Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Sporty compact sedan and hatch.
The Mazda3 is a sporty alternative to the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Mazda3 comes in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback versions with a choice of engines and trim levels ranging from thrifty to sporty.
The 2013 Mazda3 benefits from upgraded options including TomTom-based navigation on a larger, 5.8-inch color touch screen, a USB audio port, pushbutton start, and SMS text message delivery/receipt features. Launched as a 2010 model, the current-generation Mazda3 got a refresh for 2012, including Mazda's SkyActiv technology.
The Mazda3 looks smooth, pretty and aerodynamic. The sedan boasts a smooth 0.27 coefficient of drag, while the five-door gets a 0.29 Cd, slippery for a hatchback. This reduces wind noise and improves fuel economy. These cars are stylish, with front fenders puffed out forward of the wheels.
The Mazda3i SV base model is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 148 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque. EPA fuel economy estimates with this engine are 25/33 mpg City/Highway with the standard 5-speed manual transmission, 24/33 mpg with the optional 5-speed automatic.
Mazda3i Sport, Mazda3i Touring, and Mazda3i Grand Touring models come with Mazda's SkyActiv powertrain, which delivers 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. SkyActiv is the most fuel-efficient of the lineup, with an EPA-estimated 27/39 mpg with the standard 6-speed manual, and an impressive 28/40 mpg City/Highway with the optional 6-speed automatic. In our test driving, we got 29.5 mpg driving it hard over the curvy mountainous highways east of Los Angeles, and 43.7 mpg returning to the city mostly on the freeway, running 65-70 mph, accelerating and decelerating with the fast flow of traffic. We recommend this engine.
Mazda3s Grand Touring models get a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 167 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque, and achieves 20/28 mpg City/Highway with the 6-speed manual and 22/29 mpg with the optional 5-speed automatic.
MazdaSpeed3 is a performance model with a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, good for 263 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed manual is the only available transmission. It's fun to drive, but fuel economy suffers with a mediocre 18/25 mpg City/Highway.
The Mazda3 models have nice interiors with terrific seats. Controls are intuitive and easy to reach and use. The center stack is clean, the gauges clear, and digital information accessed by a thumb scroll on the steering wheel. All Mazda3 models seat five.
The Mazda3 five-door hatchback offers a lot of cargo space, 17 cubic feet behind the rear seats, compared 11.8 cubic feet of space in the sedan's trunk. Both come with 60/40 split folding rear seats, and they fold nearly flat, so the cargo space can be expanded enormously. In a pinch, the sedan can carry most of what the hatchback can.
Ride quality is firmer on the Mazda3 than on most competitors, and could be deemed harsh by someone used to driving a Corolla. The suspension on all Mazda3 models deliver a feel that's more European than Japanese. Harsh patches and rough roads never made the ride uncomfortable, however. Mazda3 is front-wheel drive.
The Mazda3 is a great alternative for those who want a compact sedan with sporty driving dynamics. Mazda3 competes directly with Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra. The hatchback also competes with the Ford Focus hatch or Hyundai Elantra GT. Those keen on performance might compare the Mazdaspeed3 with the Scion FR-S for track-ready fun, or the Hyundai Veloster Turbo with its funky, yet practical, hatch shape.
The 2013 Mazda3 lineup includes sedan and hatchback body styles with a choice of three engines, or four counting the MazdaSpeed3.
Mazda3i SV sedan comes with a 148-hp 2.0-liter engine with a choice of 5-speed manual ($16,700) or 5-speed automatic ($17,550) transmission. Standard features include fabric upholstery, air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver's seat, power windows and mirrors, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, a four-speaker audio system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and steering-wheel mounted controls and 16-inch steel wheels.
Mazda3i Sport sedan is powered by the 155-hp 2.0-liter SkyActiv engine with a 6-speed manual ($18,375) or 6-speed automatic ($19,225). The Sport upgrades with remote entry, power door locks, cruise control, USB port and an information display with trip computer, outside temperature gauge, maintenance reminder and audio information.
Mazda3i Touring models come in sedan and hatchback versions powered by the same 155-hp 2.0-liter engine as the Sport. Mazda3i Touring sedans offer a choice of 6-speed manual ($19,500) or 6-speed automatic ($20,350). Touring models include dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton start, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a rear seat armrest with cupholders, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, an upgraded, six-speaker audio system and alloy wheels. Mazda3i Touring hatchback comes with the 6-speed manual ($20,000) or 6-speed automatic ($20,850) and get a rear roof spoiler, roof-mounted antenna and a rear window wiper in addition to all the other features listed above.
