2008 Mazda Mazda3


$5,160 - $7,188

2008 Mazda Mazda3 Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2008 Mazda Mazda3 was new.


Performance: 8.1

The 2008 Mazda3 leaves test drivers aghast with its superb handling dynamics. While critics favor the more powerful s Models over the i Models, most contend that whichever trim drivers choose, it's sure to please.

  • "Entertaining yet sophisticated in demeanor, the 2008 Mazda 3 doesn't look, feel or drive like an economy car. If you're shopping for a small, inexpensive sedan or hatchback, this car should be at the top of your list." - Edmunds
  • "The easy-to-drive Mazda3 handles more adeptly than most rivals. The automatic transmission delivers quick, smooth responses. Performance with the larger engine falls short of some sporty compacts, but it will satisfy most drivers." - Cars.com
  • "In s trim, the Mazda3 is a sporty compact sedan with the soul of a Miata." - The Auto Channel
  • "Mazda has worked hard to make this car useful, space-efficient, economical and pleasant across a broad range of driving situations." - New Car Test Drive
  • "Of course, it suffers when compared to our long-term Mazdaspeed 3, with more than 100 less hp and ft-lb of torque and all-season tires instead of meaty high-performance rubber. But when pitted next to the top sellers in this class, the Honda Civic (non-Si) and Toyota Corolla, it easily offers the sportiest driving of the bunch." - AutoWeek

Acceleration and Power

Test drivers find that the Mazda3 i model's 2.0-liter engine offers adequate power, but favor the s Model's 2.3-liter for its sprightly performance. When equipped with an automatic transmission, the 2.0-liter Mazda3 sedan has an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 23/31 mpg, while 2.3-liter models should net 22/29 mpg.

  • "The base 2.0-liter engine works just fine in this car when competing with similarly-sized engines from Ford, Toyota, Honda and Kia. Performance driving is more enjoyable with the larger 2.3-liter engine, which offers more low-end torque but also consumes more fuel." - Kelley Blue Book
  • "The 2.0-liter engine costs less and is a good choice if you're concerned largely about fuel economy. The engine itself is great, but the Mazda3 itself is a little heavy, so you need all the power you can get. ...  The 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine uses all of Mazda's latest technology to deliver substantial power over a wide range of rpm. Its tractable mid-range power helps deliver good throttle response without the need to shift gears frequently." - New Car Test Drive
  • "Both of these engines are smooth and punchy and provide the 3 with plenty of giddy-up -- particularly with the larger 2.3-liter." - Edmunds
  • "The [2.3-liter] engine could use a little more juice, but what car in this class couldn't? The gearbox is certainly better gated than our Mazdaspeed, but still isn't as crisp as we'd like." - AutoWeek
  • "The i sedans are OK around town but lack midrange punch, especially with the automatic transmission. The s models are peppier overall. A manual-transmission hatchback did 8.0 sec 0-60 mph in our test, but in everyday driving it doesn't feel that quick." - Consumer Guide
  • "The automatic transmission delivers quick, smooth responses." - Cars.com

Handling and Braking

Reviewers find that the Mazda3 handles surprisingly well for a compact economy car. In fact, auto writers consistently praise it for providing responsive driving dynamics, as well as jar-proof suspension technology.

  • "We found the MAZDA3's handling to be simply superb, with incredibly tight steering that responds instantaneously to input." - Kelley Blue Book
  • "Consistent with its upscale interior, the Mazda 3 tends to drive like a much more expensive sport sedan. Thanks to its performance-oriented chassis tuning, the 3 rewards the driving enthusiast with quick and communicative steering, a lack of discernible body roll and lots of grip on twisty blacktop." - Edmunds
  • "That the ride quality is on the firm side helps give the 3 its responsive handling, and it hugs corners well, considering. You will get rattled around slightly when encountering bumps and potholes, however. On the expressway, the ride is composed and the cabin stays nice and quiet." - AutoWeek
  • "The Mazda3 is one of the best all-around small sedans made because of its suspension tuning. ...  Run it hard into a corner, and it will exhibit more body roll than a more stiffly-sprung sports sedan, but at the same time it sticks very well, thank you, and is great fun to drive. It's also more comfortable than any small sports sedan I can think of, or any other small car in its class or even a class above." - The Auto Channel
  • "All 3s have firm suspensions that show good composure except over large high-speed dips and swells. Impact harshness increases with wheel size; 17-inch tires on s models register some sharp bumps, but the ride is never punishing. ...  Braking on all is stable, but be sure to get ABS." - Consumer Guide
  • "This Mazda offers a fat steering wheel with leather grips, and it ain't a tease. Effort builds predictably, intuitively. Turn-in is sharp and reflexive, almost Miata-like. The suspension offers git-'er-done roll stiffness, and ride motions are Germanic in their discipline." - Car and Driver
  • "The chassis stays balanced and predictable right to the limit of tire adhesion, and there seem to be no surprises in the way it handles. The limited-slip differential helps keep both front tires delivering optimal power right to the limit, and it carves through the corners in a way that's distinct from its all-wheel-drive competitors." - New Car Test Drive
  • "This Mazda3 featured quick, but rather heavy, variable-assist power steering. Handling was good, despite the 60/40 front/rear weight distribution. The ride was firm but supple enough to easily deal with road imperfections. ...  Stopping distances were short, and the brake pedal had a linear action that allowed consistently smooth stops." - MSN

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