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2014 Mazda3: A bit of Miata with your efficiency

by: JOHN M. VINCENT - Mazda calls it 'Kodo' design language, and it features crisp headlights with smooth character curves down the length of the body.
Nearly every vehicle Mazda builds has one common feature: it is the best handling vehicle in its segment. It shouldn’t be surprising from the company that brought us the MX-5 Miata, but the 2014 Mazda3 is the economy car for people who take driving seriously.

But there’s more than just exceptional driving dynamics. The new Mazda3 earns EPA mileage estimates of up to 41 MPG on the highway, and it’s affordably priced, starting at $16,945 for a sedan with a 6-speed manual transmission. The Ford Focus ST might beat the Mazda3 in terms of sportiness, but the price and efficiency lag. The 2015 VW Golf TDI leads in overall efficiency, but it’s not as much fun to drive as the Mazda3.

Worldwide, the Mazda3 accounts for 30 percent of Mazda’s sales and is sold in 120 countries.

The car has been extensively restyled with Mazda’s big smile design wiped off of the 2014’s face, replaced with a toned down, but sharply styled front end. The design, which Mazda calls “Kodo,” features angular headlights, bold fenders, and smooth waves of character lines from nose to tail. The Mazda3 is available as either a 4-door compact sedan as the 5-door hatchback tested for this review. Both body styles are lower and wider than the previous model.

All Mazda3 models embrace the full suite of Mazda’s “Skyactiv” technologies to increase efficiency while reducing the weight of the vehicles by about 100 pounds.

by: JOHN M. VINCENT - Two engines are available: a Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder or a Skyactiv-G 2.5 liter inline-4.
The company offers 2 engines, both featuring gasoline direct-injection. The base engine found in “i” models is a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder that produces 155-horsepower and 150 ft-lbs. of torque at 4,000 rpm. The 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder engine found in “s” models puts out 184-horsepower and 185 ft-lbs of torque at a low 3,250 rpm. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard with a 6-speed automatic available on 2.0-liter-equipped models. All 2.5-liter models come with the 6-speed auto.

The test car was a Mazda3 i Grand Touring hatchback, equipped with the 2.0-liter and the manual gearbox which I drove through the Silicon Valley to California’s challenging Highway 1 along the Pacific coast. Although rated at 155-horsepower, the engine’s power curve made it feel like more, and the extra momentum that the finely tuned suspension allows the car to carry through the curves more than makes up any lack of horsepower. The shifter reminds me of the sibling Miata — quick, light, and buttery smooth.

Where the previous model could be a bit noisy, the new model is more refined. It’s still not the quietest in the class, but adding sound insulation adds weight. I’ll take a bit of extra noise in a speedy, nimble car over the alternative any time.

EPA ratings for the 5-door hatchback with the 2.0-liter are 29 in the city and 40 on the highway. Vehicles equipped with the automatic pick up an additional mile per gallon in the city, and sedans are rated at 41 mpg on the highway. There isn’t a huge mileage drop when you move to the 2.5-liter, which tops out at 39/highway for the sedan and 38 mpg for the hatchback when equipped with Mazda’s i-ELoop technology. i-ELoop stores electrical power through a regenerative engine braking system to run various vehicle systems, taking some of the load off of the gasoline engine.

by: JOHN M. VINCENT - The Mazda3's sporty interior feel is enhanced by black leatherette seating with distinctive red stitching.
As expected from a Mazda, the interior’s oriented more toward spirited driving than overall comfort. The seats are highly-bolstered to keep you in place, and the leather-wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel is thicker than most with bulges at 10 and 2 to properly position the driver’s hands. The test car was equipped with sporty black leatherette seats, trimmed with red-threaded seams. The available navigation system works well, but its integration into the dash looks to almost be an afterthought.

Trim levels range from the sedan-only base SV model to the fully loaded Grand Touring trims. Base price is $16,945 for an SV sedan and ranges up to $26,495 for an s Grand Touring hatchback. Adding the technology package to the top model nudges the fully-loaded price to just over $28,000. All models feature standard push-button start, remote keyless entry, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and air conditioning.

Mazda offers a surprising array of technology for a car in this class. Besides the now-common array of power-ports, USB and Bluetooth connectivity features, the Mazda3 can be equipped with a technology package that includes a 7-inch touchscreen, navigation, Bose audio, and Pandora internet radio integration.

Available advanced safety systems include a rear-view camera, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Top models receive pivoting xenon headlights, plus lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and a laser-based forward collision mitigation system.

by: JOHN M. VINCENT - Mazda offers 2 body styles for the Mazda3 - a 4-door sedan and a versatile 5-door hatchback.
Although it was not on the test car, Mazda offers a class-exclusive modular head-up display system that projects driving and navigation system information into the driver’s line of sight. Unlike most systems of this type the data is not projected onto the windshield, but onto a transparent panel above the gauge cluster.

2014 Mazda3 5-door

Base price: $16,945

Price as tested: $24,335 including $795 destination charge

Type: 4- or 5-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel drive sedan or hatchback

Engines: 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder, 2.5-liter I-4

EPA estimated mileage: 29 city/40 highway (as tested)

Length: 175.6 inches (5-door)

Curb weight: 2,797 pounds (5-door)

Final assembly: Hofu, Japan

John M. Vincent is a third-generation Oregon journalist. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .