The 2008 Mazda3 takes the compact car to an entirely new level of refinement and quality. The Mazda3 experience is best summed up in two phrases: fun promised, fun delivered.

Available in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels, the small Mazda is propelled by a 2.0L four-cylinder engine or a 2.3L four-cylinder power plant. The engine is bolted to either a standard five-speed manual gearbox or optional four-speed automatic (for the 2.0L engine). A five-speed automatic is an available choice for the 2.3L motor.

 Underway, the car is fast, quite responsive and dramatically different from the average experience in a small sedan. With the standard manual driver's seat height adjuster, it is comfortable and a blast to drive. This sedan is connected more like a sports coupe than a four-door sedan.

The Mazda3's impressive handling and control attributes can be traced to the vehicle's robust underpinnings, allowing Mazda engineers to optimize the suspension setup for both road-holding control and a comfortable ride.

Inside the cabin, the Mazda3 engineers produced a roomy interior that is both upscale and sophisticated. The placement, touch, feel and operation of displays, controls and switches were purposefully considered and designed. The driver enjoys good outward visibility, while the interior is full of surprises: a glovebox large enough for a laptop computer, a purse, a two-liter beverage bottle or as many as 16-CD cases. Numerous cupholders are placed throughout the cabin.

Rear seat passengers receive the same treatment. Hip, shoulder and knee room was increased, making the rear seat inviting and not cramped, something not usually said about vehicles in this market segment. The standard 60/40 split folding rear seat adds space to the good-sized, well shaped cargo area.

EPA fuel economy:

City: 24, Highway: 32 (with 2.0L

engine and manual transmission)

Base MSRP:

$13,895