Can it get any better?
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That's the question Mazda engineers had to ask themselves when they set out to make a followup version of the wildly popular Mazda3 sedan.
I've said in the past that this is one of the finest cars on the market overall, with its great looks, sportiness, exhilarating driving presence and terrific price tag.
So did it get any better?
It very well might have, but if it didn't, you can surely say that it's at least as good as the predecessor model.
The automotive marketplace was first blessed with the Mazda3 in 2004.
It offered great fuel economy, a refined interior quality and a stunning design that vaulted it into the category of luxury car, with a nonluxury sticker price.
For the 2010 version, Mazda rolls out a more aggressive design.
In fact, Mazda's sporty RX-8 coupe seems to be the design inspiration for the new model, which now has front fenders and a smiling shaped grille that are part of the most dramatic departures from the previous model.
Once again, there is the four-door sedan or the five-door hatchback to choose from.
The 3 also comes back with its strut front and multilink rear suspensions, which can be credited, at least in part, with the great ride quality.
Its dimensions are pretty similar, with curb weight up only slightly, to 3,000 pounds, wheelbase and width unchanged, overall length extended by three inches, to 181, and height up by less than an inch.
Thankfully, the stiff chassis still does a superb job of getting rid of rugged road effects, and the ride remains very quiet.
Also, on the inside, not much has changed size-wise, either.
Front seats are adequately roomy, while the rear seats are a little snug for taller passengers.
The new curved dashboard offers a nice presentation of the gauges and is well organized.
You may choose from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 148 horsepower or a new 2.5-liter that generates 167 ponies.
The smaller power plant is in the Mazda3 i and is linked to a five-speed manual transmission, but a five-speed automatic is optional.
The larger engine is found in the Mazda3 s, and that engine is can also be found in the Mazda6, which is another awesome car.
That engine is linked to a six-speed manual, but a five-speed automatic is optional, and that's what our tester had.
Pricing is still quite reasonable, falling in the bandwidth of about $16,000 - $26,000.
If you are a Mazda fan, and it's hard not to be these days with the brand's outstanding product mix, you can't help but appreciate the style, driving dynamics and value of something like the 3.