By Casey Williams
Built in 1954 by architect Morris Lapidus, Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau was once the most luxurious and modern hotel in the country. Its curvy façade and bright blue pools made a perfect backdrop for Frank Sinatra welcoming Elvis Presley home from the Army in 1960 during an ABC television special. You’ve also seen the hotel in Goldfinger, Police Academy 5, and The Bodyguard. It welcomed both the conservatively wealthy and flamboyantly avant-garde down its famed stairway to nowhere. You could make a grand entrance at the Fontainebleau coming from just about anywhere.
No matter your station in life, cruising around in the 2010 MAZDA3 Sedan makes its own grand entrance. Styling is based on Mazda’s Nagare (motion and flow) philosophy. Curvy bodylines, Celestial Blue metallic paint, 17″ alloy wheels, and a high-decked trunklid flaunt the MAZDA3’s flamboyance; body sculpting looks like it was etched by wind, sand, and time. But, the MAZDA3 isn’t just a clone of a crusty old Liberace. Think more like Dennis Rodman: it’s showy, but has the goods to back up its flash.
The powerful used to come and play at the Fontainebleau. With the MAZDA3 Grand Touring’s power, you’ll want to play in the sun, or all night long. Base models come with a 148 hp 2.0-litre engine, but the GT belts it out with a 16-valve 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that generates 167 hp. Power comes on so smoothly that at first you might think there’s a turbo lurking beneath the car’s creased curves. If God created the Miata’s manual transmission, then his son turned water into the MAZDA3’s six-speed gearbox. Fuel economy ratings of 21/29 mpg city/hwy at least hint at heaven.
A hotel that has lasted a half-century must have good bones under the façade. Same with the MAZDA3’s chassis. Bestowing the feel of an entry-luxury Japanese sport sedan, the four-wheel independent suspension absorbs bumps and bruises like the old hotel soaks up hurricanes. Nothing seems to shake the car’s structure. Even over long stretches of broken downtown pavement, the car just rumbles over without a squeak, rattle, or hint of dissension. The MAZDA3 storms through quick backroads and tight onramps with maturity usually reserved for much more expensive cars. It feels like a Miata was stretched to accommodate four doors and a large trunk. Electronic stability control, traction control, and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes keep this party under control. Overall behavior reminds me of the last-generation Acura TSX — still one of my favorite cars.
Hotels like the Fontainebleau are known for their grand ballrooms, designed in contemporary style with lighting and drapery to impress. Mazda’s interior designers went all out in the MAZDA3 to give its cabin a comfortable, yet sporting flair. This is a place from which you want to rip through mountain roads, but also relax after a tough day making pay. Bolstered sport seats, huge analog gauges, a leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, close pedals, and leather shift knob get your business done. Heated leather cushions, steering wheel audio controls, and automatic climate control add comfort (and the fab A/C will flat blast your chilled ass out of there).
Designers cleverly wrapped the dash from behind the instruments down into the center console, creating a cove for the navigation screen and audio read-outs. All you need is easily-accessible, but there is an incredible amount of technology ready for the asking. Keyless entry and push-button starting are but two examples. Your more raucous side could listen to a symphony on the Bose audio system, but that would probably bounce the neighbors’ flower pots right off their porches.
Current owners of the Fontainebleau have concluded recent renovations without ruining anything that makes the hotel spectacular. Sure, they added a new tower, upgraded the cabanas, and probably planted a few more palm trees. But, the essence of what makes the hotel great can be easily found. Since the Mazda GLC evolved into the 323, which begat the Protege and the MAZDA3, Mazda’s small cars have had soul, durability, and a revered place among the compact faithful. ZOOM-ZOOM still means something, even with all of the freshness pumped into this latest rendition.
High-finned Cadillacs may never again grace the Fontainebleau’s driveways, but the MAZDA3 is nothing if not a fontaine of bleu. The hotel was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, and given proper maintenance, you just might drive your MAZDA3 long enough to qualify for a set of Historic Vehicle plates. It has enough electronic tricks to impress James Bond, ample power to entangle a police force, and sufficient safety to guard five of your family’s bodies. While the Fontainebleau may have fought with the neighboring Eden Roc hotel over air rights, the MAZDA3 will do battle with the Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Ford Focus, and upcoming Chevy Cruze. Price as tested came to $24,840.
2010 MAZDA3 Grand Touring
Five-passenger, FWD Sedan
Powertrain: 167 hp 2.5-litre I4, six-speed manual transmission
Suspension f/r: Ind./Ind.
Wheels: 17″/17″ f/r.
Brakes: Disc fr/rr with ABS
Fuel economy: 21/29 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Detroit, MI
As tested price: $24,840
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