“More power.” The ubiquitous yet always annoying saying that makes every car guy vomit in his mouth. “More power.” Usually it is the type that can’t handle more power that say it, you know what I mean, the type that has to make up for their short comings. It could be a freaking Golf Cart, “More Power!” A lawn mower, “More Power!” Somewhere, Tim “The Tool-Man” Taylor is laughing maniacally. I will agree and say that sometimes, it is not always the answer (we all know the answer is the Miata). However, sometimes, power does help.
I drove the all new third generation of Mazda’s Vaunted Mazda3 last year. It was the Mazda3 i Grand Touring model with the 2.0L SkyActiv four cylinder. While I enjoyed the car’s fuel miserly ways and responsive chassis, I felt as if it need something “more”. That “more” the Mazda3 i needed was power. Mazda offered the 2.5L SkyActiv engine for those of us who wanted the grunt but what good is all that power in a compact car without a manual gearbox? Thankfully, Mazda rectified that issue with the 2015 models.
Just throwing this out there, the Mazda3 hatchback is arguably the best looking hatchback in the segment. Do what you will with that. Mazda’s style lately has been downright sensual with the curvaceous lines on their bodies. They’re clean and simple yet they do so much to add to the profile and overall look of the car. The Blue Reflex Mica exterior does well to show off those lines and creases too. The standard 18” alloy wheels do well to give it a more mature and elegant appearance but I feel they could have been styled a bit nicer to suit the sporty look of the car. The size of the wheels do make the car appear smaller than it is and tighter around its wide looking body.
The roof is not very tall in person so the Mazda3 hatchback looks more stout and aggressive. It sports LED daytime running lights that the 2.0L models do not have, adaptive HID low beams that will turn with the steering wheel, body colored rear hatch spoiler, and LED combination taillights. The 18” wheels are standard fare as are the heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, a moon roof, and dual exhaust tips with bright outlets. My test car came optioned with the Appearance Package ($1,750) which added an even more aggressive front air dam, rear bumper skirt, side sill extensions, door mirror caps, and replaces the standard rear hatch spoiler for an even more aggressive unit. All of which comes painted in piano black and contrast well with the blue exterior.
I noticed something that I failed to mention in my review of the lesser powered brethren. The car doesn’t feel like you are in a front-wheel drive compact when you sit in it. The dash is lower than most compacts and you can see some of the hood in the 3. On a lot of compacts that I’ve driven, you are forced to deal with a high dash and a quick drop off where you do not see the hood. I understand the visibility reasons for it but the cars are harder to place on the road when compared to the Mazda3.
Much of the interior materials and quality of the materials is the same as before and still untouchable for a car in this class. My gripes before regarding the faux carbon fiber and faux aluminum remain. Mazda should exercise some restraint in this department and not try to do too much to an otherwise simple and clean layout. The leather quality on the dash, door cards, and seating is class best and the plastics don’t feel hard or brittle in nature. The optioned almond leather interior is exquisite for anything in this class and looks far more expensive than it is. Instead of the faux leather on the “i” models, the “S” models, like my tester, get real leather.
The Mazda3 S comes with a unique gauge cluster with a central tachometer with integrated speedo, a gentle nod to the out-of-production RX-8. The lesser models are equipped with a central speedometer and two digital screens on either side with a small tachometer and information cluster. The Mazda3 S has two information screens on either side instead. It cleans up the appearance of the gauge cluster and adds to the upscale nature of the car. The central dash is almost a direct copy of something from Germany. Here’s looking at you Audi. The infotainment screen is fixed in the dash and does not fold out of the way. The HVAC is simple and easily committed to memory with clear digital display read outs for temperature and fan speed. The steering wheel is fully adjustable with tilt and telescoping capability. The 6-way powered driver’s seat with manual lumbar support is comfortable and supportive.
The passenger’s seat is adjusted manually but both are heated. The side bolsters do well to hold you in all but the most serious of maneuvers but they do not feel constricting in any regard. The front seat occupants are given a copious 37.6” of head room and 42.2” of legroom and can be easily configured to suit a broad range of drivers. The rear seats are spacious with the driver’s seat set to my desired position. According to Mazda, the Mazda 3 has 35.8” of legroom in the rear, which when looking at it, doesn’t seem possible but sit inside and you’ll feel quite comfortable. The only note is that my knees touched the driver’s seatback but there was ample foot space and the rear seats are well supportive as well. The rear bench will not, however, hold you in place when cornering. The head room in the back is a tenth of an inch from the front and accommodated my 5’11” frame quite comfortably.
The power adjustable heated mirrors are large and provide a good field of vision as does while the blind spot monitoring system will catch whatever you may have missed. Mazda offers a rear view camera as standard equipment in the Grand Touring models, which, to be honest, is rather unnecessary in a car of this size. Rear visibility is adequate as the sloping hatch and slanted rear glass does hurt it in that regard. The rear seats do fold down almost flat while keeping the seat bottoms in place, which many compacts don’t allow. With the rear seats folded down, the rear cargo space is a seasonably roomy 47.1 cubic feet but is reduced to less than half with the rear seats up to 20.2 cubic feet.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story as the sloping rear hatch looks to take a chunk out of the car’s cargo volume. A squared off rear would help with increasing the cargo volume and storage capability as well as even visibility with a larger rear glass. Sometimes style is more important than function because I will be the first to admit that this is a great looking car. I can also see the other side of the argument that it may put off a few would be customers if they require the precious few cubic feet. After all, hatchbacks allow for versatility and hence their entire reason for being.
