Not every vehicle I test drive can be a fully-loaded luxury car. Some are just good old-fashioned, reliable, economical, affordable sedans, like this week's Mazda 3.
It's your basic compact sedan, with one significant difference: This $18,000 car is really fun to drive. It's got a lot of get up and go, with its 2.0-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine pumping out 148 horsepower (more than many of its competitors). And that's plenty of power for this small car that likes to go.
This is a car I would actually consider buying and could actually afford -- unlike many of the vehicles I get to test drive.
The Mazda 3 is sporty and fun to drive. It craves the curves, zipping along equally well on twists as it does on straight-aways. The car feels connected to the road with responsive steering and handling, thanks in part to the four-wheel independent suspension. And if you have to end the fun and stop quickly, electronic brakeforce distribution evenly sends brake power to the wheels to prevent nose dives.
Equipped with variable-valve timing, the Mazda 3 gets good gas mileage — 22 miles per gallon city/30 mpg highway, with the automatic transmission and 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway with a manual transmission.