I betcha two months ago -- heck, two weeks ago -- most people didn't list fuel economy as a top concern in a new vehicle.
One well-placed hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico and the damage done to oil refineries has changed all that.
Suddenly, it's 1973. Locking gas caps, lines to get gas, topping off the tank, people leaving without paying for gas, it's definitely enough of a sense of deja vu.
But thankfully, this isn't 1973, at least when it comes to driving a fuel-efficient small car.
The Mazda3, available in four-door and five-door configurations, in two trim levels.
There's the ''i'' trim level, which comes only in four-door configuration and a 2-liter double-overhead-cam four-cylinder making 148 horses.
Jump up to the ''s'' and you get a choice of four or five doors, and a standard 160-horsepower 2.3-liter mill.
Both engines mate to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic that can be shifted manually.
For 2005, Mazda has introduced the SP23, which takes the ''s'' four-door and transforms it into a mini-luxury car, at a price just over 24 grand.
The car's luxuriously sporty interior is intoxicating.
The seats and steering wheel are trimmed in leather. The audio system? Bose, with seven speakers and a six-CD in-dash changer. There's a pollen filter in the climate control system, as well as heated front seats.
Options included an easy-to-use navigation system, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, a power moonroof, side-impact airbags, high-intensity headlamps, tire-pressure monitoring system and a security system.
But the ultimate luxury was the car itself, whose fine handling and sporty manners make this a great little four-door sedan. The motor has plenty of power, while returning decent mileage.
Unfortunately, my heavy foot prevented me from achieving the EPA estimates, but this Mazda3 is just so much fun on your favorite country road, it's hard to resist.
The feeling is enhanced by the car's sturdy-feeling structure, excellent brakes in addition to its rev-happy engine.
The front seats were very firm, but proved supportive in corners. A driver's seat height adjustment, lumbar support and a tilt-telescopic steering wheel make finding a comfortable driving position easy.
Front seat legroom is ample, but rear-seat room isn't as generous. Under-seat foot room is good, however.
Ride is small-car firm, but never uncomfortable, thanks to the car's relatively long wheelbase. It's a pretty quiet car as well. Only the car's aggressive engine note spoils the solitude.
The noise that was welcome emanated from the stereo. The Bose system was quite good, and Sirius satellite radio is available as an option.
The navigation system is a large screen that rotates up from the top of the dashboard and is quite intuitive to use. Thankfully, it can be closed, so as not to be a distraction.
Trunk space seems larger than its rating suggests. If optimum cargo room is needed, opt for the five-door.
The only real complaint that could be leveled against this great little car is the electroluminescent gauges, lit in red, which are hard to read in the daytime.
That's a quibble, as the Mazda3 SP23 outguns most of its rivals with ample power, inspired handling and lots of luxury features for an affordable price.
It's enough to make the Mazda3 No. 1 in anyone's book.
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