Satisfying Drivetrain

What you get for your diminished mileage is respectable but not exceptional acceleration. Though the 2.3-liter four-cylinder (to be replaced in the 2010 by a 2.5-liter) is pretty robust, the Mazda3 is among the heavier compact cars out there, in both hatchback and sedan forms. The optional automatic transmission's five speeds aren't enough to make the larger engine super quick or efficient. The smaller engine's optional automatic is a four-speed, which remains relatively common in this class.

My car had the standard five-speed manual transmission, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The stick is within reach and is a decent height. The clutch pedal is livable from day to day without being too soft. I certainly wouldn't mind having a sixth gear, but the engine has enough torque at low rpm to allow a standing-start launch without too much clutch slippage. Overall, for an engine of its size, the 2.3-liter's power delivery is pretty even. You have to rev the Civic's wee four-banger to higher rpm to get a move-on, but the payoff is way better mileage.

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