THE RIDE: Four-door, five-passenger 2008 Mazda3 s touring compact sedan.
DOWN THE ROAD: A carryover from 2007 with a major redesign due next year, the Mazda3 is an athletic, sporty and fun-to-drive car. We averaged 23 mpg in city/highway driving, which is admirable for a nifty little car.
TECH & PERFORMANCE: Available in eight trims, our Mazda3 was equipped with a 2.3-liter inline-4 cylinder engine with variable valve timing. It develops 156 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 150 pounds-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. Mated to a 5-speed manual transmission, the front-wheel-drive car gets an independent MacPherson strut, coil springs and stabilizer bar for a front suspension and an independent multilink rear system, also with coil springs and stabilizer bar. An electro-hydraulic power rack-and-pinion steering guides the Mazda3 to its destination. For a compact sedan, the 11.8-inch ventilated front and 11-inch solid rear disc brakes seem sized just right.
LOOK & FEEL: Sitting on a monocoque unit body, the front fascia shows off a body-colored grille with a Mazda insignia, halogen headlights and fog lamps. A sole chrome exhaust tip and lift gate spoiler with brake lights decks up the rear. The front doors have 2.3 etched on the body sides, right behind the side-turn signal repeater lights. Our cabin came with a black interior, which meant stylish black-type electro-luminescent gauges and controls. Also standard are cushy leather seats, 60/40 split fold rear seats and three-spoke leather tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel. While there is a dual storage area under the center armrest, there are cup/bottle holders in front, door pockets and a rear center armrest with two cup holders.
SAFETY FIRST: Standard features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, stability and traction control, and tire pressure monitoring system.
OUT THE DOOR: $19,375, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges. The $890 moonroof/in-dash 6-disc CD changer is an excellent deal.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, P205/50R17 all season; wheelbase, 103.9 inches; length, 177.4 inches; weight, 2,780 pounds; fuel capacity, 14.5 gallons; city, 22 mpg; highway, 29 mpg.
WHY DIG IT: Entry-level buyers will appreciate the zippy drive offered by the Mazda3. Priced at under $20,000 (some trims are even less), this dependable compact sedan is a steal.