The infotainment system is easy to use. The menus take a while to figure out but you tend to get the hang of it. The controls for the system consist of a rotary dial knob and ancillary buttons. Phone connectivity is a cinch and the system will upload your contacts and your text messages for you. It will even read/show your text messages but I found that it is just easier to check out your phone when you are stopped. USB connectivity is standard fare and the phone and other radio functions can be accessed through the steering wheel buttons. The single most useless piece of equipment on this whole car is Mazda’s HUD unit that flips open when you turn the car on. It is reminiscent of the cigarette lighter plug-in versions and cheapens everything else about the car. It is an unnecessary expense added to the price of the car and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off through the menus. Keep it simple, Mazda. Keep it simple.
To get straight to the point, the 2.5L in the Mazda3 is the same unit that is in the CX-5 and Mazda6 that churns out 184 horsepower and 185 lo-fi of torque at 5,700 RPM and 3,250 RPM, respectively. While it is a paltry 29 horsepower and 35 lb-ft difference from the 2.0L and the 2.5L SkyActiv engines on print, the real world difference is night and day. The 2.0L Mazda3 weighs just 126lbs less than the 2.5L model with the manual gearbox but it feels just the opposite. The 2.5L is gutsier and gives the car so much more get-up and go. You notice the punch more on corner exit and launching from a stand still as the inner tires tend to fight for grip and some torque steer is sent upward to the driver.
On a highway or when you are just cruising along, the larger engine feels much like the lower displacement version and is mostly unheard of. Rev it out and the engine makes itself known in a louder fashion that I would have liked. It isn’t a droning or raucous sound but the engine sound isn’t as isolated as some others in the segment. It is smooth to rev, for a four cylinder in this category, and will rev out if requested but it prefers to be in anywhere between 3,000-6,000 RPM for its most spirited driving. The 2.5L happily filled the void that the 2.0L left in my heart. The added power satiated my hunger….well, until the next Speed3 comes out.
The 6-speed manual’s shifting action is as smooth as butter with well-defined shift gates precise movement. Of all the manual economy cars I’ve tested, the Mazdas are the only ones to do gearboxes properly, especially considering that it is a cable shift linkage! The clutch engagement is smooth and pedal work is light but I did get some rattle noise with some clutch foot work. When I let go of the clutch more than I needed to, the door pillar would shudder a little but it only happened on rare occasions, especially when stopped on a hill. The brake pedal and floor-hinged gas pedal are in an ideal placement for heel-toe shifting to provide plenty of excitement for the inner race car driver in us. The electronic steering rack lacks any tangible feel but is precise and turn in is ideally weighted with a smooth transition instead of any delay or fight back.
The car rides very smooth but you do hear some road noise emanating from the tires. Only the worst potholes upset the car but it does well to isolate you from the imperfections in the road. The car does push (understeer) but it lets you know that it is losing traction so you can avoid it rather easily. The low dash and overall visibility makes the car very easy to place on the road and to drive hard. Turn off the traction control, (for safe driving, please observe and obey all laws, CF Blog does not condone any irresponsible driving) and let your senses take over to have the most fun. Even in rainy conditions, the car is easy to control and with its all-season tires doing well to provide the car with traction. In the dry, the tires do well enough to grip to the road but will let you know otherwise if you get too ambitious.
The Mazda 3 S is rated for an EPA estimated 26 MPG City and 35 MPG highway with a combined average of 29 MPG. It is down 3 MPG in the city and 5 MPG on the highway to the 2.0L but that is a sacrifice I’m happy to make for a bit more power! I tend to reset the fuel economy numbers in the cars when I receive them and this Mazda was no different. I averaged 30.1 MPG in town with light driving and saw 28 with spirited. On the highway, I was able to get anywhere between 32 MPG to 33.7 MPG but with the engine spinning close to 3,000 RPM from anywhere between 75 MPH to 80 MPH, that was all I could muster. A taller sixth gear would have helped significantly but the argument can be posed that I could have been going slower. If you’ve ever driven on I-95 in CT, you’ll understand why.
This car deserves serious consideration. It looks like nothing else on the road and is as useful as it is good looking. Once you hear the price, you may think otherwise but with other highly contested cars in this segment, it is perfectly inline once you consider all that you get. Sure the engine is more powerful, the infotainment is good and the space is adequate but the material choice and build quality go a long way. If you have more expensive tastes and sweat the details, you should seriously look at this car. If you don’t mind more plastic and cheaper materials, there are others in this segment that are for you. This is not to push the car on you; some people simply don’t care about any of that and just require the essentials.
Having said all that, the MSRP of my tester comes out to a total of $28,385. That includes the base price of $25,545 for the “S” Grand Touring 5-Door model, plus a $70 cargo mat, $100 rear bumper guard, $125 scuff plates/door sill trim plates, the $1,750 appearance package, and the unavoidable and every so annoying $795 delivery fee. You get a lot for the price and that includes a savings at the pump with the great fuel economy. I recommend all the cars that I like and this is certainly one of them. In this segment, nothing thus far has catered to the inner driver and had so much utility and luxury and ease of use. Seriously, check it out!
Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Lara L. Stauff / Car Fanatics Blog