Like most Mazda navigation systems that we've encountered, destination entry and advanced menu functions can only be accessed while the vehicle is stopped. The system will let you, for example, find the five nearest gas stations to your current position or your destination, but will not let you scroll beyond the fifth if the vehicle is moving. A more convenient search option for long road trips would be searching along the chosen route, which would prevent going miles out of your way for the nearest point of interest.
Mazda's Bluetooth hands-free system is accessible via voice control using more steering wheel-mounted buttons. As was the case with previous Mazda systems, there are no onscreen controls so you'll need to listen closely to the voice prompts to know what to say to, for example, pair a new phone.
This time around, the Bluetooth connection sports a new trick: A2DP audio streaming. Using this wireless protocol, compatible music phones and MP3 players will be able to stream audio through the Bose audio system with nary a wire.
Audio quality from the 10-speaker premium Bose system was quite good, with a powered subwoofer supplying the bass-heavy sound that we've come to expect from Bose systems. However, the bass is tight, controlled, and does not overpower the delicate highs and strong midrange sounds. Centerpoint Surround uses a discrete center-channel speaker to enhance stereo separation for front seat passengers, staging the music directly ahead of the passenger, instead of at the center of the windshield.
In addition to Bluetooth audio, users can connect to a center console auxiliary input, listen to AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio, or pop up to six CDs into the MP3 compatible in-dash changer.
Also available as a dealer-installed option is an iPod/iPhone interface cable for direct access to your iPod's music. One minor complaint about the iPod connectivity is that while the system lets you choose artists, albums, and genres, it doesn't nest its taxonomy. For example, on an iPod you can chose an artist, then an album, then a song. With the Mazda system, choosing an artist results in an alphabetical list of every song on the iPod by the artist, which can be annoying to people who like to listen to complete albums.
People who wan to bring mass storage devices or other non-iPod MP3 players along for the ride will be out of luck, as the Mazda3 offers no USB connectivity option that we could find.
Under the hood
For 2010, Mazda has bumped the Mazda3's 2.3-liter inline-four up to 2.5-liters of displacement, which also bumps output to 167 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. The torque gains are where the new 3's improvement can be best felt, adding more grunt to the midrange powerband for more confident acceleration. The Mazda3's 2.5-liter can also be had in a PZEV flavor, for states with stricter emissions laws. The price paid for a cleaner tailpipe is only 2 horsepower and 1 pound-foot of torque, which sounds like a deal to us.
While the four-door Mazda3 can be equipped with a smaller 2.0-liter engine, the five-door model is only available with the more powerful 2.5-liter.
We haven't had an opportunity to test the six-speed manual transmission available to the Mazda3 s. Instead, our tester was equipped with a five-speed automatic box with manual-shift mode. Fortunately Mazda's automatic transmission is actually quite good compared with most of its competition and does a fine job of zipping us around at low to moderate city speeds. The tall fifth gear, combined with the extra torque of the bigger engine, allows for quiet highway cruising at low RPMs.
The EPA estimates that the Mazda3 s will get 22 miles per gallon city and 29 highway mpg with the transmission that shifts for you. Despite being down one gear, the automatic transmission manages to beat the manual's fuel economy by 1 city mpg, while matching it on the highway.
Say what you will about the 2010 Mazda3 5-door's new aesthetic, but the fit and finish of the vehicle--particularly this leather-trimmed Grand Touring model--is top notch.
We also found the Mazda3 s Grand Touring's performance to be quite pleasing, despite our initial rough start at the track. The small changes to the vehicle's power train and handling amount to a much more grown-up feeling compact car.
In the cabin, we were also surprised by the unorthodox manner in which Mazda chose to integrate its cabin tech, particularly the smaller, center-dash mounted navigation display and its steering wheel-mounted controls.
As tested, our Mazda3 s Grand Touring is $24,960 and includes $1,395 for the Moonroof/Bose Audio package, $1,195 for the Technology/Navigation package, $200 for Crystal White Pearl Mica paint, and $800 for the five-speed-automatic transmission.
Compared with its chief rival (the Honda Civic EX-L with Nav), the Mazda3 5-door Grand Touring has more power, better handling, and more space for about the same price. The aggressively styled Mazda3 makes even the futuristic Civic look dull when the vehicles are parked side by side. However, the Honda's navigation system is slightly more intuitive and offers more extensive voice control than the Mazda can.