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2007 Mazda 3 GT Reveiw

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    Ten years ago, the 1997 Protegé drove well, but wasn't exactly a spectacular car. The hottest model, the LX, had a 1.8-liter engine that developed 122 horsepower, and cost $17,200. As for the base SE model, it made do with a 92-hp, 1.5-liter engine and 13-inch wheels.

    Today, the 3 GT with the Luxury Package tested here costs $25,245, has a 156-horsepower 2.3-liter engine, and offers equipment that used to be reserved for high-end luxury cars: bi-xenon headlights, 17-inch wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers and heated seats. My, has time changed, yet our needs for transportation didn't really change all that much...

    Fun to drive
    The 3 always shined by its sporty character, whichever version or engine that's sitting under the hood. The 2.3-liter unit is peppy and reaches its redline very rapidly. The shift lever begs us to be abused, and the generous amount of torque makes for interesting acceleration and passing times.

    The suspension is a little hard, but it's the price to pay for the road manners of the GT version. The car hangs on in curves, and the precise and direct steering entices us to divert from the commute to work in order to have some fun in nearby countryside back roads.

    The 3 isn't perfect, however. The engine spins vigorously at highway speeds, and we often try to shift into a 6th gear that unfortunately doesn't exist. As a result, the cockpit gets noisy. As for fuel economy I averaged 10.3 L/100 km, which is better than what I achieved in a Mazda3 GT that I drove last year.

    Well-finished interior
    Lots of plastic, but its texture is pleasing. The dashboard is pretty with its silver trim pieces. The front seats are comfortable and offer good lateral support for those spirited driving moments. The audio and cruise control buttons are perfectly placed on the steering wheel spokes. The glovebox is so deep that a school binder can fit in it.

    The climate control rheostats (included with the Luxury Package) are big but thin and without rubber surrounds; they are hard to grasp and adjust with gloves on during winter. In addition, I'm starting to get tired of the blazing red numerals in the instrument panel, which is a little too aggressive. And I'm probably starting to sound like a broken record with Mazda s, but the 6-CD changer can't read MP3 files, something that will have to be addressed soon.

    Rear-seat access is a little difficult, since there isn't much room to get your feet in. Once in place, however, two adults will be comfortable, but not three. As for the trunk, its opening is ridiculously narrow, and there is no handle to open it; you'll get your hands dirty.

    Changes for 2007
    To stay competitive from a safety standpoint, Mazda added side airbags and side curtains to the 3, which is good news. Let's just say that with the new Civic, the company didn't really have a choice...

    There are also new colors, such as Phantom Purple and Phantom Blue (the color of this test car). There are also new wheels and other esthetical changes, like a new grille and bumpers.

    A Mazda3 GT with the Luxury Package retails for $25,140. That's not quite a deal for a compact sedan. Do we really need xenon headlights? And how about the money you'll have to fork out when replacing those 205/50R17 tires? Of course, the GX starts from $16,795, but for the same price, I might choose a Mazda6 GS-I4 with the Sport Package. Not to mention that the 6 usually has lower interest rates.

    There is plenty of competition, obviously. A loaded Ford Focus ZX4 ST costs $22,569. A Honda Civic EX costs $22,430. A 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS with the Sun and Sound package costs $23,698. Only the Nissan Sentra can outprice the 3 tested here, being the SE-R version with the Sport Package that retails for $25,998.

    The Mazda 3 is powerful, fun and cute. It's a car that overflows with energy and loves to be driven hard. But the price is starting to get high for a compact; the $19,995 GS is well-equipped and more affordable, which is more reasonable.