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Mazda 3S (Grand Touring), 2009: Belew’s Car Buzz

Mazda 3S (Grand Touring), 2009: Belew’s Car Buzz 1The 2009 Mazda 3 S Grand Touring compact is done right. It’s the summation of years of automotive awards, good reviews, positive ownership experiences — and thus increased sales. Add my impressions to the list of good reviews. This Mazda was the most fun, economy car I’ve driven in a long time and overall one of the best cars I have driven in recent months.

It’s handsome, nimble, has a good road feel and is peppy. My wife had a 2002 Honda Civic and now a Honda CR-V. My son has a 2005 Honda Civic. Next in our family, a Mazda 3 maybe? Only the price is holding me back.

I read the current Mazda 3 is going to be replaced in 2010. But the adage, “If it ain’t broken, why fix it?” applies.

The Grand Touring model has auto on/off xenon headlights, automatic rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, a six-way power driver seat, leather upholstery, heated front seats and a trip computer. And I figured out how to operate all of features without reading a 400-page manual.

Mazda 3S (Grand Touring), 2009: Belew’s Car Buzz 2

The Grand Touring model also has a navigation system (with satellite radio) and a seven-speaker Bose stereo with an in-dash six-CD changer and a sunroof.

The Mazda 3 S has a 2.3-liter four-cylinder good for 156 horsepower. It also has a five-speed automatic with manual shift control. The automatic accelerated from zero to 60 mph is 8.6 seconds. Fuel economy with the automatic transmission is an estimated 22 city/28 highway.

Standard on every Mazda 3 are antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Stability and traction control are also standard on the Grand Touring model.

Especially in the Grand Touring model, the Mazda 3 features an upscale interior design that looks far richer than its price. The vehicle I drove had a sticker price of $25,000. That’s fair, but out-of-reach for this dad and his college-age son, the most likely candidate for the vehicle.

Taller drivers (I’m six feet) will have plenty room in the compact’s front seat. There’s generous headroom and legroom aided by a telescoping steering wheel. The rear seat is snug for baby car seats, but my golf clubs fit with no problem.

“Bring a crowbar,” I told the car’s delivery driver. “I am not likely to give it back all that willingly.” I thoroughly enjoyed driving this little-big car. I felt like I was in a sports car with a practical bent . . . lots of acceleration. The 2.3-liter engine had lots of zip and it seemed more powerful than its advertised 156 horsepower. In highway driving, I quickly accelerated to the speed limit. The Mazda’s exterior color, “Crystal White,” color is unique and appealing.  Who wants to drive the same colored car everyone else is driving anyway, eh?

The $25,000 is beyond my economical limit (I think a $12-15,000 vehicle is economical.) The Mazda 3’s estimated highway 28 mpg is not much below the lower-priced, 5-speed manual Korean car I recently drove and that’s the kind of gas mileage that gives credence to the increasing belief that Toyota, Honda and Nissan aren’t the only Asian manufacturers who make quality automobiles.

Warranty — Bumper-to-bumper, 3 years/ 36,000  miles; Drivetrain, 5 years /60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited miles; Roadside assistance, 3 years/36,000 miles; Roadside assistance, 3 years/ 36,000 miles; Safety — Front, front-seat side and full-length side curtain airbags; Mileage Estimates — 22 mpg (city), 28 mpg (hwy); Price (as Driven) — $25,000.

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