Enjoying a little zoom-zoom in Mazda’s not-so-little 3 | SummitDaily.com

Enjoying a little zoom-zoom in Mazda’s not-so-little 3

Special to the DailyUp front, the 3's broad, thrust-forward nose and tapered hood gives the vehicle a domineering stance, complete with a large mesh air intake, large, metal-shrouded fog lamps and cat eye-shaped headlamp clusters.

After several months’ worth of test vehicles that are admittedly beyond the range of many High Country regular folks, it’s nice to see that much of the technology and class of the higher-end models is now appearing in entry-level automobiles.Case in point: the sporty, stylish and absolutely comfortable Mazda3, which starts at just over $17,000 – one-fifth the price of a very-over-the-top Jaguar we’ll be profiling in a few weeks, and about half the retail of everything else we’ve driven since March.One fifth the price, one fifth the car? Not exactly. Mazda, itself a member of the extended Ford family (as is Jag), has crafted a next generation compact that’s attractive, versatile and garners an impressive 32 miles per gallon on the highway.

Designed to appeal to both the urban car tuner crowd and those seeking a cool-looking, affordable runabout, the 3’s contemporary looks put it in similar company as speedy compacts such as the Pontiac Vibe or the Toyota Matrix. For the money, I’d go with the Mazda.And I say that not just because I have an admitted affinity for the Mazda line (I learned to drive in a 1978 Mazda, owned a sturdy 1983 GLC for many years and appreciated my friends’ early ’90s 323). The new 3 offers great fit and finish, a futuristic but not necessarily overwhelming interior and a mix of handling and braking that puts it on par with many of those more expensive rides.Powered by a peppy 2.3 liter, 16-valve DOHC four-cylinder, the front-wheel-drive 3’s engine produces 148 horsepower – not quite enough to smoke tires, but certainly powerful enough for good freeway takeoffs and remarkably high cruising speeds.

That came in handy as we mixed things up with the 3, spending some time in the saddle on the straight-shot Colorado Autobahn that is I-25 north to Fort Collins, as well as some high-speed turns on Golden’s Lookout Mountain. Both produced very impressive results. On the freeway, the Mazda had plenty of oomph and cruised smoothly (although tire noise was a little heady in some of the concrete stretches); tucking into the curves, the 3 handled with the speed and agility of a race car and stuck to corners. Throw on some grippier winter tires and you’d have a fine, general purpose mountain machine. Our S-model tester, registering at $19,340, featured stylish, five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels and low-profile, performance-oriented Eagle RS-A P205/50 R17 tires, plus amenities ranging from a power moonroof and halogen headlights to an in-dash six-CD-changer stereo.Up front, the 3’s broad, thrust-forward nose and tapered hood (slightly reminiscent of the new BMW 5-series, oddly enough) gives the vehicle a domineering stance, complete with a large mesh air intake, large, metal-shrouded fog lamps and cat eye-shaped headlamp clusters.

Set low to the ground, the 3’s stance gives it extra performance posture but did create some clearance issues in deep snow still left over on Front Range side streets and alleys.A sweeping, rounded side profile tapers toward the large liftgate, shrouded with an aerodynamic spoiler. Color-coded side mirrors offer plenty of visibility; in the rear, a set of round, chrome-accented brake and turn signals continue the car’s futuristic design, with a chromed exhaust port keeping things sporty.Inside, a comfortable mix of fabric and textured plastic gives the 3 a deceptively luxurious finish, with nice touches such as a leather-wrapped, ergonomic steering wheel (complete with audio and cruise controls and a comfortable range of tilt and telescoping adaptability), plus a leather-wrapped shift knob. The interior is fully carpeted, including custom carpet floormats with the Mazda logo.

The Mazda 3’s instruments are contained in deep tube-like clusters and took a bit of getting used to: the numbers for the speedometer and tach are arranged in the 6 to 1 o’clock position and require a bit of mental recomputation when you first drive the car. Bright orange/red backlighting makes them easy to see; it’s a color scheme repeated throughout the car.Shiny metallic-plastic highlights on the mid-dash surround an LED screen providing radio and clock functions (and a cheery “hello” message every time you start the car); the sound system controls are equally unorthodox, with the volume control knob in the middle and scan and tone knobs positioned beneath. The 3 features loads of storage room (the glove box is big enough for a laptop computer, if you can believe it) and the cloth covered seating is supportive and comfortable, highlighted with a two-tone color scheme.Overall driving position is low and comfortable, although longer-legged drivers may feel their right knee banging up against the plastic edge of the center console, as I did.

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