With the stripped-down 2007 Mazda3 s Touring sedan, we found ourselves enjoying the stiff chassis and rev-happy engine on twisty roads but bemoaning a relative paucity of the gadgets that can be the icing on the cake. Some of these options, like navigation and a Bose audio upgrade, are available in Mazda3's in the highest "Grand Touring" trim level but not on any other models. Our Touring-trimmed test car was optioned only with a moonroof and CD changer.
The Aurora Blue Mica paint on our car was a nice compromise between understatement and a bit of flash, and we generally like the look of the exterior and the Touring trim level's standard 17-inch alloy wheels and beefier body sill trim. Black cloth covers the nicely supportive manually-adjusted front seats inside, with similar trim on the rear seats and door inserts. Materials seemed nicer than in the Scion xB we recently tested, and fit and finish were excellent for a car in this class.
Test the tech: Inferiority complex
Given the lack of interior geegaws to play with in our Mazda3, our only real choice to test its tech was with a road trip. Fortunately, our week with the Mazda3 overlapped with classic car nirvana only a couple hours' drive away, in the form of the Monterey Historics and Pebble Beach Concours extended weekend. We took our modest chariot down the coast for our annual pilgrimage to see how the other automotive half lives.
The six-disc in-dash changer was a welcome, if lonely, tech option for shuttling around the Monterey peninsula. But as the CD rotation began repeating early in day two of our four-day jaunt, we found ourselves wishing the SAT button on the dash wasn't just a tease on our test car (Sirius is the available satellite radio option, but our car was not so equipped). We played the albums stored on our Sony Ericsson k790a through the auxiliary audio input to switch things up a bit.
Sound from all sources through the standard audio system is nothing special, with six speakers (one in each door and two tweeters in the upper dash) and limited adjustability options. Bass-heavy tracks didn't produce the lows we're used to hearing no matter how much we punched up the bass, which wasn't too surprising given the speaker setup. Knobs were present that appeared to offer further degrees of sound-processing choices, but must have been waiting for the Bose system because they had no effect in our car.
Fuel economy over a mixed-driving long weekend trip is a good indicator of real-world running expenses, and over about 530 miles of everything from open-highway cruising to crawling in traffic into and out of crowded events, we averaged 25.3 miles per gallon in the Mazda3. The EPA rates the Mazda3 at 22 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway, putting our figure right in the middle of the estimated range. Our tendency to push the envelope slightly for evaluation purposes probably adversely affected economy.
In the cabin
While the Mazda3's interior let us down a bit in our hunger for tech, it is not an unpleasant place to be. Comfortable and supportive front and rear seats all offer good legroom, and as noted above, everything has a quality feel to it and is screwed together skillfully. We never scoff at simple manual seat adjustment controls and also appreciate the presence of a tilting and telescoping steering wheel to make the best driving position easy to find. The usual modern choice of faux brushed-metal trim offsetting dark plastic was pleasant enough if nothing groundbreaking.
The rear seat splits and folds 60/40 for carrying longer items or using the rear area as a large package shelf. The trunk is relatively spacious with the seats up, and the shape of the space is useful. We liked the low liftover height of the trunk opening and the space provided by the lid's high open position, but were confounded by our inability to close it smoothly with a single motion (it seems to require first pulling down on the lower edge of the open trunk panel, then slamming it shut from above with the palm).
The gauge cluster is clear and glare-free thanks to three deep overlapping binnacles housing the main dials: one for the tach, one for the speedo, and one for the fuel and temp gauges. The single-line LCD readout is similarly hooded and very readable in all conditions with its soft orange background. This display shows outside temperature as well as CD number and track time or radio frequency. No Redbook or ID3 information was displayed from any of the discs or the MP3 player we used. The aux jack is well-located next to a 12-volt power outlet in the center armrest, with an opening to allow a cord to come through. No Bluetooth option is available, nor does the mounting of the audio unit make aftermarket upgrades easy to install.
The "s" trim level includes a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, both of which added to the sporty feel behind the wheel of the 3. The steering wheel offers redundant controls for the audio system (including a handy mute button) and cruise control. We appreciated the very large glove box, which served as a mobile file cabinet for four days worth of various tickets, credentials, and parking passes, all of which fit along with the owner's manual and with much more room to spare.