2014 Mazda3 i Grand Touring

Mazda is firing on all rotors – ahem ahem – I mean cylinders. After stepping into a hot market and experiencing stellar sales numbers with their hotly packaged and strong selling Mazda CX-5, and their bread and butter Mazda6, the former cork producer is aiming to make a strong start to 2014 with the addition of the all new Mazda3, creating a vehicular trifecta.

If you don’t know SKYACTIV by now, Google it (because no one uses Bing). The Mazda3 is the third car (pun intended?) in Mazda’s portfolio – following the CX-5 and the 6 – to undergo full SKYACTIV transformation. It comes with a 2.0L 4-cylinder as standard equipment that is good for 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque in the “I” model, and a 2.5L 4-cylinder churning out 184 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque in the higher “s” model. A manual can only be had with the 2.0L, for now. Despite ridiculously high 13:1 compression ratios, both engines burn regular gasoline.

The Mazda3 is the third car (pun intended?) in Mazda’s portfolio – following the CX-5 and the 6 – to undergo full SKYACTIV transformation.

Power is transmitted through the front wheels with disc brakes at all four corners as well as ABS, traction, and stability controls, all of which are standard. The smaller of the two engines is good for an EPA estimated 29 mpg city (30 with the automatic) and 41 mpg highway with an all-around average of 33 mpg. The larger is estimated to give you 28 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. According to Mazda, you don’t need a separate model to get good gas mileage while sacrificing some of the nice creature features. My week long tester proved that, as it happened to be a Soul Red Mazda3 i sedan in Grand Touring trim with a manual gearbox.

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The Grand Touring trim comes with a host of standard features, such as leatherette trimmed seats, power driver’s seat, push button start, 7” navigation system, Bose 9 speaker Sound system, and a rearview camera just to name a few. Despite all that, the base price for my little test car came out to just $22,745. The optional equipment was a cargo mat ($70), Soul Red Metallic Paint ($300), Scuff plates/door sill trim plates ($125), plus the ubiquitous delivery and destination fee of $795, which brought the total to a remarkably affordable $24,035. The Mazda3 doesn’t wear Mazda’s Kodo design language quite as well as the Mazda 6 due to its stubbier wheel base; it is challenging for automakers to make elegantly-designed long-wheelbase concept cars translate to real world compacts, but Mazda did a rather decent job.

The interior in the all-new 2014 Mazda3 is worlds better than the outgoing car and is at the top of its class in quality and material choices.

In essence the Mazda3 looks like a stubbier and narrower Mazda6. The only real turn off is the size of the grille and the projector headlights that take up quite a bit of real estate on the front end. However, the clean character lines on the hood of the car and down the lower flanks on the side give it a very sculpted and athletic appearance. The rear is cleanly finished off with tapering head lights similar in fashion to those on the new Lexus GS. The trunk also has a lip built into it for a sportier appearance as well as for serving aerodynamic purposes. The “I” models come with 16” alloy wheels as standard fare, which are a little on the bland side, while the “s” models come with nicer 18” alloys.

The interior in the all-new 2014 Mazda3 is worlds better than the outgoing car and is at the top of its class in quality and material choices. The dash is draped in padded leather that matches the leather wrapped steering wheel, parking brake, and shift knob. The leatherette does a good job of making the interior feel a class higher than it really is, even if it isn’t the real thing. The leatherette is standard on the Grand Touring “I” models while the “s” models get actual leather. Overall it seems as though Mazda didn’t know what to do so they added a bit of everything inside to give the car a premium feel. They added bits of faux carbon fiber, shiny plastic pieces, and piano black accents to give it flair that doesn’t really flow with the rest of the interior, but it gets a message across.

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The instrument cluster features a central speedometer with two digital displays on either side: the left shows a small digital tachometer, while the right shows the trip gauges. While it is very utilitarian in nature, it lacks any of the flair or sportiness that the rest of car exudes. The “s” trims offer a nicer looking gauge cluster with a central analog tachometer featuring a built in speedometer much like the RX-8. A little pet peeve of mine with the new Mazdas is that the controls on the driver’s side door are not illuminated; at night it is impossible to see what you are doing, and it would be nice to have just a small LED light shining on the controls. Hopefully we won’t have to wait for a mid-cycle refresh for that.

