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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.
Our little Mazda3 feels outclassed among all the classic automotive beauty at the Pebble Beach Concours.
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 stereo had very little to offer besides its six-disc changer and an aux input.
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.
Climate controls were simple and effective, with three large round selectors handling the usual functions. Given the warmer than usual, fog-free August weather during our stay in Monterey, we were happy to have the standard (on "s" models) air-conditioning blowing on our feet while shuttling from place to place.
Dual front airbags are standard on all the Mazda3s, but the "s" trim level adds standard front seat-mounted side-impact and front and rear side curtain airbags as well (these are optional on the lesser models). A tire pressure monitoring system comes gratis on all but the lowliest "i Sport" trim level.
Under the hood
The 2007 Mazda3 s Touring bills itself as "redefining what is possible in the compact car category," and while we can't completely agree with the hyperbole, in terms of driving enjoyment and dynamics it is among the best in its class. And under the figurative hood is where the Mazda3 offers some tech features to speak of.
Antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution are standard fare on many economy cars, but the "i" level Mazda3's offer them only as an option. They are standard on "s" level cars like ours. The Touring models also include dynamic stability control and traction control standard.
The five-speed manual had well-spaced gears for our Laurelas Grade drive.
The "s" models' 2.3-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder aluminum engine puts out 156 horsepower and achieves PZEV emissions ratings with the help of variable valve timing. This is somewhat modest power output, but the engine revs freely and acceleration feels brisk. The Mazda3's emissions rating puts it on par with most hybrids.
Where the Mazda3 really shines is on winding two-lane roads where the stiff chassis and variable-assist power steering combine to encourage carving into curves and feeling the front wheels pull the car through. And no trip to the Monterey Historics is complete without at least one run across the Laureles Grade between Carmel Valley Road and Laguna Seca Raceway on Highway 68.
The Mazda3 proved an entertaining mount through this road's 16 miles of climbs and descents through sweeping corners. Third and fourth gears are spaced perfectly for this kind of midspeed driving, and overall the five-speed gearbox was easy to use and nicely matched with the power characteristics of the engine. A sixth speed might have improved our highway fuel economy, but we never had the feeling that cruising in fifth on the highway demanded excessive prolonged engine speeds.
The 2007 Mazda3 is apparently intended as an economy performance sedan, and as such offers little in the way of standard creature comforts at its lower trim levels. Left in base form, the car represents a good performance value. But this edge evaporates as tech features present on some of the competition must be added as options that drive up the price of a similarly-equipped 3.
Our Mazda3 s Touring had a base MSRP of $18,425, and the only option present on it was the power moonroof and in-dash CD-changer package, at $890. Adding the delivery and prep charge of $595 brought the total sticker price to $19,910.
In an earlier test we called the hotter Mazdaspeed version of the Mazda 3 the best handling front wheel drive car we'd seen to date. The non-turbo, non-"speed" version isn't quite as much fun as its stronger brother, but nevertheless responds well to being driven hard and isn't prone to the turbo lag and minor torque steer the Mazdaspeed 3 exhibits. If Bluetooth and an aftermarket stereo aren't on your list of must-haves for your starter sport sedan, the Mazda3 is worth a look.