Defining Attributes

On the upside, the current generation's reliability has been above average to well above average, and it's one of the most fun cars in the compact class. Fun is hard to define, but it usually involves good handling, which the 3 has in droves. It goes beyond that, though. I've always found the Focus stunning in its roadholding and poise, but in my opinion the fun factor has eluded all but the discontinued SVT model. The Mazda3 has that...well, zoom-zoom thing going for it.

Also notable is the electro-hydraulic steering, which is an interesting half-step between conventional hydraulic power steering and the proliferating electric power assist: It has an electric power-steering pump that runs intermittently, so there isn't a parasitic load on the engine at all times, as happens with a conventional belt-driven pump. The full electric type is even more efficient, but most applications don't capture the natural action and feedback of hydraulic. Frankly, some are terrible (Cobalt). The Mazda3 gives you less of an efficiency advantage but doesn't sacrifice performance. If not for a little whirring when you turn the wheel at low speeds, you wouldn't know anything's different. It always seemed a reasonable tradeoff for a car with this one's personality, though differences of more than 1 or 2 mpg are a bigger problem now than they were a couple years ago. This steering approach will return in the 2010 Mazda3, which is predicted to get virtually the same mileage as this generation.

    See also:

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