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Consumer Reports rates Mazda3 best amongst four versatile hatchbacks

Posted Thursday, August 17, 2006

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2007 Dodge Caliber falls short in CR’s performance tests

Yonkers, NY — The Mazda3 achieved a “Very Good” overall score and became Consumer Reports’ top-rated hatchback following tests of four hatchbacks for the September issue.

The Mazda3 outsocred the Audi A3, Saab 9-2x, and the Dodge Caliber in a battery of performance tests at Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Connecticut.

“The Mazda3 is a very competent performer—both in sedan and hatchback configurations,” said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center. “The Mazda3 has a sporty character stemming from its agile handling. The roomy interior is nicely finished, imparting a quality feel. It also returned a very good 25 mpg overall.”

The sporty A3, rated slightly below the Mazda but still with a “Very Good” overall rating. The 9-2x finished further back in the ratings but still with a “Very Good” rating. Consumer Reports tested two versions of the Dodge Caliber, an all-wheel-drive R/T and a front-wheel-drive SXT, both of which finished at the bottom of CR’s hatchback ratings with “Good” overall scores.

Full tests and ratings of the hatchbacks appear in the September issue of Consumer Reports, which went on sale Wednesday, August 8. The complete report is also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org.

The September issue also includes a full test of the new Kia Sedona minivan, which achieved a “Very Good” overall score and placed third in CR’s ratings—just behind the excellent Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. The Sedona has the size and features of the best minivans and outscores competitors from Chrysler, Ford, and Nissan.

Consumer Reports recommends two of the cars in this test group, the Mazda3 and Saab 9-2x. CR does not have reliability information yet for either the A3 or the Caliber. Consumer Reports only recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s Annual Car Reliability Survey of its own subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

The Mazda3 is a fun, versatile car that is sporty to drive. Its score was hurt by notable road noise. The 3’s cargo area is small compared with that of a station wagon but it’s versatile enough to take on some large loads. The car’s 24-cubic-foot-cargo capacity, with rear seats folded, is the largest among the hatchbacks in this group. The Mazda3’s Grand Touring ($22,095 Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Prices as tested) is powered by a 160-hp, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that provides lively performance and returns 25 mpg in CR’s own fuel economy tests. The optional five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and responsively. Braking distances are impressively short.

The A3 is quick, nimble, and versatile with a roomy, but somewhat spartan, high-quality interior. But the A3 is pricey when compared with the other cars in this group, and it requires premium fuel. It will carry 19.5 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seats folded down. The A3 2.0T ($27,990 MSRP as tested) is equipped with a 200-hp, 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is both strong and responsive. The six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox delivers shifts that are both instant and smooth. The brakes stopped the car quickly but some of CR’s engineers found the pedal to be touchy.

The Saab 9-2x is a slightly altered Subaru Impreza Outback Sport. It handles nimbly and rides well, but it’s short on interior space and refinement. Standard all-wheel-drive provides extra traction for slippery conditions, but its added weight hurts both acceleration and fuel economy. Cargo capacity is the smallest of the group, with just 19 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. The 9-2x 2.5i ($25,560 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 173-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission that accelerates adequately and delivers smooth shifts. The brakes perform well.

The Caliber is pleasant and has some inventive features, but it is outclassed by the other hatch-backs. Though the Caliber has a comfortable ride, it lacks responsive acceleration or agile handling. And the interior is hurt by poorly finished materials. Cargo space measured only 20 feet with the rear seats folded. The 158-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the SXT ($19,015 MSRP as tested) was sluggish off the line. The 172-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder in the AWD R/T ($23,860 MSRP as tested) is marginally quicker. The Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) used in both Calibers is smooth. Braking distances are long, though the larger tires on the R/T helped on dry pavement.

Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Website; the magazine’s auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To subscribe to Consumer Reports, call 1-800-234-1645. Information and articles from the magazine can be accessed online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

 
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