2005 Mazda MAZDA3

Compact Curves

By Axel Rod

I like my cars simple, yet stylish. I’m perfectly happy with a smooth-shifting five-speed manual transmission, a great set of sport seats, ice-cold A/C and a killer stereo. Toss in razor-sharp handling, a premium interior and a kick-ass exterior and I’m all over the car like a cheap suit. If you’re like me, or just looking for a vehicle that’s affordable yet doesn’t scream “99-cent store”, you need to test drive the new Mazda3.

The Mazda Mazda3 may have a redundant name, but everything else about the car is fresh and new. My test car was a brilliant Strato Mica blue Mazda3 s five-door hatch with a manual transmission. The car took my breath away, I couldn’t get over the sexy body and the acute attention to detail. From the racy 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels to the integrated chin and rear spoilers, my Mazda3 looked totally customized. The Mazda3 sits low to the ground with its wheels pushed to the far corners, a design that both increases interior room and improves stability. Optional projector-style HID headlights flank a color-keyed grille punctuated by a prominent center-mounted chrome Mazda emblem.

As thrilled as I’m by the Mazda3’s exterior, I’m blown away by what I see inside. Nicely-bolstered cloth seats with blue and black inserts invite me to stay a while. They feel great, with good thigh support and a driver’s side manual lumbar adjustment. A quick check of the passenger seat shows no lumbar or height adjustment, a major boo-boo in this boy’s book. The passenger should always be as comfortable as the driver. The rear seats offer plenty of legroom and are configured in a 60/40 split, allowing increased cargo capacity while still providing room for one or two passengers. Maximum cargo space is provided with both seats folded down, creating a flat, but somewhat elevated floor.

From the driver’s seat, I’m treated to a modern dash with a three-pod instrument cluster that first glows blue then vivid orange as the ignition key is turned (i trims get a less flashy black and white display). The three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel holds fingertip controls for the cruise control and audio functions, including volume, station/track select and mute. A quick glance to the right reveals another glowing orange instrument panel displaying readouts for audio, inside temperature and vent position.  At the bottom of the stack are three rotary knobs surrounded by lighted orange trim rings that operate the heating-ventilation-air conditioning system.

I found only two bones of contention with the Mazda3’s interior. First, the placement of the gas pedal caused my right leg to constantly rub against the wide center console. The second is a bit more annoying and has to do with the audio system. Anyone who knows 20-something year-olds knows that a car’s audio system is every bit as important as its zero to sixty time. The Mazda3’s integrated audio system looks cool, but offers mediocre sound without much power. The unique shape of the radio makes upgrading to an aftermarket din or double din stereo difficult, and the factory unit does not have pre-amp out jacks, negating the possibility of an easy amplifier and speaker upgrade. At least there is an MP3 capable CD player on the options list. iPod fans can use a cassette adaptor to play their favorite tunes through the optional cassette deck. For die-hard audiophiles, check out Mazda3Forums.com to see how others have upgraded their systems.

Once on the road, Mazda3 performs brilliantly. The handling is sharp and direct; the feedback to the steering wheel and brakes devoid of numbness or disconnect. The short-throw five-speed manual moves quickly from gate to gate with little effort. For those who don’t care for the manual, Mazda offers a four-speed automatic with manual shift capability. The Mazda3 shares its basic chassis with the Volvo S40, giving it a solidity and rigidness you won’t find when driving a Nissan Sentra or Honda Civic. Despite the sport suspension’s stiff settings, the Mazda3 returns a surprisingly smooth ride, even over shoddy pavement. Acceleration with the 2.3-liter engine is good, but with only 160 horsepower, the Mazda3 feels a bit slow off the line. Further hampering things is a lack of low-end torque (torque being the rotational force needed to turn the wheels quickly). Once up to speed, the Mazda3 hums along just fine, with little noise or vibration entering the cabin. Fuel consumption is rated at 25 city/32 hwy, another bonus in a world of ever-increasing gas prices.

The entry-level Mazda3 i is offered only in sedan form and carries an MSRP of $14,420 (which includes destination). Standard equipment includes a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, five-speed manual transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, dual side mirrors, AM/FM stereo with CD, tilt/telescopic steering wheel (you can adjust angle and distance from the driver), cloth seats and intermittent wipers. There are a number of options, including the $800 ABS & Airbag package adding anti-lock brakes and side airbag curtains, and the $1,400 Power Package that includes power windows, power locks, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, alloy wheels, cruise control and a power driver’s seat. The Power Package requires the $850 air conditioning upgrade.

For about the same price as a loaded Mazda3 i you can get the Mazda3 s, which comes pretty nicely equipped and includes a more powerful 2.3-liter engine, upgraded cloth seats, available leather seating ($590), HID headlights ($700) and DVD navigation ($1,750), which you won’t find on any other compact sedan in this price range. Check every option box for the Mazda3 s sedan and the MSRP barely breaks $23,000. And since no gay man or woman in their right mind pays retail, you can expect that figure to drop by about $1,200.  To help you negotiate a good price, check Edmunds.com to learn the car’s invoice price as well as what consumers are actually paying.

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