Mazda has been on a roll of late with great looking redesigns for the CX-5 crossover and Mazda6 midsize sedan; and with their SkyActiv technology producing noteworthy fuel economy gains without tuning out the zoom zoom fun factor the brand is known for. Well now they hope to bring all of that together in their high volume Mazda3 compact. So let’s see if the new ‘three’ can keep the good times rolling for Mazda.
2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the Mazda3. And in that brief time it’s not only become one of our favorite compacts, but Mazda’s biggest seller. And now in its 3rd generation this 5-door sees the biggest changes in its brief lifetime, being all new from the ground up.
Wheelbase is over 2-inches longer than before, yet overall length is almost 2-inches shorter, and the new proportions work great with Mazda’s KODO “soul of motion” design theme. We’re not going out on a limb when we say it’s the best looking car in the compact segment, particularly in 5-door hatch guise. If you must, a traditional 4-door sedan is also available. Both share the latest Mazda signature 5-point grille and sharply angled headlights. 16-inch wheels are standard, 18’s come on Touring and above.
Inside, the dash has been cleaned up and materials have taken a step in the right direction. We like just about everything about it, except for the gauge package which features a motorcycle-like large tach, but only a small digital speedometer. An additional flip up Active Driving Display helps somewhat by adding another digital speed readout, as well as navigation and other vehicle information, but we’d still like to see a traditional needle speedo.
Our test model came in highly equipped Grand Touring trim, which left us wanting for little as navigation, Bose sound, leather-trimmed sport seats, dual-zone climate, and push button start are all included. The GT Technology package adds a lane departure warning system, automatic high beam control, active grille shutters, and Mazda’s new i-eLoop system that stores energy generated by the brakes in a capacitor to run the car’s electrical components.
Now we doubt many buyers will option their Mazda3 this high, but even base models have great seats up front with a very sporty driving position. Rear seats are also much comfier than before, though leg room remains in short supply. But cargo room is up significantly with 20.2 cubic-ft. of space expanding to 47.1 with rear seatbacks folded.
2 SkyActiv -G 4-cylinder engines are available, a 2.0-liter and a 2.5-liter. There’s very little fuel economy penalty for stepping up to the larger four, and its 184-horsepower and 185 lb-ft. of torque up the fun factor exponentially.
How much so? Well at our test track we managed to hit 60 in 6.9-seconds. There’s a tiny bit of wheel hop at launch, but once hooked up this latest 3 pulls pretty strong through the RPMs. All Grand Touring cars are equipped with a 6-speed automatic and we found shifts very quick in sport mode, helping us reach the end of the quarter mile in 15.2-seconds at 95 miles-per-hour.
SkyActiv body and chassis enhancements have made the new 3 both stiffer and lighter, and the fully independent suspension setup consists of MacPherson struts up front with a Multi-link in the rear, twin-tube shocks all around. Brakes are 4-wheel discs on all models, but cars with 18-inch wheels get slightly larger discs up front. We averaged an okay 129-feet from 60.
Additional available safety features include blind spot monitoring and backup camera with rear cross traffic alert, and the Mazda3 also features a new Mazda Connect infotainment system which merges all of your connectivity needs into a dash top screen with an easy to use central controller.
SkyActiv provides Government Fuel Economy Ratings for our 2.5 Grand Touring automatic of 28-City, 38-Highway, and 32-Combined. We averaged a good 33.2 miles-per-gallon of Regular in mixed driving. The Energy Impact Score is also very good, with annual oil use of 10.3-barrels and yearly CO2 emissions of 4.6-tons.
Pricing is competitive for the base model at just $19,740 for an iSport 5-door. Sedans start even cheaper at $17,740. However for an S Grand Touring 5-door like ours, you’re looking at $27,290.
While somewhat pricey for its segment, the 2014 Mazda3 offers features and style of vehicles twice its sticker. Add in fine fuel economy and a fun-to-drive nature that’s hard to find in this segment, and that makes the Mazda3 a real hit with us, and we think with more discerning small car buyers as well.
Torque: 185 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 6.9 seconds
1/4 mile: 15.2 seconds @ 95 mph
EPA: 28 mpg city/ 38 mpg highway
Energy Impact: 10.3 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 4.6 tons/yr