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2005 Mazda MAZDA3

June 11, 2005 09:17 PM EST | Mazda , Sedans | Email to Friend

View large imageGood looks, strong engines and sharp handling add up to an economy car that feels anything but cheap.

Pros
Fun-to-drive character, stylish interior design, strong engines, hatchback utility.

Cons
Ride might be too stiff for some, a few ergonomic quirks, tight rear legroom.

What's New for 2005
All new for 2004, the Mazda 3 receives only minor changes for 2005. The four-door "i" model gets a new 15-inch wheel cover design, and Sirius Satellite Radio is now available on all models.

Introduction:
Following in a long line of zippy compact cars from Mazda, the all-new Mazda 3 replaced the Protege as the entry-level car in Mazda's lineup. It's available in both four-door sedan and five-door hatchback body styles. The sedan is offered in two trim levels -- base "i" and upgraded "s" -- while the four-door hatchback comes in "s" trim only. A Sport Appearance package that adds additional bodywork and larger wheels for an even sharper-edged look is available on all models. Mazda backs up the 3's sporty image with a pair of engines that places it at the top of the class when it comes to horsepower. The base sedan uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated to produce 148 horsepower (144 in California), while the upgraded "s" models use a 2.3-liter four-cylinder that bumps the horsepower number to 160. Both engines can be equipped with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The Protege had a well-deserved reputation for superior ride and handling compared to most economy cars, and the 3 continues that tradition with the help of a few hand-me-down parts from Mazda's more expensive midsize sedan, the 6. Liquid-filled suspension bushings, an electrohydraulic steering system and an all-new multilink rear suspension design are just a few of the 3's upgrades, which together deliver refined road manners that will surprise those expecting the typically flabby ride and handling of most economy cars. Tightly controlled but rarely harsh, the 3's suspension leans toward the sporty end of the spectrum without beating up your insides along the way. While most economy cars serve up generic interior designs with little or no concern for aesthetics, the 3's cabin has a more cohesive layout that manages to inject a little style into the equation. From the individually recessed gauges to the symmetry of the center stack controls, the attention to detail is evident. Satellite steering wheel controls are a nice touch for a car in this price range, but the cheesy LEDs that light up in correspondence with volume or station changes are a little much. And as good as they look, the controls don't have the high-quality feel that you get with the Honda Civic. There's plenty of room for taller drivers to get comfortable up front, and the rear seats are acceptably spacious for a car in this class. A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel is always a nice feature to find, but we can't say the same about the rotary seat-recline mechanism. Trunk space is plentiful on sedan models, but the hatchback is still short on cargo space until you fold the rear seats. With all the personality of its predecessors along with more powerful engines and a sharp new interior, this is one economy car that puts the "zoom-zoom" back into driving.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The 3 is available as a sedan in base "i" or upgraded "s" trim, while the four-door hatchback model comes in "s" trim only. Base sedans have basic features like a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, full carpeting, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and an AM/FM CD stereo. Options include air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof and a six-disc CD changer. Upgraded "s" models come standard with power windows, locks and mirrors; 16-inch alloys; cruise control; keyless entry; a leather-wrapped steering wheel with satellite audio and cruise controls; and higher-grade cloth upholstery. Hatchbacks come standard with the Sport Appearance package that adds 17-inch wheels and additional bodywork; it's optional on the sedan. Full leather seating is also an option, along with a DVD navigation system and xenon headlights.

Powertrains and Performance:
Base sedans use a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine rated to produce 148 horsepower (144 in Calif.), while the upgraded "s" models use a 2.3-liter four-cylinder that bumps the horsepower number to 160. Both engines can be equipped with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability.

Safety:
All models feature four-wheel disc brakes and seatbelt pre-tensioners for the front seats. Antilock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) are optional on all models as are front side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. The NHTSA gave the 3 a four-star rating (out of a possible five) for frontal impact protection and a three-star rating for side impacts.

Interior Design and Special Features:
Unlike most economy cars, the 3 offers a distinctive interior design that is both comfortable and functional. The sharp-looking gauges are housed in their own individual binnacles, while the center stack augments the typical three-dial design with a sleek radio treatment that gives the car a more upscale appearance than most cars in its class. There's enough room for taller drivers to get comfortable up front, and the rear seats are acceptably spacious for a car in this class. Trunk space is up on sedan models, but the hatchback is still short on cargo space until you fold the rear seats.

Driving Impressions:
Liquid-filled suspension bushings, an electrohydraulic steering system and a multilink rear suspension design are just a few of the 3's upgrades that deliver refined road manners that will surprise those expecting the typically flabby ride and handling of most economy cars. Tightly controlled in turns and solid at speed, the suspension leans toward the sporty end of the spectrum. On par with the Honda Civic in overall driving dynamics, the Mazda 3 is a top choice if you're looking for a compact car that's entertaining behind the wheel.

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