The cabin is quite capacious with an overall passenger volume of 96.3 cubic feet, and a cargo volume of 12.4 cubic feet. On a 140 mile round trip with four adults, ranging from 5’1” to 5’11” there was enough space and it was comfortable enough that it wasn’t tiring for the occupants. The tester came standard with a moon roof which saves off an inch of head room, resulting in 37.6” up front. The rear head room is 37.5” and loses only 1/10th of an inch from non-moon roof models. The seats are on the firm side but are quite supportive and comfortable for any adventure. The driver’s seat features 6-way power adjustability with lumbar support, while the passenger’s is manually adjusted.

On a 140 mile round trip with four adults, ranging from 5’1” to 5’11” there was enough space and it was comfortable enough that it wasn’t tiring for the occupants.

Space behind the front seats is adequate but for anyone more than 5’5” their knees will likely touch or press into the back of the front seats. Rear head room was alright for a compact given my 5’ 11” stature; compacts will be compacts after all. The tall greenhouse lends to easy visibility and virtually no blind spots, and the big side mirrors further aid visibility.  The car is equipped with a blind spot monitoring system as standard, and the test car was also equipped with a rear view camera which I found to be quite unnecessary given the small size of the car.

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Mazda’s upgraded infotainment system wouldn’t look out of place in any current Audi. The central 7” touch screen sits atop the dash board and can be used via a control knob not unlike Audi’s MMI.  The smaller volume knob bears an uncanny resemblance to the larger control knob that it sits next to.  Flattery through imitation perhaps? Unlike the Audis though, the Mazda controls are easy to use and the car doesn’t suffer from a plethora of sub menus; while it is not the best I have ever experienced in this category, it is still very good.

Mazda’s upgraded infotainment system wouldn’t look out of place in any current Audi.

The steering wheel controls will allow you to do the most of the work with just your fingers such as volume control, changing the tracks/stations, and picking out the various media forms. The HVAC controls are easy to reach and can be committed to muscle memory. The system is automatic and like the Ronco ovens, “set it and forget it!” The Grand Touring models come standard with variable heated front seats with three settings with the highest making you feel like a burger in a deep fryer. The center arm rest and cubby has your USB input and audio input jacks as well as extra power outlet jacks.

The thing that gives automotive enthusiasts a soft spot for Mazdas is that they’re so fun to drive. This little 3 is no different, and carries on the long tradition of fun driving cars to come from this little Hiroshima-based company. The electronically assisted rack and pinion steering is direct and load builds linearly. So far, it has the best feel and feedback in its class, while not being overly chatty. The brakes grab immediately and the pedal response is instant and firm. The clutch is soft and easy to modulate which will be great for beginners, and is a boon to have in stop and go traffic. The pedals are spaced apart intuitively for the lost art of heel-toe shifting, and the accelerator is hinged at the floor; the shifter nicely ties it all in together.

The car does have a little bit of body roll, but the motions are very well controlled.

Your arm falls directly on the stickshift, and with your elbow resting on the center arm rest you can navigate the gates with just a flick of your wrist. The throws are short, direct, and precise, with virtually no slop, unlike some cars that cost two to three times as much. You don’t get much feel from the shifter due its cable linked apparatus, but it is enough to make you smile. The spacing of the shift gates makes it hard for you to miss a gear, and hill hold assist is quick to release the car when you get on the gas so that you do not stall. The car does have a little bit of body roll, but the motions are very well controlled. On some switchbacks in rural Connecticut I found the limits of the car sooner than I would have thought, but that was partially due to the 205 section all-season tires which struggle for grip when you are seriously flogging the car.

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The little 3 tends to understeer, but is easy to rein back in, and never lets you feel like you aren’t in full control of it. The ride is softer than what I am used to, but it’s still on the firmer side for the class; still, road imperfections don’t disrupt the goings on in the cabin.  The engine loves to rev (I don’t know a Mazda that doesn’t), but it does get buzzy and louder in the higher rpms; shift around 4000 rpm and you can still have tons of fun. With my time in the car, I managed to get around 36 mpg with mostly highway driving, while carrying four people, a few bags of clothes,  accessories stored in the trunk, and facing very stormy and windy conditions. With flogging, hard driving, and sheer tom foolery, it was brought down to around the 34 mpg mark. Not bad considering what it was put through.

Just because you have a compact car doesn’t mean you should subject yourself to a penalty box.

Should you get it? Why, yes. Just because you have a compact car doesn’t mean you should subject yourself to a penalty box. It is attractive, affordable, and most of all, fun. You can’t make any more sense than that.

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