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2006 Mazda3

Martha Hindes

Mazda3 Interior

From lean to loaded, Mazda has a numbers game going. Its compact Mazda 3 comes in four- or five-door versions, plus 2.3-liter "s Touring" and "s Grand Touring" editions for both, that take this small car from entry level to downright luxurious. If entry level sounds too minimal, but a downsizing is the way to go, this could be the one. Its five sedans and three hatchbacks leave a lot of room to maneuver. As expected, this smallest of the Mazda line of vehicles, sports the brand's penchant for a flat-out run, with "Zoom Zoom" standard on all of them, according to the sporty, "driver's car" auto maker.

It's a time of more upgrades than upheaval for Mazda3 for 2006, with tweaks in performance leading the list along with a new 2.3-liter "s Grand Touring" model that captures top line features. That trim level keeps the heated leather seats, automatic rain sensors, auto headlights, trip computer and climate control that graced the special edition SP23 for '05. Bose audio paired with moonroof and six-disc in-dash CD is optional.

This year's Mazda3 models also gets two new colors, with Copper Red Mica replacing Lava Orange and, on 2.3-liter engine versions, Whitewater Pearl Mica bouncing Rally White off the circuit. AC versions on all get pollen filter and outside temp on a console display.

Both inline four engines are all aluminum to eliminate agility robbing weight. The improved base 2.0-liter, generating 150-horsepower, ekes out 28 city/35 highway miles in manual mode, or 26/34 automatic, but is only on four-door models. The 2.3-liter kicks out 160-HP punch for both four- or five-door versions, but drops a couple of fuel economy points. The $950 auto trans options are four speed for four-door models, five for five-doors. An earth-friendly Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (P-ZEV) version is available in five stringent emissions states: California, New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont.

Despite it diminutive overall size, Mazda3 uses interior space wisely, wrapped in a sporty exterior package, with plenty of available safety features. With base prices ranging from $13,710 to just under $20,000 (manual), we think the numbers add up.