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Mazda is an eccentric and relatively modest Japanese company that started off making cars in the 1930s, got heavily involved in weapons production for World War II, and eventually shifted focus back to automobiles and engines. Always in the shadow of Toyota, Honda and Nissan, the Japanese Big Three, Mazda nearly folded in the late seventies, leading to a partnership with Ford, who until 2010 owned up a third of the company. In recent years, their "Zoom Zoom" philosophy has brought Mazda out of the doldrums, establishing it as a well-known player with a reputation for budget-friendly cars that are fun to drive.

Mazda's smallest car, the Mazda2, is also the strongest tie the company still has with Ford. Sharing a platform with the Fiesta, the 2 is a small, minimal-frills economy hatchback. The Mazda3 sedan and hatch are the company's bread and butter, available with a 2.0-liter or 2.5-liter four-cylinder motor. The Hatch is also available in the sporting MazdaSpeed3 trim with a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder that generates 263 horsepower. The new flagship sedan, the Mazda6, has just been introduced to good reviews for its reasonably contemporary styling and sporty driving dynamic. The company's other sporty offering is the longtime favorite MX-5 Miata. With its small, light body and perfect balance, the tiny roadster, available with a cloth soft top or folding metal hard top, is considered by many motoring enthusiasts to be the benchmark for pure driving pleasure.

Since no lineup is complete without crossovers, Mazda offers the 3-based CX-5 with two engine options, including the SkyActiv 2.5-liter with 185 horsepower. The CX-9 ups the ante with seating for seven while still offering enjoyable driving characteristics uncommon in the segment. The Mazda5 is part mini-van part station wagon with the space and convenience of the former, but the manageability of the latter.
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