2005 Mazda Mazda3 s review: 2005 Mazda Mazda3 s

The amber instrument lights adjust well and have a nice blue accent at night. The only minor problem is the need to manually turn the brightness up if you're running the headlights during the day--the nighttime illumination setting is too low for daytime use, and the daytime setting seems too bright for nighttime. It's only a single button-push, but you need to reach through the steering wheel to do it. The lack of more than one intermittent setting on the windshield wipers is also a minus, as is the lack of a fuel-economy display.

Other amenities include a huge glove compartment, which is able to fit a medium-size laptop; bottle holders in all four doors; center-console cup holder; and a dual-level center cubbyhole. One slight oddity is a pocket behind the driver seat but not the passenger's. The trunk looks a lot bigger than you would expect, and it also benefits from 60/40 folding rear seats. One minor quibble: There's no remote trunk release on the key fob.

The 2005 Mazda Mazda3 s is not a Miata by any stretch of the imagination, but for a four-door compact, it's a lot of fun to drive. The handling is excellent, with good ride quality and relatively little body roll, due in large part to the chassis, which has more than 40 percent flexural rigidity than the Protégé. The stiffer chassis allows for softer springs and dampers without losing cornering ability. On the road, the Mazda3 gives good feedback, and the front-wheel drive pulls nicely out of the corners. Steering is precise and fairly light at low speeds without being overpowered as the speed rises. Gearshift throw is short and precise but, again, not in the same class as that of its siblings, the Miata and the RX-8.

The profile of the Mazda3 s mimics that of the BMW 3 Series.

A 2.3-liter DOHC engine with four valves per cylinder and variable-valve timing on the intake valves supplies 160 horsepower to this front-wheel-drive car. The engine noise is so low that if the A/C or stereo is on, it can be easy to hit the rev limiter on the manual gearbox, as there's no loud engine wail signaling that it's time to shift gears. EPA fuel economy is reported as 25mpg in the city and 32mpg on the highway, dropping off slightly to 24/29 for cars with automatic transmissions. With the air conditioning running most of the time, we observed 26.8mpg with an even split between highway and city driving.

What you'll pay

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