That it did was evident by the fact that the 3 almost immediately became its most successful new product intro in years. Indeed, it gave the buyer who might have been on the fence between the RX-8 – much more expensive – and another vehicle a way to have a Mazda underneath them and so the 3 went into car history. It’s actually not bad for a Ford as that is the parent company of Mazda (indeed, the Edge is actually the Mazda CX-9 as is the MKX from Lincoln).
So much for past history and so let’s fast forward to this model year and Mazda knew it had big shoes to fill with a restyled Mazda 3 (eight years is a long time for a design in anyone’s league) and it looks like they’ve filled those shoes quite nicely and then some. Indeed, the Mazda3, the vehicle which brought great performance and panache to a very predictable segment of the market, is better than its predecessor.
For starters, the design picks up on the theme firmly established by the RX-8 and expanded on by the Mazda 2, except the 3 doesn’t have the small vestigial grille sitting above a large strip of bumper. With the 2011, you have a very large, low-placed blacked out grille that is fared into the bumper quite well. The headlight pods are fared not only into the grille but also in to the fenders which pick are nicely integrated with the bumper, as well. Even the hood that sweeps back from the front end is nicely integrated into the overall design. The hood sweeps into a sloped windshield and on into a rounded roofline that sweeps down toward the backlight (window) ala the RX-8 and into a rear end that fares the taillights nicely into the rear quarters and the trunklid which completes the line. The rear bumper ties things up quite nicely.
With this type of work on the design, is it any wonder that Mazda also worked hard on the ride and handling so that it matched or exceeded the original’s ride and handling and while it is not as soft as its Ford counterpart – the Focus – the ride is not harsh. Instead it is taut and quite comfortable, as I found, on local runs on the Interstate. When I put it through its paces on my favorite test road – the one with the sweeping turns and the off-camber and high-crowned surfaces – which also includes a section of roadway that looks like the result of a small battle as it is rough, patched and very uneven.
When I hit this section of the roadway, I noticed that the handling and ride were good and indeed as I powered the 2.5-liter four out of the exit corner, I noticed there was a good deal of road noise still coming through, although the engine noise was pretty well damped by good sound insulation.
I guess you can’t have everything – but why not if you’re investing $23,000 I a vehicle and I suspect this will be addressed in future versions – still you do have a lot in the Mazda 3 including two models the base with its 2-liter four and 148 horsepower, and the s with its 2.5-liter four and six-speed manual. The s trim level offers plenty of power as it does crank out about 30 more pounds-feet of torque than the five-speed 2-liter. An automatic is also available.
On the inside, I found that the interior had been modernized and updated. And, while there are still two large round gauges for the tachometer and speedometer, they are easily visible by the driver. And, I also found that the placement of some of the controls on the wheels and others on stalks, at either side of the wheel, convenient as was the inclusion of navigation.
Like all Mazdas, I found the seats had more than enough back and thigh support for fun driving and I also found that the interior was well designed so that all of the key controls fell easily to hand. The shifter, by the way, was a pleasure to use.
If it sounds like I liked the new Mazda 3, I did, including its ability to haul me and three of my friends around town all day and have fun doing it.
Once again, it looks like Mazda has outdone itself.