- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

For fun at an affordable price, check out the 2002 Mazda MP3. This little sedan, weighing 2,725 pounds, is loaded with lots of bounce to every ounce.

The MP3 gives more meaning to Mazda's zoom-zoom advertising campaign. No one can really define "zoom-zoom," but if you get the impression this little compact offers spirited performance and handling, then the zoom-zoom mantle is appropriate to hang on this sedan.

The bounce I mentioned was my initial impression when driving the car. It has somewhat a harsh ride, indicating that its suspension will hold the road when in a twisty turn. The car is easy to maneuver, as it is only 174 inches long bumper-to-bumper ideal for slipping into a parking space.

Yet the MP3 will hold five adults with ease, and even has a three-point seat belt for the rear center-seat passenger. The trunk has ample space but about one-quarter of the space is occupied by a huge bass speaker. If needed, the rear 60/40 seat back can be lowered for carrying long objects, such as skis or fishing poles.

Under the hood is a four-cylinder engine with modest horsepower, yet with the use of the five-speed manual transmission, this car keeps close to the high-performance crowd but it will never catch them. When the ignition key is turned, a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine springs into action. Mazda engineers told me they have a Powertrain Control Module that provides better throttle response.

This module somehow recalibrates the ignition timing and airflow to get extra performance out of the 140-horsepower engine. Again, acceleration is not exceptional, however, it does produce good gas mileage: 25 miles per gallon city and 31 mpg highway.

Part of the enjoyment of a sporty car is cruising the streets and showing it off. Here is where the MP3 excels. The Mazda design team had the racing crowd in mind and even took cues from the when they drew up the MP3. The front of this car sports a large air dam plus sharp-looking headlamps. The eye is quickly drawn past the 17-inch wheels to a huge rear spoiler on the trunk lid. This causes the car to appear like its moving even when it is parked.

When it comes to new features, I don't know what the Mazda people were thinking when they installed a Kenwood audio system in this car.

The system, teen-ager loud, is loaded with power 280 watt, four channels, four speakers plus a 10-inch trunk-mounted subwoofer and plays conventional CDs, as well as the encoded CD-Rs. Aside from the deafening sound of the boom-boom bass speaker, figuring out how to change the AM/FM bands requires either tiny fingers or tweezers. The buttons are so small they can hardly be seen. The motion displayed on the system's panel is attractive, colorful, and very confusing.

The interior of my tester had fabric-covered seats with sharp-looking stripes running down each seat. Again, suggesting racing stripes.

The instrumentation is clear and easy to understand, and feature high-contrast white gauges. The three-spoke steering wheel, wrapped in two-tone leather, is a comfortable size. Operating the knobs of the air conditioning heating system is quite easy and the cup holders are convenient. Both front doors have an area for storage.

Although my tester didn't have power seats, the $18,785 did include a remote keyless system with illuminated entry. Other niceties: tilt wheel, dual map lights, rear-window defogger and leather shift knob. In other words, zoom-zoom has much going for it including an affordable price.

MOTOR MATTERS


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