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2015 Mazda3 i 4-Door Touring Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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2015 Mazda3

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

        • SEE ALSO; Mazda Buyers Guide


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2015 Mazda3

Mazda has not been the first manufacturer to come to most people's minds when they are thinking of a new compact sedan or hatchback, but that is changing. And changing for the better for both drivers and Mazda thanks to the newest Mazda3.

The Mazda3 is the company's best-selling car, and stands out from more mundane competitors by virtue of elegant styling, an unexpectedly large amount of interior space and comfort, and fine driving experience. Fuel economy is good as well, with EPA estimates at 30 mpg city and 41 highway. It's a premium car at a decidedly non-premium price, with base prices (at the time of this writing) from about $17,000 through $26,000 depending on model. Changes from 2014 to 2015 are minimal, mostly realignments of standard and optional equipment. No change needed, and don't mess up what works.

As is common in the compact class, the Mazda3 is offered in both four-door sedan and five-door (four doors plus a rear hatch) hatchback body styles, with the hatch positioned above the sedan. The chassis design is the now-standard transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive layout with fully-independent suspension. There are two engine choices, both four-cylinder: "i" denotes 2.0-liters, with 155 horsepower, while "s" means 2.5 liters, 184 hp. Each may be matched with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. There is an entry-level SV trim level for the sedan, with progressively more-equipped Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring models for both body styles.

I drove an i Grand Touring hatch with a stick about a year ago, and have just finished a week with an i Touring sedan with the automatic. In between, I had the opportunity to drive an s Grand Touring hatch with the stick at a journalists' track day at (appropriately) Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (MRLS). In any of those forms, the Mazda3 is a lovely and well-balanced car. The 2.5-liter engine makes for a noticeably quicker car, but there is a price differential and the 2.0-liter works plenty well enough in everyday driving. Sedan versus hatch is mostly a personal preference and that boils down to real trunk versus open area (but covered with a shade) under the hatch. I like the cargo/passenger versatility and hatch access of a five-door hatchback; YMMV… the sedan is one of the best-looking small cars around and the trunk balances the long nose well. With over 30 mpg easily attainable in mostly non-highway driving and the promise of much better on the open road with either engine and a fun-to-drive character even with the automatic, the Mazda3 stands out in the compact class.

My Mazda3 i Touring sedan test car had 11,000 miles on it. One journalist mile is equal to two or three civilian miles -- but the car was still tight, solid, and free of squeaks and rattles.

APPEARANCE: A transverse front-engined, front-wheel drive chassis layout doesn't necessarily mean a "cab forward" design. The Mazda3 sedan is, technically, a three-box sedan -- but you won't find any boxes when looking at it. It's all cohesively flowing lines and curvaceous shapes, with classic long-hood, short-deck proportions. Unlike most small sedans, the passenger compartment does not look proportionally larger when compared to its bigger sibling, in this case the Mazda6. The large five-sized grille, with chrome trim underneath, and long, low headlamps fit the character well. Both front and rear overhangs are short, so the front splitter is relatively safe from damage. It's not merely cosmetic, as there is a partial undertray for under-car air management for fuel economy and stability at speed. The trunk is short enough, and the C-pillars curved enough, that it is almost invisible from some angles. Don't worry, though -- there's plenty of luggage capacity inside.

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2015 Mazda3

COMFORT: Inside, the Mazda3 is as stylish as outside, but function is not sacrificed to fashion. Despite the large expanse of windshield, glare is a non-issue thanks to careful design and dark, anti-glare textured soft-touch material used for the upper part of the instrument panel and doors. Even the "base" SV sedan gets pushbutton start/stop, power door locks, full carpeting and floor mats, a tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel, and USB and jack audio inputs, and more standard. Sport level and above adds Bluetooth, cruise control, full instrumentation, and the Mazda Connect™ infotainment system (touchscreen with multi-function controller as in expensive German cars, and integration for popular streaming music apps, RDS and HD radio, text messages, and automatic 911 notification) and other amenities.

With Touring, you get leather wrapping for the steering wheel rim, shift knob, and parking brake lever plus upgraded seats. Which are better than expected in the compact class. Good design and attention to ergonomic detail mean that the Mazda3 in mid-level trim is not merely a long list of features in indifferent packaging -- it compares well with more-expensive German brands in comfort, build quality, and refinement. The Mazda Connect interface is simple and intuitive. Rear seat room is very good considering the car's modest external size, with knee room helped by the front seat design. Width, bench contour, and a moderate central tunnel mean that it's best for two adults, not three -- as is true of most sedans of any size. The trunk is larger than external appearance suggest, and a space-saver spare lives under its floor.

SAFETY: The Mazda3's structure protects passengers with all of the currently required safety features and technology, including multiple air bags, safety cell and crumple zones, dynamic stability control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Brakes are four-wheel disc, with antilock, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. At i Touring level a blind-spot monitoring system and backup camera are standard.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Mazda's Skyactiv™ technology is a systems approach to increasing efficiency and safety. Part of increasing efficiency is controlling weight. Less weight requires less power to move, which means less fuel used and lower emissions, a win-win situation if the engineering and construction can be done correctly. Here, they are. Even in modest i Touring automatic trim, the Mazda3 is well-balanced and a pleasure to drive. A lightweight but rigid unibody structure that still provides crashworthiness is the key. To that add a compliant but perfectly-tuned MacPherson/multilink suspension that provides comfort without isolation on the road and is still completely capable at higher speeds. Electrically-assisted steering need not be video game-controller numb, see here for details. Mazda has said that the soul of an MX-5 Miata lurks inside every one of their cars, and that's true. And not far below the surface.

PERFORMANCE: The 2.0-liter engine is not the performance model. The 2.5 is noticeably quicker and not necessarily much if any thirstier. Still, with 155 horsepower (peak at 6000 rpm) and 150 lb-ft of torque (peak, at 4000 rpm) and good low- and midrange thanks to variable cam phasing, and the car's sub-3000 pound weight, it's quick enough for everyday life, even with the automatic. A high 13:1 compression ratio allied with direct fuel injection means efficiency, on unleaded regular at that. With low low ratios and overdrive fifth and sixth (0.599!), the six-speed automatic allows good acceleration up to common highway speeds and good fuel economy. I never saw the EPA 41 mpg highway, but I wasn't driving at 50 mph on level ground. Mid- to high-20s around town and low- to mid-30s on the highway are nothing to complain about! Figure a low-30s overall average for most people and driving conditions.

CONCLUSIONS: A fuel-efficient compact sedan will not be a boring transportation appliance if it's a Mazda3.




SPECIFICATIONS

2015 Mazda3 4-Door Touring

Base Price $ 20,645

Price As Tested $ 23,410

Engine Type DOHC aluminum alloy 16-valve 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection and variable cam phasing

Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.

Horsepower 155 @ 6000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 150 @ 4000 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 106.3 in. / 180.3 in.

Curb Weight 2918 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 18.9

Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P205/60R16 91H Bridgestone Ecopia ep422 m+s

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA, DSC

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 30 / 41 / 31

0 to 60 mph est 8.5 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Cargo Mat $ 70

Soul Red Metallic Paint $ 300

Technology Package -- includes: dual-zone automatic climate control, moonroof, CD player with MP3 capability, Bose® 9-speaker Centerpoint audio system, Sirius/XM satellite radio $ 1,600

Delivery Charge $ 795