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2008 Mazda MAZDA3 ReviewThe Good
Sporty handling and plenty of power put the 2008 MAZDA3 ahead of rival compacts such as the Honda Civic, delivering a peppier and more fun ride overall.The Bad
The strong engine in the '08 MAZDA3 means much poorer fuel economy than other compacts, and some trims' lack of standard safety features keep the the MAZDA3 from earning high marks in crash tests.
The CarGurus View
Two powerful engine choices and a sport-tuned suspension help the 2008 MAZDA3 literally stand out from the pack, and its availability as a hatchback or sedan gives it added versatility. Its funky, eye-catching style and agile handling prove that you can have an economical compact without sacrificing a little excitement behind the wheel.
At a Glance
When everything seems to come together perfectly in a car, automakers have very little incentive to mess with success. So for its fifth year running, the 2008 MAZDA3 foregoes any major changes to its lineup, looks, or layout. The sporty compact comes in eight trims with a choice of two four-cylinder engines. The base i Sport and i Touring are sedan only, while the s Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring are available in sedan or hatchback form. The s designation signifies more power, larger wheels, and a more aggressive appearance, while Touring trims upgrade the Sport with many more convenience features. All i trims start with 15-inch wheels. s trims add 16-inchers, and the top-of-the-line s Grand Touring features 17-inchers.
New for 2008, much needed side curtain airbags have been added to the front seats in all s trims. Also new, the i Touring now mirrors the s Touring in terms of equipment, receiving ABS brakes, foglights, leather trim, and 17-inch wheels. The '08 MAZDA3 distinguishes itself from the similarly priced Civic by offering more power, wider dimensions, and more precise handling, but lags significantly behind its biggest competition in fuel economy.
Unique styling also sets the MAZDA3 apart from the crowd, particularly in the cool and funky hatchback, with its athletic stance and chiseled lines. Add to that the hatchback's standard rear spoiler, side sills, and body-colored grille, and this compact wagon aspires to and attains much sportier abilities than its practical cargo-carrier dimensions might indicate.
Engines vary according to trim designation. All MAZDA3 i trims carry a 148-hp, 2.0-liter DOHC inline-four engine, paired with either a standard 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic with manual mode. Equipped with variable valve timing, this powertrain averages 24/32 mpg, well below that of the Civic, but far better than more expensive, sportier rides. MAZDA3 s trims are fueled by a 156-hp, 2.3-liter DOHC inline-four, paired with the standard 5-speed or optional 5-speed automatic. As expected, this engine delivers slightly lower fuel economy, at 22/29 mpg, but test drives have clocked 0-60 times in 8 seconds. Many owners wish for the impossible – a bit more horsepower as well as better fuel economy.
The '08 MAZDA3 delivers more power than many in its class. Though it won't win any drag races, it competes confidently on the highway once it gets up to speed. Critics and owners alike prefer the manual to the automatic, which takes a while to hunt for the right gear. The manual, on the other hand, shifts smoothly. This being a compact car, initial acceleration can be sluggish and noisy.
Ride & Handling
The '08 MAZDA3 rides on a Volvo S40 platform with a sport-tuned Macpherson front strut and multilink rear suspension. Thanks to its performance tuning, the MAZDA3 feels lively on the road, with more direct driver feel than other compacts in its class. Despite its relatively stiff ride, critics say bumps and jolts in the road rarely intrude on passenger comfort. Though it lacks the engine power of a true sports car, its zippy handling, easy maneuverability, and tight turning ratio might make drivers think otherwise.
Its long wheelbase and wide stance also improve overall handling, with test drivers reporting a solid, reliable feel behind the wheel. Reviewers and critics praise the precise steering and responsive braking. Moving up through the trims increases tire size and, with that, road sensation and exterior noise, but otherwise the cabin remains quiet. Owners notice some tire slippage in slippery or icy conditions.
Cabin & Comfort
The i sedans start at the bare-bones level, without any power features or air-conditioning. However, tilt and telescopic steering, wheel-mounted audio controls, and a CD player with MP3 jack are all standard. The i Touring adds power accessories, cruise control, and sport seats. The s Sport includes leather trim and standard foglights, as well as a rear spoiler on the hatchback. The s Grand Touring offers the most bells and whistles, with rain-sensing wipers, automatic xenon headlamps, and heated leather seats. Options for all trims add a navigation system, satellite radio, Bose sound system, and a sunroof. A Sport Package, standard on the hatch and optional for the sedan, includes side sills, body-colored grille, and 17-inch wheels.
Both hatch and sedan models of the '08 MAZDA3 measure 177 inches, with a long wheelbase of nearly 104 inches. As such, drivers report a spacious and comfortable front seat, with a decent 41 inches of legroom, while rear passengers suffer somewhat with only 36 inches. Some critics wonder why, with such a long wheelbase, more room is not devoted to passenger space. Despite the cramped rear seat, footwells provide plenty of room, and headroom accommodates 6-footers, even in models equipped with the sunroof. Rear seats split-fold nearly flat in a 60/40 configuration with a fold-down armrest.
The sedan's trunk is rather small, at only 11.5 cubic feet, so consumers tend to opt for the more functional and versatile hatchback, which starts at 17 cubic feet and stretches to 44 with the seats down. The liftgate opens wide, but both reviewers and drivers complain that the awkward handle lacks enough indentation to grab it properly. One of the biggest complaints across the spectrum of drivers is the lack of a remote trunk release on the key fob. The hatch comes with a cargo organizer, and other storage compartments are located throughout the cabin, including a large glove box.
Owners seem pleased with the ergonomics of the dash and appreciate the tilt and telescopic steering. The recessed three-gauge cluster not only lends a sporty style to the interior, but on a functional level is easy to read. Except for the base model, front seats adjust cushion and seat height manually. While most owners praise the front seats' support, some complain that the seat bottom does not extend far enough for maximum leg comfort, and a few professional reviewers say the seat backs feel hard on long trips. A few professional reviewers felt too much cheap plastic marred an otherwise classy interior.
Adding side impact and side curtain airbags on the s trims for 2008 improves the safety record of the MAZDA3, but most reviewers and owners feel these should be standard on all trims, along with ABS brakes. Without the side airbags, both sedan and hatchback earn average ratings in crash tests, with four stars going to frontal impact and rollover tests and three stars going to side impact.
As the base models, all i trims come with only dual front airbags and a tire monitor, with the option to add ABS brakes. s trims feature the new side airbags and 4-wheel ABS brakes, with the option to add traction and stability control. Standard on the s Touring and Grand Touring, traction and stability control come highly recommended by owners, particularly for those living in snowy climates.
What Owners Think
Aside from the lack of a key-fob trunk release and minor complaints about low fuel economy, most '08 MAZDA3 owners rave about its performance, looks, and maneuverability. A tight turning radius keeps city drivers happy, while the sporty suspension and zippy handling allow for a bit more pizazz on the open road. Though professional reviewers question some of the hard plastic materials in the cabin, owners find the interior to be upscale and stylish, along the lines of a BMW. For an affordable price, drivers feel the MAZDA3 delivers good value, confident power, and a satisfyingly energetic performance. As one driver puts it, the compact is “small and economical without being a lame ride.”
CarGurus owners feel the same way. Many would prefer better mpg ratings, less noise, and a bit more kick to the engine to rectify its sluggish acceleration, but these minor complaints pale in comparison to how much fun drivers have in the '08 MAZDA3. Owners particularly like its responsive and reliable braking power, which, when combined with its sporty handling, solid suspension, and precise steering, wins drivers over during test drives against the more sedate Civic and Jetta.
by Ann Jackman
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