Nobody asked me, but . . .

The Mazda3 is a great success story.  The first generation sold for the past five years was purchased by nearly 2-million owners around the world.  One out of every three Mazdas sold worldwide is a Mazda3.  In the US, its sales increased each year for the last five years.  In 2008, the last year in the first generation Mazda3 lifecycle, it singlehandedly represented 44 percent of Mazda North American Operation’s sales volume.Many of Mazda3’s compact-segment rivals, including Civic, Focus, Sentra and Corolla, don’t offer a versatile 5-door bodystyle. One third of Mazda3 customers choose this model.  Mazda also pioneered the availability of upmarket features such as a navigation system, leather trim, xenon headlamps, electronic stability control and rain-sensing wipers.

A sports sedan with the soul of a sports car, the Mazda3 offered unexcelled dynamic response in the areas of steering, handling acceleration and braking.  It also provided a level of fit and finish and build quality approaching that of Civics and Corollas.

With this as background, Mazda designers and engineers have been very careful not to reinvent the wheel but rather to build upon the first-generation’s success with a redefined and refined second-gen 2010 Mazda3.  This results in a car that delivers improved performance—acceleration, braking, ride, handling—new safety, comfort and convenience features, and a level of sophistication unexpected in the compact segment.

The carefully retooled exterior styling offers improved aero and a grille opening that Mazda describes as “purposely polarizing.”  The five-sided opening is instantly recognizable as a strong Mazda design cue.  It is also, ahem, very large.

Like it’s predecessor, the 2010 Mazda3 offers a choice of two MRZ 4-cylinder engines.  Mazda3 i models are fitted with an all-aluminum 2.0-liter engine, providing 148 bhp at 6500 rpm and 135 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm.  Variable intake valve timing provides strong low-rpm performance with robust high-rpm power and torque, all the way to the 6500-rpm redline.

The 2.0-liter engine is available with a 5-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic transmission replacing the previous 4-speed auto.

Mazda3 s buyers get an all-aluminum 4-cylinder with displacement increased from 2.3- to 2.5-liters.  This new engine is similar in most details to that found in the all-new 2009 Mazda6 i.

The 2.5-liter features a cylinder block with unchanged external dimensions by using cylinder-bore liners made of a steel-molybdenum alloy offering strength and stiffness increases of 30-percent.  A performance forged-steel crankshaft is also standard.  Twin balance shafts located in the oil sump cancel second-order noise and vibration, allowing this engine to rev smoothly to its 6200-rpm redline.

To minimize the noise and vibration typically found on larger displacement 4-cylinder engines, the damper at the forward end of the crankshaft is equipped with two tuned masses.  At the output end, a new flexible flywheel also curbs NVH.  Like the 2.0-liter, the new 2.5-liter features variable intake valve timing and a two-mode composite intake manifold.

Providing 167 bhp at 6000 rpm and 168 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm, the 2.5-liter engine is available with a 6-speed manual transmission or a 5-speed electronically controlled automatic with manual shift control, again, borrowed from the larger, up-market Mazda6.

Mazda Active Adaptive Shift protocol provides the new 5-speed automatic transmission with part-throttle downshifts that are delivered in sync with the nudge of the accelerator during passing.  When the car is braked aggressively in anticipation of cornering, the transmission also downshifts to add engine braking and to prepare for a quick exit from a corner.

By refining the strengths of the previous unit body, steering, brakes, and suspension systems, Mazda engineers delivered major improvements in ride and handling performance while also reducing several pounds from the unit body and chassis weight.

Unit body bending stiffness has been increased seven percent by a major gain in the use of high-tensile-strength steel panels, by adding gussets in heavily loaded areas (such as at suspension mounting points), and by strategic increases in metal thickness.

In addition, a technique called weld bonding, first used in the new Mazda6, has also been applied to the Mazda3’s unit body construction.  At key locations, such as in the door opening areas, the combination of structural adhesive and spot welds greatly enhances the unit body’s flex resistance.  A stiffer structure also provides a quieter ride, improved suspension response to steering and cornering loads, and more stable braking performance.  The savings in weight attributable to the new unit body construction methods is a significant 24 pounds.

Changes to the rubber-isolated front, and the rigidly mounted rear, subframes also enhance rigidity while saving weight.  A new instrument panel support structure using two instead of the previous one steel reinforcement tubes saves 4.4 pounds while providing more solid support for the steering column.  Adding ribs to the inner door panels and increasing the size of the roof reinforcement bar yield major reductions in NVH.

To improve steering precision and feel, a third mounting point has been added near the center of the electro-hydraulic-assisted rack-and-pinion steering gear.  The diameter of the rack has been increased from 1.57- to 1.61-inches for improved stiffness and to facilitate more precise calibration of the speed-dependent power assistance.

Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control are now standard on the majority of Mazda3 models.

All-season radial tires are standard Mazda3 equipment, though the base size is now 205/55HR-16 on 6.5-inch wheels.  The more powerful Mazda3 s models are shod with 17-inch wheels and V-rated tires.

As befits a functional and fun driver’s machine, the Mazda3’s cockpit features Zoom and room.  Facing the driver are twin round gauges for speedo and tach. Key controls are located in the steering wheel spokes where they can be reached with minimum distraction.  A new Multi-Information Display screen containing navigation, audio, and trip information is positioned high on the instrument panel to avoid the need for the driver to refocus vision off the road ahead.

Mazda’s Human Machine Interface cockpit design reduces eye motion and refocusing.  Audio and climate controls are elevated in the center stack to minimize head motion.  Switches located on the door arm rest, steering column, and steering wheel are designed for intuitive operation.  Roof pillars are designed to maximize outward visibility.

The center console provides two cupholders, a sliding armrest, and a roomy storage box.  HVAC and audio controls are large and easy to read.

The addition of Bluetooth® capability in the new Mazda3 provides wireless mobile phone and audio player connections and hands-free operation.

Improved seating comfort is the result of front cushions extended by nearly an inch for enhanced thigh support.  Seatbacks are reshaped for more lumbar support and extended by 1.4-in. for added shoulder support.   A segment-first eight-way driver’s seat with memory has been added to the optional features list.

Dual-zone automatic temperature control, heated seats, and a Bose Centerpoint audio system are other new features also not offered by other sport compact competitors.

All models feature a 60-40 split-folding rear seat as standard for extra cargo compartment utility.

The 2010 Mazda3 has also stepped it up in the areas of interior fit and finish and interior/exterior build quality; it’s now as good as the best in the compact class in these important quality areas.

The Mazda3 s is the first compact on the market with an Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS) containing self-leveling bi-xenon (high and low beam) headlamps.  Standard equipment in the top Grand Touring trim level, the inner beam of this system steers up to 15 degrees into the turn to expand the illumination pattern.

Personifying Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom spirit, the first-gen Mazda3 quickly climbed to the top of my list of favorite compacts.  The new Mazda3 is just as clearly the class of the compact class of 2010.  This is gratifying news for Mazda but not its competition who find themselves aiming at a fast and evasive target.

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