If you are in your 30s and tell one of your peers that you haven’t seen for a while that you’re driving a compact car, chances are that person might think that (1) you didn’t study hard enough in college and that consequently that marketing degree just hasn’t worked out all that well for you; (2) you have some sort of environmental bent and are trying to minimize the amount of fuel you use, even though you don’t even recycle bottles that you have to pay a deposit on out of sheer laziness; (3) you probably aren’t all that interesting any more, anyway.
But then if you mention that you have a Mazda3, then all bets are off.
You see, the Mazda3 has the kind of literal street cred that many compacts—no, make that most compacts—lack vis-à-vis respectability for someone who is (a) no longer in their 20s or below or (b) using an AARP calculator to determine the mpgs expended during the last trip to the pharmacy. OK. This representation of compact drivers is wholly unfair. But be that as it may, there is no question that the Mazda3, now in its second generation, still has it even though it is (somewhat) matured.
The Mazda3 is a driver’s car. Especially one that is equipped with the six-speed manual. Your daily drive to work may not be the stuff of exhilaration—for many, it is a matter of quickly merging onto a freeway, then only occasionally getting out of second for short spurts until the invisible cause of congestion (besides the thousands of other cars) gives way—but when you can drive your car, this one let’s you.
While this one is the sedan, and while there is a back seat that you could readily put the kids in (note the assumption that you may have kids, which flies in the face of the person who may be too young to have kids (well, they may be old enough, but then probably too poor to buy a new set of wheels, having to make do with some beater) or past prime-time for kids), if you’re rolling with adults back there, you might not want to drive them all that great a distance because the car is a compact, and even though it has 36.2 in. of rear leg room, a colleague who sat back there on a drive to and from Cincinnati. . . well, we’ll just leave well enough alone.
But when you’re behind the wheel, that’s when the fun starts. The 2.5-liter engine produces 167 hp @ 6,000 rpm, and it gets the car moving. The independent suspension—front and rear, with MacPherson struts in the front and a multilink arrangement in the rear—coupled with the electrohydraulic power-assist rack-and-pinion steering makes the car responsive in the corners (even though you may only be making a right on red).
The Grand Touring package includes some nice touches, such as auto on-off bi-xenon headlamps with adaptive positioning (the headlamps move); dual-zone climate control; and a five-way powered driver’s seat. The material quality, fit and finish really are grand vis-à-vis what you would expect in the compact class, so this vehicle really subverts expectations—in a good way. The starting MSRP for the Grand Touring with the six-speed manual is $21,500 (not including the $750 destination), so it is a Grand Value—with spirit.
Engine: 2.5-liter, 16-valve, four cylinder with VVT
Engine material: Aluminum alloy block and head
Horsepower: 167 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 168 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Wheelbase: 103.9 in.
Length: 177.6 in.
Width: 69.1 in.
Height: 57.7 in.
EPA city/highway: 22/29 mpg