2009 Mazda 3 5-door

This one was a head scratcher. It didn’t help that we drove the Mini Cooper half an hour later and saw how a small hatchback should be done.

The car is good value for money at a base price of $19,295. The front seat was a little snug on my oversized butt, which really shouldn’t cross it off your list. The sunroof was small and the trunk will only hold one body with the seats up (2-3 with them down). The headroom was fine. Rear passenger space is small but okay for short trips or short people, your choice. It had four cup holders up front, and four in the rear, though I can’t imagine ever remembering to use the ones in the door panels.

The controls are easily reached, easy to use, and pretty standard. It rides well, corners well, and has a decent amount of power. Smooth was the word we kept using. The stick is in the right spot and feels solid, but the 2-3 shift can be tricky if you’re in a hurry. Might have just been our test car.

And if we hadn’t tested the Mini Cooper, we’d have been singing the praises of this little wagon. But it lacks the directness of the Mini. The joy. The point and shoot nature that Mazda knows how to do so well (think MX-5 Miata and RX-8 as current examples).

We’d have loved to try out the Mazdaspeed 3 version, with its 263 horsepower and its reputation as a giant killer, but procurement can be challenging when you’re standing next to a man dressed like a Third World dictator. Maybe next time.


I sat in the back for this test. Zak the Intern had been begging me for weeks to let him ride up front, and I hoped that maybe it’d keep him from horking up the chicken curry we had for lunch.

“Seatbelt, my young apprentice!” the Generalissimo barked at him.

“Sorry, sir.” Zak strapped himself in.

“Safety first!”

“What about ladies?” I asked.

“Also first!”

“And doing no harm?”

“First again!” He stopped pointing at the ceiling with his index finger and stomped on the gas. The little four-banger revved right up. We peeled out of the lot and onto what had once been a quiet neighborhood before we arrived.

“It’s a twenty-five zone, sir,” I reminded him.

“Only when it isn’t!”

“Pretty sure it always it.” I shook my head. We’d had this discussion before, and it always ended with a cheesy grin beneath his mustache and a four-alarm migraine in my head.

We slid around the first corner we came to. Zak screamed. He could hit the high notes like Mariah Carey. Then he went ultrasonic when a dog bolted out in front of us and the Generalissimo tested the ABS.

“Works like a charm!”

Zak steadied himself, hands planted on the dashboard.

“You okay?” I asked.

The Generalissimo hammered the throttle, throwing Zak back into his seat and choking off whatever it was he wanted to say. I stuck my head between the seats and looked him over.

“Sir, pull over.”


We took another turn hard enough to scare the tires into screaming alongside Zak. I tilted left as the lateral g’s tried to chuck me out the far side. Only the seatbelts kept me in place. Unfortunately, Zak’s stomach lacked a restraint device.

I wiped the sick from my glasses.

“Now can we pull over?” I asked.

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