Two Strikes Against

The two strikes against the 2009 Mazda3 are its crash tests and its gas mileage. With the crash tests, the problem isn't the results, it's the lack thereof. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has never subjected a Mazda3 with side-impact airbags to a side crash test. The airbags are now standard, but all we know is that the car's score without them is Poor. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration likewise hasn't side-crashed an airbag-equipped Mazda3.

As for mileage, the Mazda3's doesn't look bad at a glance, especially if you're accustomed to large cars, but it's relatively low for its class. The smaller engine, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, gets an estimated 32 mpg on the highway with a five-speed manual, and the optional 2.3-liter (the only engine available in the hatchback) rates 22/29 mpg with the manual. In comparison, the Honda Civic hits 36 mpg, and the Toyota Corolla, Cobalt and Focus manage 35 mpg. The new XFE version of the Cobalt hits 37 mpg, and even the Volkswagen Rabbit, which is 1 mpg worse in city driving, gets 30 mpg on the highway.

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