The Mazda3 is marking a major milestone in Canada. More than 250,000 have been sold since it hit the streets in 2003 as a 2004 model to replace the Mazda Protege. It became a smash hit instantly around the world, with more than two million sold to date.
The awards have also piled up - it has garnered more than 90, including the 2004 Canadian Car of The Year.
And now, after five years, the Mazda3 gets a major makeover inside, outside and under the hood for 2010.
The second-generation 2010 Mazda3 is available as a sedan or five-door hatchback, which is dubbed the Mazda3 Sport. Like the sedan, the hatchback comes in three trims - GX, GS and GT. Prices range from $16,995 to $23,995.
While reasonable, the prices are more expensive than the outgoing 2009 models. A 2009 Mazda3 Sport GX is $15,895 - $1,100 less than the 2010 model. A 2009 Mazda3 Sport GS is $20,195, compared with $20,895 for the 2010 trim. The price of a top-of-the-line Mazda3 Sport GT jumps $2,500 to $23,995 for the 2010 model from $21,495 in 2009.
Personally, I'd stick with the base 2010 Mazda3 Sport GX trim; it's well-equipped for the money. It has keyless entry, power windows, mirrors and door locks, an AM/FM/CD player, MP3 capability, four speakers, an auxiliary input jack and an exterior temperature gauge.
Standard safety features include six airbags (dual front airbags, side airbags and curtains), antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, an engine immobilizer theft deterrent system, front active headrests, integrated child seat anchor brackets and child-proof door locks.
It also has a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine with 148 hp and 135 lb-ft torque, which is more than enough "zoom, zoom" to get around town.
It's an ideal car for students or recent grads, who can also take advantage of Mazda's graduate program offer - it gives new grads from an accredited Canadian university or college $750 off a new Mazda vehicle.
My tester is a 2010 Mazda3 Sport GS. It adds air conditioning, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and steering-wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls. The Sport GT trim ups the ante even more with heated front seats, illuminated front vanity mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual-zone climate control and a six-disc in-dash CD changer.
The Mazda3 Sport is slightly longer and taller than its predecessor. But its look hasn't changed dramatically from the outgoing model, so it doesn't alienate existing die-hard fans.
The most noticeable change is its new face - either you love it or hate it. Personally, I think it's a home run. The funky large car grille, front fascia and headlamps remind me of a giant grin from the front end.
Muscular wheel arches are also more prominent. My tester has 16-inch alloy wheels, while the top GT trim gets larger 17-inch alloy wheels. Overall, the exterior is fresh and modern, yet remains sporty, youthful and similar to its past.
The interior is also completely revamped. High-quality materials make it look more expensive than it is.
A new information display is positioned slightly higher than the last version - it's at the top of the instrument panel within the driver's line of sight.
The new radio system takes centre stage, but the old version was a bit simpler and used up less space. I kept reaching for the large circular dial to lower the volume, but it's for tuning the radio. The volume button is smaller and to the left.
Another big difference is the instrument cluster with two circular pods for the tachometer and speedometer, instead of three pods. The result is a cleaner and less cramped look. The HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) dials are also large, and easy to spot and use.
The hatchback seats five and is comfortable even on long rides. From the driver's seat, all-around visibility is good thanks to additional triangular-shaped windows in the back.
Headroom is good in all seating positions, but two adults would be more comfortable riding in the rear seats than three.
The trunk space is excellent - there's 481 litres of space, which is much larger than the Mazda3 sedan with 335 litres of cargo room.
Under the hood of my tester is a new 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that delivers 167 horsepower and 168 lb-ft of torque. It's mated to a new six-speed manual transmission, which replaces the old five-speed manual.
A five-speed automatic is available for $1,200. But I prefer the manual. The shifts are short and precise, adding an element of sportiness and fun to the ride.
The handling is nimble and still lives up to the brand's Zoom, Zoom slogan. The fuel economy is rated at 10.1 litres/100 km in the city and 6.9 on the highway. The base GX model, with its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine, gets 8.1 L/100 km in the city and a frugal 5.9 L/100 km on the highway.
Given the fuel savings and the price of the base GX model, I'd prefer it over the other trims. But whichever one you chose, there's no denying the 2010 Mazda3 Sport raises the bar even higher in the compact car category.
2010 MAZDA3 SPORT GS
Type: Five-door compact hatchback
Engine: 2.5-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/Torque: 167 hp/168 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.1 city/6.9 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Hyundai Elantra Touring, Ford Focus, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe, Kia Spectra5
- Starting price
- Well-equipped with standard features such as six airbags and ABS
- Practical yet fun to drive
- New radio system
- Price jump in the GT trim from 2009 to 2010