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2016 Mazda Mazda3 S 5-Door Grand Touring Review by Carey Russ


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2016 Mazda Mazda3

In any form, Mazda's compact Mazda3 stands out in the compact class

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

            • SEE ALSO: Mazda Research and Buyers Guide


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2016 Mazda Mazda3

If 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, that is changing. And for the better for both drivers and Mazda thanks to the newest Mazda3.

The compact Mazda3 is the company's best-selling car worldwide, 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 and performance are good as well, thanks to Mazda's Skyactiv™engineering. The Mazda3 is a premium car at a decidedly non-premium price, with base prices (at the time of this writing) from about $18,000 through $27,000 depending on model. As was the case last year, changes from 2015 to 2016 are minimal, mostly realignments of standard and optional features in favor of more standard equipment. No change needed, and don't mess up what works.

Body styles are sedan -- "4-door" -- and hatchback -- "5-door", with the hatchback placed above the sedan equivalent. The chassis design is transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive with fully-independent suspension. Trim levels are Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. 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, except for the s Touring in either body, which is automatic-only. And since the 2.5-liter is the premium engine, there is no s Sport.

I've driven most variants since the current model's debut two years ago, with an i Grand Touring hatch with stick and i Touring automatic for week-long tests and a manual s Grand Touring hatch at a journalists' test day at (appropriately) Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (MRLS). I've just finished a week with a 2016 s Grand Touring 5-door with the automatic. Yes, the extra power is noticeable and useful when quick acceleration is a safety issue (a pox on short highway onramps!) and does add to the fun factor. And bottom line. Surprisingly, there's not much penalty in fuel consumption - I got 30 mpg for my week in the s GT auto hatch, 30 for the i Touring auto sedan, and 31 for the i GT hatch. No scientific comparison in identical conditions there, but close enough. Choice of body style is a personal decision. Some people prefer a sedan, some like the versatility and access of a five-door hatchback. I'll happily admit to being in the latter camp. Mazda's "KODO Soul of Motion" design language gives both body styles a look far above their humble compact classmates and excellent suspension tuning and steering responsiveness plus the fine engines makes the Mazda3 a winner in any form.

APPEARANCE: If, technically, the Mazda3 hatch is a two-box design, it looks more like a front-engined, rear-wheel drive sports coupe than a transverse front engine, front-wheel drive hatchback. There are no straight lines or flat surfaces for boxes anywhere on its lithe, sculpted shape. 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. Prominent fenders suggest a sports car, and the tapered passenger cabin ends in a visor spoiler above the rounded hatch. Dr. Kamm might disapprove, but the coefficient of aerodynamic drag is a low 0.28 so Mazda is doing something right. Stability in gusty winds is good, too.

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2016 Mazda Mazda3

COMFORT: At premium s Grand Touring level, standard equipment is high. Pushbutton start/stop and un/lock, a tilt and slide moonroof, power driver's seat, stitched leather upholstery, navigation system, AM/FM/XM radio, CD, external audio player connection, and integration for Pandora and Stitcher internet radio (via your Bluetooth phone) plus audio delivery of text messages and tweets and voice control for much of that are all part of the deal. And more… Control of the electronics is via a well-marked knob and buttons on the console, just like in expensive German cars but simpler here. The heads-up display displays a bright image not on the windscreen but unobtrusively on a transparent panel on top of the instrument cluster. Fit and finish and materials are all first-rate, with soft-touch materials and honest plastic trim of "piano black", textured "carbon fiber look", and matte silver in various places. Instruments and controls are well-placed and easily seen and used. Front seat comfort is very good, and three-level cushion heating adds comfort in cold weather. The tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel has a leather rim and controls for audio, information, and cruise control systems. Visibility to the front and sides is very good, with a rearview camera helping when backing. The rear seat is spacious for the car's size, and contoured for outboard passengers. Cargo space with the 60/40 split rear seatback up is good, and even better with it down, plus easy access via the rear doors. There is a space-saver spare under the cargo area, not a can of sealant.

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, a backup camera, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Brakes are four-wheel disc, with antilock, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. At s Grand Touring level a blind-spot monitoring system with cross-traffic alert are standard. It has a five-star safety rating from NHTSA and Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS.

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. 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. It's not seriously sport-oriented like the late Mazdaspeed version of the previous generation, but it's quite capable on the road. Or at higher speeds on the track. 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: Both engines used in the Mazda3 share basic architecture and engineering -- aluminum alloy block and head, dual overhead cams activating two intake and exhaust valves per cylinder with variable cam phasing and direct fuel injection. That allows a high 13:1 compression ratio, for maximum extraction of energy from a lean fuel/air mixture. Careful engineering allows that fuel to be unleaded regular. The result is fine performance and fuel efficiency. Compared to the 2.0-liter, the 2.5 develops its maximum torque and horsepower at lower revs. Maximum horsepower is 184 at 5700 rpm; maximum torque is 185 lb-ft at a low 3250 rpm. Which means a healthy midrange, just what you want for easy driving, and less need for shifting. Yes, the stick is more involving and so more fun for those of us with that preference, but the automatic has little if any negative effect on performance or economy and less stress in traffic. There is a "Sport" mode, with higher shift points, and manual shifting can be done via paddles behind the steering wheel arms. D is perfect most of the time, with S or, better, manual mode on the fun roads.

CONCLUSIONS: In any form, Mazda's compact Mazda3 stands out in the compact class.

SPECIFICATIONS

2016 Mazda Mazda3 S 5-Door Grand Touring

Base Price $ 26,495

Price As Tested $ 30,270

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

Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152 cu. in.

Horsepower 184 @ 5700 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 185 @ 3250 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 106.3 in. / 175.6 in.

Curb Weight 3028 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 16.5

Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires 215/45R18 89W m+s Dunlop Sport SP 5000

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

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 27 / 37 / 30

0 to 60 mph est 7.5 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Cargo Mat $ 70

Cargo Net $ 60

Soul Red Paint $ 300

Mazda Mobile Start $ 550

Rear Bumper Guard $ 100

Scuff Plates / Door Sill Trim Plates $ 125

Appearance Package -- includes: front air dam, mirror caps, rear hatch spoiler, rear bumper skirt, side sill extensions $ 1,750

Destination Charge $ 820


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