The smiley mug proudly flaunts the triumph in being the emperor of the compact class.
Smile is coming from the genuine enjoyment of the driving experience and being happy for not blending into the realm of lackluster cars that are washed out in a crowded parking lot. More importantly, life is about excitement even in the compact car segment. The drivers of this nickel-and-dime segment should not suffer the dullness and happy ending does not always cost a fortune.
Driving with that smile must entail the deeds to back it up. The 3 has it all. It has been the king of the compact class. It is very hard to make a good small car than an average large car. By making a car offers the driving experience of the car twice as expensive is remarkable.
Will the new 3 be able to remain as the King? Let’s find out.
Mazda introduced the original Mazda 3 [Chassis Code: BK] to replace the less-appraised Protégé in 2003. The BK had revolutionized the compact segment where it had been subjugated by ubiquitous Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas. The BK brought in sporty design and lively driving excitement with immense available equipments that once-upon-a-time exclusive to higher markets. It had also popularized the station wagon/hatchback (advertised as 5-door) in this anti-station wagon market.
Our testdrive review of the 2006 Mazda 3s 5-door can be found HERE.
The second generation [BL] unveiled in late 2008 as a 2010 model year. Similar to the BK, the BL lineup includes two body styles: a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback/station wagon. Mazda 3i is standard on the sedan with 3s as the option while all 5-door hatchbacks are 3s’ where “s” models equip with the new 2.5L 167 hp & 168 Ib-ft of torque engine while the “i” retains the carry over 2.0L.
There are three trim levels for the 4-door 3i in 2010 – SV (base), Sport, and Touring. The grandeur Grand Touring package is only available to the 5-door where it can be loaded with vast options.
The tester in Liquid Silver Metallic paint has the midrange touring package of the 4-door sedan lineup. It is assembled in Hofu, Japan with MSRP at $19,975.00.
The Blissful Frontal Styling
Glancing at the front of the 3, there is no question about the fascia inherited from the recent Mazda family. The drastic smile on the 3 is the derivative of the bunny-like face originated from the road-hugging RX8 while the recognizable side profile is retained from the BK.
The exterior design hints the analogy of the BL’s spirit. The BL is focused on driving dynamics as the RX-8, and carrying on its predecessor’s success while retaining the shadow of the BK without many dramatic transformations while being joyful.
The frontal design of the recent vehicles has to fulfill pedestrian safety standard where when an ignorant runs into a car, the bumper has to be gentle to the touch and able to scoop up that suicidal carcass and let “it” land softly onto the cushioning hood to avoid busting that hollow cranium.
Ped Protection is enforced by regulations set by the European and Japanese; refer to as EuroNCAP and JNCAP, respectively. EuroNCAP focuses on both lower extremities and head protection performances while JNCAP on only head protection of the human body.
The vehicular front end design has been affected by these regulations to provide the appropriate impact cushioning to limit injuries. This protection has been an engineering challenge because of the design contradicts with vehicle-to-non-living-object impact given that most car manufacturers offer 5mph bumper design.
This vehicle-to-non-living-object impact requires energy absorption about twice of the pedestrian impact. If the front end complies with only pedestrian friendliness in mind, the bumper may not sustain the low speed impact and may scarify vehicle damageability. Not to mention U.S. has imposed the most stringent crash safety than any other developed countries.
Additionally, insurance rate could be higher if the bumper design is subjected to greater damage in low speed impacts.
Besides the need to meet those requirements, car designers need to also comprise style, aerodynamic drag, windnoise and air flow into the engine bay into consideration.
Not an easy task indeed and it provides the explanation for that bulging front end design on most mainstream new cars today.
Behind the Bliss
Mazda not only has counteracted the imposed regulations in the new front end design, it has also optimized grille opening position to provide better airflow to the engine compartment and maximized aerodynamic to benefit fuel mileage and wind noise reduction. The coefficient of drag has been reduced to 0.29.
Better airflow to the engine can allow the air condition condenser, radiator and engine to operate at a more sociable environment instead of baking in an enclosed oven. Additionally, the increased airflow can feed cooler air to the engine air intake duct to optimize engine efficiency and performance.
