Friday, September 25, 2009

Mazda3 brings Zoom-Zoom ... and a lot more

Sacramento, California – There’s something about the Mazda3.

My 20-something son fell in love with the car the first time he saw it in five-door trim. Hard-line auto reviewers who typically savage any vehicle that’s not a Lexus, a ’Vette or a Mercedes routinely drool over the Mazda3.

So it was no surprise that a recent week with a 2010 Mazda3 s Grand Touring sedan produced the usual gaga reactions from folks.

Motorists leaned out of their car windows for a better look when I was parked at stoplights. Neighbors came over, whistling and raving over the car in my driveway. Total strangers walked up to me in parking lots, wanting to know more about my hot car.

Keep in mind that I was driving a Mazda3 with a plain-white paint job.

What gives?

Well, OK, the Mazda3 looked pretty good to begin with. Restyled for 2010, it looks even better.

And by that, I mean hotter.

Honest, the thing looks like a street racer’s dream. Exceedingly sexy sculpting on the front end hits you in the face, with the center grille arranged in such a way that it looks like a huge smile.

Seeing that front end closing in on my ride from behind, I can almost hear it whispering, “Get out of the way, fool.”

A winning grin. I love it. Give me another shot of Zoom-Zoom.

Side sculpting adds to the performance look, as does a sharp chop on the back end. Those 17-inch alloy wheels also give it road-race cred.

The tester was equipped with the 2.5-liter, 16-valve, in-line 4 with 167 horses. That might not sound like a lot, but the Mazda3 rips along with authority, thank you very much. And fuel mileage is very decent at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

Best of all, the Mazda3 handles like a champ, slicing and dicing city traffic and easing through freeway chaos with little strain and just a blip needed on the throttle. It climbs well, struggling only with the steepest runs in the Sierra Nevada. That’s OK. A trip to Tahoe in the Mazda3 is a blast; no blasting audio needed to keep you focused.

In case you don’t know, the car is a front-driver. You might not know that from its crisp handling, but it says so right in the owner’s manual.

If you’re into long lists of standard interior features, the Mazda3 does not disappoint. The tested model included leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats with power, Bluetooth hands-free phone/audio technology, dual-zone climate control, two 12-volt power outlets and electroluminescent gauges that look aftermarket cool.

Exterior standard goodies on the tester included rain-sensing front wipers, heated exterior mirrors and shiny dual exhausts. Throw in stability control and traction control, and you have quite a deal starting at a mere $22,300. An entry-level Mazda3 has fewer features, but it starts at only $15,295.

I’ve always been a big believer in cars that give you features and performance for a low price. You can start with the Corvette and go from there. There’s universal appeal in good looks, a fun drive and a nice price. Why aren’t more automakers doing it?

The Mazda3 shapes up as the perfect car for the young family, but maybe not for a big family. It’s a five-passenger vehicle, but I wouldn’t test three riders in the back seat, at least not if you want them to speak to you again.

The only other gripe is that when Mazda tightened up the chassis for 2010, it came out too tight. Road imperfections typically buzzed through the stiffened frame, but not enough to spoil the fun of driving this sports compact.

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