual gear box is a 5-speed, not a 6 like my tester.&nbsp; FYI, Civic's engine makes 140 ponies (unless you opt for the 197 HP Si).&nbsp;&nbsp; For those who are curious their weights are about the same.
Zero to 60 sprints happen in 7.7 seconds, according to my Dynolicious equipped iPhone (an app I find to be very accurate).&nbsp; What numbers fail to communicate is that the thrust always seems to be on tap with no weak points in the powerband.&nbsp; This means fewer white knuckles when slicing through dense urban traffic.&nbsp; Always a good thing.&nbsp; It helps that the manual shifter has a smooth accurate throw with a " just so" clutch take up.
Grading on a curve.
In its class Mazda3 is #1 when carving corners.&nbsp; Ride quality is firm and sporty without being overly jarring.&nbsp;&nbsp;The leather-wrapped wheel has just the right heft and on-center feel is buttoned down.&nbsp; Is this a set up the Corolla crowd can love?&nbsp; Probably not.&nbsp; Those seeking the comfort of the Toyota (and its cushiony equal the Hyundai Elantra) will find the Mazda suspension too stiff.&nbsp; Sportsters will find Corolla numb and mushy.&nbsp; That's why there are test drives.
In contrast to the luxury features that can be installed, road noise in the 3 is on the higher side.&nbsp; Electronic stability and traction control is along for the ride with Grand Touring 3s but is not standard across the board.&nbsp; Do your homework if this is important to you.&nbsp; All models get excellent anti-lock brakes.
Fuel economy at an EPA average of 25 MPG (21 city/29 highway) is lower than the competition by as much as 5 MPG.&nbsp; Mazda3 uses regular unleaded fuel.&nbsp;
Mazda3, I choose you!
Mazda3 can put a grin on a driver's face.&nbsp; If not, it comes with one of its own.&nbsp; A bit controversial, the front end looks like a happy Pokemon but sadly it won't fit into a Pokeball for parking.&nbsp; If you love the car but can't stand all the cheer up front, consider Black or Graphite Mica paintm, which camouflages the smiley face somewhat.&nbsp; The sheetmetal uses mild cues from Mazda's Nagare concept. ( )
It echos some of the swoopy lines but not the ripples the show car wears. &nbsp;I think the designers were wise to not make waves (pun intended).
Jet fighter cockpit without leaving the ground
In the cabin Mazda uses high quality materials, giving this car a more upscale feel.&nbsp; The instrument panel is soft touch material with a few bands of aluminum-like trim placed here and there.&nbsp; Gauge lighting glows blue and red.&nbsp; Small blue LED lights scattered about bathe the whole cabin in a subtle cobalt hue at night.&nbsp; Twist the sound system volume knob and there's a little light show around the dial.&nbsp; Dual automatic climate control, Bluetooth handsfree and an arm swallowing glove box are pluses.&nbsp; I'd like to loose the ignition's key release button and gain an integrated iPod interface (apparently a dealer installed accessory).&nbsp;&nbsp;
Pressing the 3 into carpool duty?&nbsp; Two average sized adults should be fine in the back. Three will be snug.&nbsp; There's a decent amount of foot and legroom here for the two outboard folks.&nbsp; Too bad there's not a map pocket on the back of the driver's chair.&nbsp;
Other sniggly gripes?&nbsp; Automatic headlights can be triggered by Seattle's dark cloudy days.&nbsp; That dims the gauges to a point where they're hard to read.&nbsp;&nbsp; It would be nice if the two displays that live in the upper instrument panel matched. One is red, the other blue. &nbsp;Order the nav system and one of them gets replaced with a full color unit that's on the small side.&nbsp; Mazda does that to make it more affordable.
Performance that's practical&nbsp;
Need to max out cargo room?&nbsp; The 3 is available in a 5-door hatchback version. &nbsp;The sedan is off to a good start with space-saving scissor hinges. Its cargo opening is a hair on the narrow side.&nbsp; Overall, size is average in class at 5 warehouse packs of bath tissue- the same as a BMW 3 Series.&nbsp; Because the rear seatbacks split and fold I was able to stash my kid's bike in the trunk.
How important is this car to Mazda?&nbsp; The 3 is their biggest seller by far, making up a third of their volume.&nbsp; Considering how good this car is, it may push that figure higher.&nbsp; Buyers looking for an engaging ride will flock to this car and it serves two kinds of buyers. Stay light on the option boxes and there's a deal to be had here.&nbsp; Starting at $15,700 it can be very affordable.&nbsp; Conversely, load up on the gadgets and there's luxury car features for $25,500.&nbsp; There's a big smile on the Mazda3's face for a reason.&nbsp; Leave the 3 off your test drive list and there could be a frown on yours.