Mazda3 delivers good looks, modest price, driving flair
The new Mazda3 is better looking than its predecessor, gets better gas mileage and still delivers driving flair, a fair accomplishment for a modestly priced family sports sedan.
First, Mazda reshaped its former gaping smiling nose with this more Audi-like big grille and swept its profile lines back enough to make the tested 4-door sedan look almost as good as the hatchback version. This is a low, lean, lithe sedan at just shy of 2,800 lbs. in this brilliant “soul red” test car.
Like other automakers, Mazda also has grown its formerly subcompact to compact dimensions, with a 106.3-inch wheelbase and 180.3-inch long body. The result, a car that handles four adults easily and offers a fair sized, 12.4-cubic foot trunk.
That’s the practical side, then there’s the fun stuff, like how the car performs (although still highly efficient) and all the tech features that you get.
Mazda uses what it calls Skyactiv technology to provide a high-revving, high-performing four-cylinder engine that also remains surprisingly fuel stingy. The base car, and the tested Grand Touring, top trim level for the base i models, features a 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G I4 that creates 155 horsepower. That’s tops, says Kelly Blue Book, for base models in this segment. Next in line are the Mitsubishi Lancer and Kia Forte at 148 horses.
Acceleration is crisp with a 6-speed manual transmission that easily glides through the gears. But even with the perky acceleration, the Mazda3 is rated 29 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. I got an amazing 39.5 mpg in about 70% highway driving, much higher than the trip computer estimated too. More power is available in the “s” models that feature a 2.5-liter I4 that creates 184 horsepower and still is rated 28 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. Your call!
As much fun as the power provides, handling is Mazda’s forte, sorry Kia. The 3 is sporty with quick turn-in at corners and a smooth linear feel to the steering that is downright fun. Steering feel is moderate and the car corners like a go-kart. Best in class in my book.
Ride is good too, thanks to the long wheelbase. Plus the 3’s MacPherson struts up front and multilink rear suspension do a good job of controlling ride and giving the car a quality feel. Frost heaves are still noticeable, but the ever increasing potholes are a minor disturbance.
Braking is handled by vented front discs and solid rear discs and are effective. Stability and traction control are standard. Hill Launch Assist is standard too, which helps the car hug hills as you shift manually so there’s no backward roll on an incline. The GT model comes with 16-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, although this one was equipped with Bridgestone Blizzaks, which explains why grip was so good in the sloppy weather we had during my drive.
Inside, the red test car featured black leather seats and dash with red stitching to give it a decidedly upscale and sporty look and feel. There’s gloss black trim on the dash and doors and console, plus carbon fiber-look trim on the gauge hood and door armrests, around the power window buttons. There’s even some carbon fiber-like trim on the steering wheel hub.
I like the white on black gauges and the red ring around the speedometer to highlight the main gauge. To its left is a digital tachometer and odometer, and to the right is the digital trip computer and fuel gauge. The steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope number.
Dead center of the dash is a big 7-inch navigation/radio screen, a touch-screen that is easy to see while remaining just below the sightlines out the windshield. Overall visibility is good too.
That screen requires a heavy a touch to activate certain features and you must take off winter gloves to get it to do anything. That’s a bit distracting while driving, although you can use the console-mounted mouse knob. It’s not easy to deal with as you drive either, but I applaud the radio/home/nav buttons by it that at least get you to the desired screen quickly.
Seating is extremely comfortable with well contoured front seats that give good hip and back support, while the rear seats are flatter, yet comfy. Leg and headroom is good in the sedan.
The front seats also have 3-level heat, standard on the GT, along with 6-way power driver’s seat and a manual lumbar support. The leatherette trim and seating also is standard here, along with a sunroof, rearview camera, 12-volt outlet and body colored side mirrors with integrated turn signals.
Heating is quick to come on and easy to access with large knobs and other buttons are moderate sized and simple to find and use, even when wearing gloves.
Mazda delivers a fine stereo too with 9 Bose speakers, HD radio, that rear camera and navigation all in one system. Amazingly the Touring and GT have a blind-spot warning system in the mirrors too.
The test car also added nice door sill scuff plates ($125), a cargo mat ($70) and the cool metallic red paint job ($300 and worth it). Add those to the base $22,745 price and $795 delivery charge and the test car hit $24,035. That puts this into the mid-range of compacts, but a base Mazda3 I SV with manual transmission lists at $16,945 and an automatic equipped model at $17,995, so economy models are available and will still perform the same.
There also are Sport and Touring models before you get to the tested Grand Touring model. The horsier Mazda3s models start with a GT with automatic transmission at $24,595.
Remember, if you formerly drove a Camry, Mazda6 or Honda Accord, the Mazda3 has grown to be about the size as those cars were just 4-6 years ago. So if you’re replacing an older model, this compares well to those. Meanwhile those popular models are approaching large car status as they’ve grown in length and weight.
From a driving and performance perspective the Mazda3 is really one of the top options and values on the market, and now it even looks racier. Fun!
FAST Stats: 2014 Mazda3i 4-door Grand Touring
Hits: Good looks, power, ride and 6-speed manual gearbox, plus excellent handling. Delivers excellent gas mileage, has comfy seats, a sharp looking interior and dash with big nav/radio screen, comfy supportive heated seats all at a reasonable entry price.
Misses: Touch-screen requires too heavy a touch and not easy to dial in while driving. Don’t care for the console knob tuner and volume control on console is awkward location.
Made in: Hofu, Japan
Engine: 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G I4, 155 hp
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 2,781 lbs.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Cargo: 12.4 cu.ft.
Base Price: $22,745
Dealer’s Price: $22,481
Cargo mat, $70
Soul Red metallic paint, $300
Scuff plates/door sill trim plates, $125
Test vehicle: $24,035
Sources: Mazda, http://www.kbb.com
Photos: Courtesy of Mazda