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2008 Mazda3 S Touring 4-door Review

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2008 Mazda3 s Touring 4-door Review

The Mazda3 may not get the publicity and instant recognition that follow the MX-5 Miata and RX-8 sports cars, or the company's growing fleet of fleet-footed and sporty crossovers like the CX-7 and CX-9, but that doesn't seem to matter where it really matters. The Mazda3 is Mazda's best-selling vehicle, and deservedly so. In the compact sedan class, where all too often cars are mere transportation appliances, with low cost and high fuel economy emphasized to the exclusion of any sort of positive driving experience, the Mazda3 is competitive on price and economy and leads the pack on its sporty character and driving characteristics.

Offered in "i" and "s" models in a four-door sedan body style and s only as a five-door hatchback, with Sport and Touring trim levels for both the i and s and Grand Touring exclusive to the s, the Mazda3 sits at the premium end of the compact segment, especially in s trim. The i has a 2.0-liter, 148-horsepower (or 144 in California-emissions states) four-cylinder engine and is simpler in appointment. The s gets a 2.3-liter four good for 156 horsepower (151 CA) and sportier interior and exterior trim. Introduced in 2004, the Mazda3 got its first minor update for 2007. This consisted of a body-colored grille and a redesigned front bumper with integral square foglamps on s models, LED taillights for the s sedan, and new alloy wheel designs on the outside and minor trim and design changes inside. Under the hood, things are unchanged, and no criticism for that. Detail enhancements to the chassis structure and suspension were aimed to improve the car's already high level of handling performance. As before, brakes on all models are four-wheel discs, with ABS, EBD, and brake assist standard on s models and available for the i.

I've just finished a week with a Mazda3 s Touring sedan. The Touring trim level adds 17-inch alloy wheels and all-season performance tires, DSC dynamic stability control, traction control, and side sill extensions to the basic Sport. With the added moonroof/6CD changer option, it was still under $20,000. There is enough room inside for four adults, or five in a pinch, so it could be used for carpool or family transportation duty. But, with its fine suspension tuning, willing engine, and slick-shifting gearbox, it's far too much fun to be used only for such mundane things. In s trim, the Mazda3 is a sporty compact sedan with the soul of a Miata.

APPEARANCE: With its crisply-delineated lines, and especially because of the dropped hood section that, at its forward point, incorporates the grille, the Mazda3 sedan is unmistakably a Mazda. Compared to the larger Mazda6 sedan, it's shorter, taller, and chunkier, with a relatively longer passenger cabin and short, high rear deck. "s" models have a body-colored grille; that of the "i" has a chrome strip across the top. The s has foglamps in its slightly sportier front bumper fascia and matching sill extensions on the sides. The sporty look is further enhanced by smoked covers for the headlights and taillights.

COMFORT: Inside, the Mazda3 s is styled and appointed in the contemporary Japanese sport-compact manner, with very good fit and finish. Black is the standard color, although the i can be had with a beige interior. The s seats are sport-bolsterd, with grippy textured nylon cloth upholstery. Leather is available. Manual adjustment of every necessary parameter, including cushion height, a heel-and-toe-friendly pedal arrangement, and a tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel with a thick leather rim and cruise and auxiliary audio controls make this a fine driver's car. Good rear seat space, useful storage spaces around the cabin, including the signature Mazda3 laptop-swallowing locking glovebox, and upgraded audio systems with an auxiliary input jack for MP3 players and a power point in the center console will keep passengers happy, too. The rear seat folds 60/40, and the trunk opening was redesigned for easier entry last year. Still, if ultimate cargo versatility plus sport is desired in a Mazda3, the 5-door hatchback is the way to go.

SAFETY: Active safety is addressed by nimble handling, good acceleration, and strong four-wheel disc brakes. Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist are standard in the s model, with DSC dynamic stability control and traction control standard at the Touring level and above. All Mazda3 models have sturdy safety cage construction and dual front airbags standard, with front seat-mounted side and ceiling-mounted full-length side curtain airbags available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Extra chassis bracing in strategic locations and revisions to the shock dampers, plus slight changes to suspension geometry have improved an already-excellent vehicle. The Mazda3 is one of the best all-around small sedans made because of its suspension tuning. If it feels too soft to be sporty, it isn't. The fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension takes advantage of the chassis's rigidity with seemingly soft springs and correctly-matched damping. Run it hard into a corner, and it will exhibit more body roll than a more stiffly-sprung sports sedan, but at the same time it sticks very well, thank you, and is great fun to drive. It's also more comfortable than any small sports sedan I can think of, or any other small car in its class or even a class above.

PERFORMANCE: Both Mazda3 models have dual overhead cam, 16-valve four-cylinder engines. A slight increase in stroke increases the ``s'' model's engine from the 2.0 liters of the ``i'' to 2.3 liters. It has a competition performance pedigree, as a modified version is currently in use in the Formula Atlantic open-wheel racing series. Variable cam phasing on the intake cam helps broaden the power band and reduce emissions, as does a variable induction system. Electronic throttle control further helps drivability. The 2.3-liter engine 156 horsepower at 6500 rpm (151 in PZEV-emissions tune for California emissions states, my test car included), with 150 lb-ft of torque (149 CA) at 4500 rpm. It likes to rev, but there is no need to become well-acquainted with the rev-limiter, as there is enough torque right off the line to let the driver know that traction control is best done the old-fashioned, non-electronic way - by careful throttle modulation. The Touring model has electronic traction control to over-ride drivers who don't get that message. The standard five-speed manual transmission has slick, quick linkage and well-chosen ratios, and helps make the Mazda3 fun to drive. Acceleration, at any point in the rev range, is not a problem. Fuel economy, at around 25 mpg for enthusiastic mixed city and highway mileage, is good considering the relatively large and powerful engine. Automatic transmissions are available, a four-speed for the 2.0 and five-speed for the 2.3. Both have manual-shift mode.

CONCLUSIONS: There is no need for a small, economical sedan to be boring. If it's a Mazda3, there's no way it will be boring.

2008 Mazda3 s Touring 4-Door

Base Price			$ 18,425
Price As Tested			$ 19,910
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve aluminum
				 alloy inline 4-cylinder with
				 variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.3 liters / 138 cu. in.
Horsepower			151 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			149 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		103.9 in. / 177.6 in.
Curb Weight			2921 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.3
Fuel Capacity			n/a gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P205/50 VR17 Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD,
				 BA standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		22 / 29 / 25
0 to 60 mph				7.3  sec

Moonroof/CD changer package		$890
Destination charge			$ 595