PITTSBURGH (NewsRadio 1020 KDKA) — Look through the glut of compact cars that are on showroom floors today. There’s a lot to like and a lot alike. Most deliver gas mileage in the 30’s, a very few break 40 mpg, they are easy to drive, comfortable, have a lot of accessories like steering wheel controls, heated seats, nav systems and are good solid transportation that will get you from point a to point b. Not a lot of difference. Right?

Maybe not so right…Mazda has this little compact that comes in a 4 door sedan or a 5 door hatchback called simply the 3. What the 3 does so well is be different from the crowd. Car manufacturers are paying a lot more attention to high gas mileage, fun to drive vehicles now but with the 3 Mazda can stake claim to being ahead of the pack for years in this growing class of vehicles.

After undergoing a redesign a few years ago,  Mazda has toned down the big old smiling front bumper into one that has a confident wry grin. Walking around the 3 sedan that I drove a few weeks ago you see nice flowing lines that move easily from front to rear. There is a nice athletic build to the front wheel  wells and fenders and the shortened rear deck shows the Mazda sports car pedigree . The 3 in either its sedan or 5 door configuration is a very attractive vehicle

Front door openings are ample to get in and out of for a car of this size and once in there the interior is interesting with liberal use of curves and fascia to keep it from looking boring. Gauges are pretty easy to read with the nav system and radio indicator on two screens on the upper part of the dash, closer to the driver. Controls are very intuitive and are easily accessible to driver and passenger. The hatchback features a wide lift gate and a fold flat rear floor with a ton of cargo room. The sedan a spacious trunk.

Under the hood the Skyactiv engine technology does not sacrifice one ounce of driving fun for a drop of gasoline. The 2.0 liter direct injection high compression four cylinder engine cranks out 155 horsepower to the front wheels  with all of the low end torque you can use coupled to the new 6 speed automatic. Mazda’s new tranny is responsive, fun and either in manual or automatic mode, a solid crisp shifting matchup for the engine. A 6 speed manual is also available.

Jumping on the gas pedal getting onto the highway, the Mazda snapped to it quickly getting from 0-60 in 7.9 seconds. A nice highway cruiser, it really started to shine when I got it on the country roads. The electro hydraulic power steering might be the best unit in any car this size with incredible road feel and handling without a lot of harshness. Slip it through the curves and the 3 just hugs the road. The 4 wheel disc brake stop the 3 surely and swiftly and feel  solid. Again a driving experience that feels more sports car than compact.

The Mazda 3i grand touring sedan I drove included the blind spot monitoring system, tech package, steering wheel controls, 8 way power driver’s seat with leather  trim,  side air curtains and lots more. Sticker price: $24,995. The best part is theSkyactiv technology  gives you 28 city 40 highway and 33 combined miles per gallon. The 3 gets a four star overall crash rating from the federal government with a five star rating on the frontal part of the test.

Mazda has a strong following among small car buyers for a few reasons dating back to the Wankel  rotary engine. Fun to drive, good handling, exciting cars that are unique and deliver great bang for the buck. With the Skyactiv engine technology you can add 40 mpg to the reasons to get into one of these cars and take it for a ride if you are thinking of buying a compact. One of the trademarks of Mazda is the smile on the front of the car…which was very, very  similar to the smile the Mazda 3i sedan put on my face while I was driving it around town.

For more information: http://www.mazdausa.com/MusaWeb

Reviews, news about cars and the people who drive them, interviews and tips on how to get more out of your driving experience all on Drivetime with Vinnie Richichi and Rob Pratte Saturday mornings 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Newsradio 1020 KDKA. Also listen to Vinnie on The Vinnie and Cook Show Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan.

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