The MZR engine & the new JATCO transmission
Behind the smiley face houses the 2.0L all-aluminum DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine with 87.5 x 83.1mm bore and stroke oversquare design, and 10:1 compression ratio. It generates 148 hp @ 6,500 rpm and 135 Ib-ft of torque @ 4,500 rpm with variable intake valve timing and dual path induction system made out of light weight nylon-reinforced material to enhance efficiency at both low-and-high engine speeds. In the PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle) States, the engine output is reduced to 144 hp & 132 Ib-ft.
Thanks to California Air Resources Board’s creation of PZEV, residents in the States adapted CARB regulations have to pay more for fewer horsepower and a heavier vehicle. That also has made the engine output similar to engines developed 20 years ago such as Nissan’s famous SR20DE with 140 hp and 132 Ib-ft with 7,500 rpm redline.
The MZR engine is transversely mounted, driving the front wheels via a newly developed 5-speed Sport automatic transmission, supplied by Jatco [JF506E], with manual-shift mode. The widen gear ratios assist acceleration and allow for quieter, more efficient highway cruising.
The Skeleton & Support
Peeling always the skin, the chassis and suspension components remain identical to the BK.
No doubt the 3’s chassis is still based on parent company Ford’s global C1 platform which commonly underpins the Ford Focus, Mazda 5, Volvo C30 & S40/V50. The suspension setup consists of independent Macpherson struts in the front and independent multi-link in the rear with stabilizer bars on both ends as before but revisions were made.
Front and rear anti-roll bar mounting points are mounted further outward to increase effectiveness without the need for bigger and heavier bars.
The BL has the same wheelbase and track width as the BK with 3” increase in length, mostly at the smiley front end. We applaud for Mazda in neglecting the temptation of the upsizing trend. Does anyone notice the current Accord being as big as a BMW 7 series of the ‘90s?
In lieu of “Supersize Me” and threw a different skin on it, Mazda focused on fine tuning the still capable and sophisticated chassis – compare to its competitors’ torsion beam rear suspensions. Mazda strategically used weld bonding combined with structural adhesive and spot welds to increase bending strength and flex resistance while shaving off 24 pounds from its skeleton.
The most noticeable resultant is the fact that the doors now close with a solid thump. We have heard the story on how Mazda is capable of shaving off ounces from the rear view mirror of its MX-5 Miata, and how good Mazda can tune the handling by the RX7 & 8.
The mounting for the electrohydraulic-assisted rack-and-pinion steering has also been altered. An extra mounting point is added to the center of the enlarged rack from 1.57” to 1.61” to promote stiffness. Steering ratio is kept at the more typical 16.2:1.
Stopping power is generated by 10.9” vented discs in the front, and 10.4” solid discs in the rear with ABS (Anti-lock Brake System), EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution) and brake assist, along with DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) and TCS (Traction Control System). Traction is provided by a set of P205/55R16, Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02 standard touring all-season tires.
Aside from the overly criticized front end, the interior is very stylish and unique yet highly functional. The dash is made out of high-quality soft-to-the-touch material.
The attention catcher in the interior in addition to the attractive chime is the welcome message on the LCD screen on the upper dash. The welcome message is kind of suggesting that the car has a soul not just an object; there is communication between the two of you.
The spacecraft style split gauge clusters are very easy to get used to despite its potential controversial layout. The lower cluster consists of the traditional two pod analog white-on-black tachometer and speedometer with red night time illumination. In between the pods is a digital display for fuel level, trip/odometer and gear position indicator.
The LCD screen in upper instrument panel is situated near the bottom of the windshield, centered near the center of the dash and tactically tilted toward the driver to display audio information and clock in the non-navigation equipped models.
The layouts are well within the line-of-sight for the driver. The upper screen minimizes eye movement and provides the information within the natural visual path without the need of taking eyes off the road. In combination with the intuitive steering mount controls, making changes to the audio setting is no longer a lane weaving endeavor.
The high belt line, short green house design offers the secured feeling that you are “in” the car and be part of it, rather than “on” the car and be a detachment like some of the 3’s competitors. The coziness does not affect its excellent visibility.