The Inside

The Mazda3's cabin is another aspect that shines, especially for a car in its fifth year on the market without an update. Again, the Cobalt didn't compare in 2005, so it still doesn't, and I rate my Mazda3 Grand Touring's interior above that of comparably priced Corollas, Focuses, Hyundai Elantras and Nissan Sentras, even though they've been updated more recently. The Civic is in the ballpark, but nothing beats the Rabbit. Perhaps it's the Mazda3's liberal use of piano-black trim, especially on the Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Mazdaspeed trim levels. Gloss is bad on most surfaces, but this lacquer look is rich. Where other models cling to their fake metal trim, the Mazda3 manages to look high-quality using plastic.

The interior isn't perfect, though. The center storage console could be larger, and its armrest could be farther forward for people who sit closer to the steering wheel. I find the gauges well-illuminated and legible, but they don't have the high-quality look occasionally found in modestly priced cars. The optional electronics are outdated, too. The Bose stereo performs well, but its display doesn't have enough characters to show text effectively, and the optional pop-up navigation system is all but obsolete in terms of its interface and controls.

I drove the car from Chicago to Detroit and back, and I was pleased with the leather-seat comfort, but the optional heaters only turn on and off. Most seat heaters give you at least a low and high setting, if not more. Otherwise, front and rear headroom is generous. Front legroom is on the small side, but at 6 feet tall I found it workable; on the interstate trip, I wished I could move the seat back more, and if it weren't for the clutch pedal I would have been happy to sit farther back all the time. Backseat legroom is quite good for the class, but you won't mistake the Mazda3 for a midsize car.

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