2008 Mazda MAZDA3
Since its debut in 2004, the Mazda 3
has won awards and recognition across the board for offering great performance and high-line styling at a low-end price. Luckily for the consumer, Mazda has paid attention to all the good press, and year after year they’ve slightly tweaked the 3’s exterior and interior, as well as added more standard features, all without modifying the original attributes that netted such praise for the car. For 2008, the story remains the same, with the only change from 2007 being the now standard front and side curtain airbags on the “s” – the wagon model. While we like to think that we embrace change, the Mazda 3 is too good to mess with. Two extraordinarily sporty engine options give the 3 a peppiness that remains nearly unmatched in its category and create a budget car that is actually fun to drive. Exterior styling remains modern and class leading, while the interior is equally engaging. Looks like we’re about to add another glowing review to the top of the Mazda 3’s already overflowing stack.
What's to Like
Interior build quality on the Mazda 3 is far superior to others in its class, and the engines both feel powerful next to its competition as well. Two well-designed body types, a sedan and hatchback wagon, a
and multiple trim levels will satisfy the budgets of most buyers.
What's Not to Like
Safety features, like ABS and side curtain airbags aren’t standard on the base model. Rear legroom and front headroom are both on the tight side, even for the compact car segment, and cabin noise is significantly louder at high speeds than others.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
The general consensus here is that the Mazda 3 provides an entertaining ride superior to its class companions. Its sport-tuned chassis provides stiff handling that finds its stride in tight corners, giving the driver responsive steering throughout turns. The suspension gets a boost from front independent MacPherson struts and a front and rear stabilizer bar, minimizing body roll and creating a dynamic ride. The 3’s engines don’t disappoint either, producing far more pulling power than the Honda Civic
and giving the 3 a quick jump off the line and effective freeway passing abilities. After 3,000 rpm, where others flatline with their available power, the Mazda 3 soldiers on, ultimately defining why this front-wheel drive car is called a sport sedan. The automatic gearbox shifts smoothly, but we’d recommend the manual transmission, especially when you want to get a little rambunctious with the throttle - an expected consequence of driving this car.
Engine and Drivetrain
The “i” four-door sedan comes with a standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 148 horsepower and 135 lb-ft of torque. The engine is available with a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission. The five-door “s” wagon pumps out 156 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque with its 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. In addition to the 5-speed manual, the s also gets a 5-speed automatic with manual mode controlled at the shift knob, a feature that keeps it on par with the class.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
As with the rest of the competition, Mazda continues to impress with its array of standard features like front sport bucket seats, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, tire pressure monitoring system, CD/MP3 player and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. While the base i Sport has fewer features in order to keep the price low, the other trims add to this impressive standard lineup with a 6-speaker sound system, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, cruise control and power doors and windows. Also available are a moonroof for $890 and Sirius satellite radio for $430. A superb Bose sound system ($1,335) with 7-speaker, 6-disc in-dash CD changer is also available for the Grand Touring model.
Key Technology Evaluation
The technology tour de force in the Mazda 3 can be found in its top-of-the-line trim: the s Grand Touring. For around $21,000, the Grand Touring model has standard heated leather seats, a trip computer and rain sensing windshield wipers – something not seen on any of its equally speced-out competition. It also has an optional navigation system priced at $1,950 (which includes Sirius radio), an option that isn’t available on the either the Ford Focus
or Chevrolet HHR
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
The SULEV rated Mazda 3 with the 2.0-liter engine gets a class standard 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with a manual transmission and 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway with an automatic. Extra power has its price, as the larger 2.3-liter engine gets 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway in both the manual and automatic configurations, slightly worse than the competition.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
Another of the Mazda 3’s strengths comes from its stylish interior, which boasts Audi-esque red lighting throughout the cabin. While some of the audio controls aren’t as intuitive as we would like, the aesthetics and high quality materials won us over, especially compared to some of the competition’s more bare-bones interiors. In the back, the seats fold down in a 60/40 split configuration, giving you 11.5 cubic feet of cargo room in the sedan and 43.8 cubic feet in the wagon, very important for those trips to Ikea and CB2.
Maintaining the same refreshed exterior from the 2007 model and roughly the same overall design from its original debut, the Mazda 3 is as sporty as ever, surpassing rivals in the looks department. There’s a choice of 15-, 16- or 17-inch wheels, depending on which model you want, and to spice the tail end up a bit, all models have an option of a rear wing or rear lip spoiler.
Market Segment and Pricing
The Mazda 3’s body types mean that it falls into two different categories of budget car choices. The wagon’s $18,675 starting price sets the Mazda a little higher than its American rivals, the Chevrolet HHR
, Dodge Caliber and Chrysler PT Cruiser. At a starting price of $14,645 for the sedan, the Mazda remains competitive against the likes of the Honda Civic
, Toyota Corolla
, Ford Focus
, Saturn Astra
and Hyundai Elantra
What We Think
Yes, we had to toss another rave review on the pile, but the Mazda 3 hardly deserves anything less. A standout in a very crowded class of affordable compact cars, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more exhilarating performer on the road for the price. A quality interior, sporty exterior and tons of cargo space complete the desirable package. And if somehow the Mazda 3 manages to fall short of your expectations, you can always try the Mazda Speed3
on for size.