The Protege’s protege

Posted on 20 Aug 2009 at 10:05am
By Casey Williams Auto Reviewer

The newly re-designed Mazda3 brings sporty affordability to the road


ZOOM ZOOM BOOM: The new look of the Mazda3 affords sleek styling and excellent gas mileage with a soft-on-your pocketbook price tag.

Mazda compacts are among the under appreciated giants of the automotive world. Their lineage goes from the GLC to the 323, Protege and ’3. Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas and an ever-changing parade of domestics ring up the big sales tallies, but Mazdas have been right there, providing affordable excellence with the soul of a sports car.

Now, designers and engineers have stepped up their spirit with the re-designed 2010 Mazda3.

Before we get to the car’s inner self, we are confronted with its newly swept exterior, or as Mazda calls it, nagare. Designers have been exploring nagare design elements, including bodysides that look like blown sand and a large grinning front grille, but this is the first time the elements came together on a production car. It looks good.

"It’s all about the thought processes," said Jonathan Frear, who worked on the Mazda3′s design for several years.

"There are strong similarities between recent concepts and the new Mazda3 in the grille execution, the front and rear lamp treatments and the deep creases that play an important role in the front fender design. New lighting technology has given us the opportunity to express motion and flow in more interesting and exciting ways. So all of the Mazda3 fans who love their current cars will surely appreciate the dramatic fashion statement we’ve designed into this new edition."


Drivers are sure to appreciate the new interior even more. As in the previous edition, an arching roofline opens up a substantial amount of cabin space. Four people fit comfortably.

The dash has more rake and simplified the controls, with the radio/temperature read-out set high in the driver’s sightline. I still get confused with the big center knob, which tunes the radio, but everything is easy to use after a few minutes’ orientation.

Our test car had a rubberized three-spoke sport steering wheel with integral audio and cruise controls; leather is optional. Like the gated gear selector, the tilt/telescoping wheel falls right at hand.

There’s also a ton of versatility. Lots of cubbies, large glove compartment, deep cupholders and a center console provide space for all of your toys and tools. Rear seats fold flat (60/40 split) to allow long objects to fit through from the enormous trunk. Auto drivers’ side power windows, Bluetooth, satellite radio and an iPod input jack keep you connected. Safety is enhanced by side curtain airbags.

That’s good, given the time you’ll want to spend ringing out the car’s powertrain. Our model came with a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine connected to a 5-speed automatic sport shift transmission (has a manual control mode). Step on the throttle, and the torquey engine churns the front wheels into action. It never feels underpowered, yet turns in excellent fuel economy ratings of 24/33-MPG city/highway.

Mazdas are special because of their Miata-inspired, zoom-zoom chassis. Steering motions are quick and precise while the four-wheel independent suspension system feels ready for a curvy road rumba. As tight as everything feels, the suspension can soak up rather rough roads with little more than a hushed rumble. The body structure is incredibly stiff, giving the feeling of safety, security and superior engineering. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes keep a father’s hand on stand-by.

I was a big fan of the Protégé, even in its boxy drag. It always seemed to be one heel ahead of the competition in its dance. Protege was practical and frugal, but also fun. My uncle, who once drove a Fiat Spider, owned a 323 that he enjoyed. I think he would like the new 2010 Mazda3 much more. As the Protege’s Protege, the Mazda3 is the best one yet.

With an as-tested price of $19,775, competition includes the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra and the upcoming Chevy Cruze.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 21, 2009.

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