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2014 Mazda3 Review By Steve Purdy

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By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

Claiming 41 mpg on the highway the compact Mazda3 sedan has achieved amazing efficiency without turbocharging, hybridization or diesel power. They’ve done it with what they call “SkyActiv” technology, a no-holds-barred application of aerodynamics, engine technology, lightweight materials, chassis dynamics and every other tidbit of efficient engineering they could find.

This week’s test car is the Mazda3 “Grand Touring” with a list price of $25,085 including $795 delivery charge. For that we get the full SkyActiv treatment, 16-inch alloy wheels shod with 205/60 all-weather tires, moonroof, leatherette sport seats (six-way power adjustable on the driver’s side), heated mirrors, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry with push-button start, rear seat armrest, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, halogen headlights and DRLs, rear deck spoiler, touch screen display with mulit-function control knob on the console, navigation system, Bose speakers, HD radio, steering wheel mounted controls, trip computer, hill launch control, and all the power and connectivity stuff we now expect on all cars.

The base car without many of the extras, but with SkyActiv (which you get with all Mazda3s) shows a list price of about $17,500 with manual transmission. Add about a grand more for automatic. You can have a sedan or a hatchback. Add a couple grand for the hatchback over the sedan.

Most of the car is new for 2014. They’ve added considerable basic content in order to keep up with all the other freshened and redesigned cars in the compact class – and there are plenty of them. Engines are massaged a bit for more fuel efficiency, a new electronic interface is added and some electronic safety features, not available in other compact, are optional with the Mazda3.

The touch-screen that manages the navigation and audio controls sticks up from the top center of the dash like a little billboard. It looks like a bit of an afterthought but doesn’t obstruct forward visibility. Most of the functions can be controlled with the little knob on the console like much more expensive cars. I don’t know of any compacts that offer this great little device. It works very well. The navigation system’s controls and procedures are fairly easy to manage and the map is the best I’ve seen in terms of keeping its detail as we zoom out.

The safety features referenced above include blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts, lane departure warning, forward collision warning and a collision mitigation system that can brake the car without driver action at low speeds. These are included with the Touring trim levels and above.

Interior design continues to be simple and unpretentious with some improved materials and a more upscale ambiance overall. I’ve always admired Mazda’s ability to make interiors simple and attractive without being tawdry. Interior volume is about the same as competitors, that is, a tad bigger than the previous generation car. Throughout the industry as compacts are redesigned they get bigger, usually with more rear seat legroom and this one is no exception. Rear seats split 60/40 and fold nearly flat but the releases are inside the trunk and have no feedback at all. Pull the knob and nothing appears to happen. Go around to the rear door and pull the seatback and you find it unlatched. Mazda ought to just install a spring to facilitate the release, or move the release to the seatback where, in my humble opinion, it belongs.

A choice of two engines power the Mazda3, a 2.0-liter unit in most and a 2.3-liter for the “S” model. We’ll describe here 2.0-liter since that’s the one we tested and save the other for a later review. The 2.0 features high compression (13:1) direct injection and plenty of other technology while it makes a good 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. Edmunds testing showed a 0-to-60 time of an adequate, but uninspiring, 8.3 seconds. That’s not much different than the others in the compact class. The EPA rates this car with the six-speed automatic transmission at 41 mpg on the highway, 30 in the city and 34 combined on regular fuel. We managed an average of 34.5 this week with a variety of driving conditions and, of course, not trying to maximize mileage.

Not having both trims side-by-side it’s hard to describe the difference but we are sure that the 2.5-liter car would be much quicker and more gratifying to drive having 15% more power and EPA fuel ratings just 5% lower for this 2,800-pound car.

Evident with this new compact is Mazda’s skill at making modest power feel sporty with excellent suspension tuning, crisp steering feel and firm suspension damping. The suspension design is conventional but they’ve again done a good job of balancing comfort and sportiness. Full throttle acceleration, charging into corners and generally spirited driving comes natural to this car, though the unenthusiastic driver will be happy with it as well.

Mazda’s warranty covers the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

Although to me the Mazda3 is not an eye-catcher it is a good-looking car if you pay attention. It breaks little new ground aesthetically but has a much more aggressive look, modern, swoopy character lines and squinty headlight and taillight bezels. This car lends itself to dressing up with aftermarket parts with or without performance enhancements.

So, as you test drive the many choices of compact cars out there seeking “the one” with fun-to-drive character don’t miss this one. And, if you want to spend a few extra bucks, you might consider the Mazda3 S model with the hotter engine and a manual transmission.

Zoom, zoom, indeed.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved