My only major complaint with the new-generation 2010 Mazda3 sedan is that it's, well, not a hatchback.
But as there are misguided souls out there who wouldn't consider being seen in one of the eminently handier and usually better-looking Mazda3 Sport hatches, unless they were forced into it with a cattle prod, Mazda is undoubtedly wise to offer a sedan.
Fortunately for the anti-hatch brigade, the only real downside in owning a Mazda3 sedan rather than the hatch is that the former offers only 355 litres of cargo room under its not-very-large trunk lid.
The Mazda3 Sport on the other hand has 481 litres of space behind the seats and 1,213 litres with them folded, and this is accessed by a decent-sized hatch that let's you stow bulkier items.
Otherwise we're talking about essentially the same vehicle as both sedan and hatchback are based on an upgraded version of the previous-generation platform with bodywork that's been stretched just a little bit.
In fact the overall interior volume difference between hatch and sedan isn't as great as you'd think. The sedan wraps its sheet metal around a total volume of 3,000 litres while the hatchback's volume is 3,159 litres.
And from the rear seatback of either model forward, there's essentially no real difference. The interior treatment, still arguably the best in the compact car segment, is the same and the passenger compartments are essentially the same size. Actual passenger volume with the sedan measures 2,665 litres and in the hatch 2,678.
Headroom is fine in both, and their rear seats, just as easily accessed in either, will only comfortably accommodate two and are a bit short of knee room.
The restyling job that came with this new generation didn't mess too much with the original (introduced in 2004) Mazda3's interesting and obviously winning look. Other than adding that - let's call it "distinctive" - new front-end treatment.
The 2010 Mazda3s are available in three sedan and four hatchback versions. The sedan range begins with the 2.0-litre GX equipped with five-speed manual gearbox that starts at $15,995, followed by the GS (same engine and gearbox) at $18,995 and the top of the range GT (with 2.5-litre engine and six-speed manual) at $22,595. The hatchback Sport GX (with 2.0-litre and five-speed manual) starts at $16,995, with the (2.5-litre, six-speed) GS going for $20,395 and the GT $23,595. More recently arrived is the MazdaSpeed3 (turbocharged 2.3-litre, 263 hp) at $32,995. A five-speed automatic transmission is optional for $1,200.
The sedan tested was a GS with five-speed manual gearbox, that came with a moon roof, traction control and electronic stability control system that brought its as-tested price to $20,990.
Under the hood was Mazda's tried-and-true MZR 2.0-litre double-overhead camshaft four-cylinder, which is rated at 148 hp at 6,500 rpm and produces peak torque of 135 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm (the GT gets a 2.5-litre that makes 167 hp/168 lb-ft of torque and comes with a six-speed manual).
The 2.0-litre engine revs smoothly and willingly, producing adequate power - delivered to the front wheels by the easy and accurate to shift gearbox - for safe freeway merging or secondary road passing. And it makes enough torque at lower rpm to give it decent around-town flexibility. Fuel economy figures are a very respectable 8.1 L/100 km city and 5.9 highway.
The suspension is by MacPherson struts up front with a multi-link system out back and it has ABS and Brake Assist-equipped disc brakes all round. Steering is electro-hydraulically power-assisted and points the 205/55R16 all-season tires with a light-ish but not unnatural feel.
Handling is at the sporty end of the every-day-driver compact sedan scale - steering is positive and roll well controlled. And although ride comfort was obviously a big part of the equation you will always be made aware of bumpy bits of pavement when you roll over them.
The first-generation Mazda3 garnered kudos for its interior design, and this second-time-around design, while not making any dramatic improvements, offers some additional refinement. An effort was made to make shapes, materials and lighting more visually pleasing and to improve the spatial relationship between driver and controls.
Measures were also taken to ensure a quieter cabin, and on both secondary roads and at highway speeds the Mazda3 is commendably quiet.
Front seats are suitably supportive, the instrument's legible, centre stack controls are indeed well laid out and reachable, the sound system okay and the climate control system functions well.
The GS is equipped with air conditioning, rain-sensing wipers, front/side and side curtain airbags, keyless entry, power locks, mirrors and windows, tilt/telescope wheel with cruise and audio controls and Bluetooth connectivity.
I've liked Mazda compacts since the days of the rotary-engined models of the early 70s. They always seem, as do Subarus, to be just a little different from the other mainstream offerings, to have a little more of that hard-to-define thing called character. firstname.lastname@example.org
2010 MAZDA3 GS
Type: Compact sedan
Base Price: $19,395; as tested, $20,990
Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 148 hp/ 135 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.1 city/5.9 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Subaru Impreza,Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cobalt, Dodge Caliber, Mitsubishi Lancer
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