Nearly every vehicle Mazda builds has one common feature: it is the best handling vehicle in its segment. It shouldnt 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 theres more than just exceptional driving dynamics. The new Mazda3 earns EPA mileage estimates of up to 41 MPG on the highway, and its 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 its not as much fun to drive as the Mazda3.
Worldwide, the Mazda3 accounts for 30 percent of Mazdas sales and is sold in 120 countries.
The car has been extensively restyled with Mazdas big smile design wiped off of the 2014s 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 Mazdas Skyactiv technologies to increase efficiency while reducing the weight of the vehicles by about 100 pounds.
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 Californias challenging Highway 1 along the Pacific coast. Although rated at 155-horsepower, the engines 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. Its still not the quietest in the class, but adding sound insulation adds weight. Ill 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 isnt 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 Mazdas 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.
As expected from a Mazda, the interiors 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 drivers 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.
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 drivers 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