Mazda3i Grand Touring use the same SkyActiv powertrain and come in sedan variants with the manual ($22,800) or automatic ($23,650) transmissions, as well as in hatchback form with the same manual ($23,300) or automatic ($24,150). Grand Touring models feature leather upholstery, an 8-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, padded door armrests, a 5.8-inch color touchscreen display with real-time traffic information, voice-activated controls, a text message audio delivery and reply system, a power sunroof, blind spot monitoring system, heated outside mirrors and a 10-speaker, 265-watt Bose audio system with Pandora audio streaming.
Mazda3s Grand Touring models are powered by a 167-hp, 2.5-liter engine. Mazda3s Grand Touring sedan comes with a 6-speed manual ($24,350) or 5-speed automatic ($25,150), Mazda3s Grand Touring five-door hatch offers the manual ($24,850) or automatic ($25,650). Standard features include unique sport-style seats, different colored gauges, illuminated vanity mirrors, an overhead sunglass holder, satellite radio capability with a four-month subscription, rain sensing wipers, bi-xenon adaptive automatic headlights, fog lights, dual exhaust with chrome-like tips, LED taillights and 17-inch alloy wheels. Sedans get a rear deck lip spoiler and hatchbacks get a unique rear roof spoiler.
Mazdaspeed3 ($24,200) is a high-performance hatch that comes in a single trim level: Touring. It's powered by a 263-hp turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-4 that's mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, and uses a limited-slip differential. Standard equipment includes many of the features found on the Grand Touring models: dual-zone automatic climate control, a height-adjustable driver seat, sport seats with leather and cloth upholstery, cruise control, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB audio jack. Exterior features include a unique front grille, 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights and a unique rear roof spoiler.
A variety of packages and stand-alone options are available for each trim level.
Safety equipment on all 2013 Mazda3 models includes dual front airbags, front side airbags, curtain side airbags, active front head restraints, and anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution. Grand Touring models also get a blind-spot monitoring system.
The Mazda3 has a fat lip. The front fascia below the bumper looks great, even if the sporty black air intakes are more cosmetic than functional.
Front fenders are puffed out forward of the wheels. The sedan's coefficient of drag is 0.27 Cd, with the 5-door hatchback at 0.29 Cd. Those are great numbers for a hatchback that isn't also a fastback (like the Audi A7).
Rear bumpers on Mazda3i models are clean and body-colored. On upper trim levels, 16- and 17-inch alloy wheels are sporty and handsome. Thanks in part to those wheels, it looks like it's moving even when it's standing still.
Every control on the Mazda3 instrument panel is intuitive and easy to reach and use. The center stack is clean, the gauges are clear, and digital information is accessed by a thumb scroll on the steering wheel. In fact, Mazda3 is one of the only cars in its class with standard steering-wheel controls. The digital information is easy to read in the sun, at least in the SkyActiv models, with blue meter illumination. Others have gray, and the Mazdaspeed3 is red.
We drove a Mazda3 with terrific leather seats, and one with cloth seats, same padding and bolstering but firmer, maybe because cloth skin gets stretched more, and leather has inherent cushioning.
The sedan's trunk has 11.8 cubic feet of space, and the hatchback has 17 cubic feet behind the rear seat. The rear seats are split 60/40, and they fold nearly flat, so the cargo space can be expanded enormously.
The 6-speed automatic transmission can be switched to manual mode and shifted with the gated lever. The shift action is another place where Mazda logic rules: the lever goes back to upshift, forward to downshift, as in many race cars, because those directions flow with the g-forces on the body during acceleration and deceleration. It's a feel thing, not a think thing.
The 2.0-liter SkyActiv powertrain performs ideally. We tested it hard, and it works. The engine makes 155 horsepower and 148 foot-pounds of torque, enough for plenty of acceleration. The 6-speed automatic transmission works beautifully with the available torque. At 70 mph, the engine spins at a leisurely 2200 rpm, smooth and silent. With the 6-speed manual, it runs 70 mph at 500 rpm more.
Mazda's SkyActiv powertrain uses a regular internal combustion gasoline engine. But engineers tuned it to reduce energy losses in the compression, expansion and exhaust cycles. The transmission increases fuel mileage by about 2 mpg, out of the total increase of about 5 mpg. The net result is an EPA-estimated 27/39 mpg with the standard 6-speed manual, and an impressive 28/40 mpg City/Highway with the optional 6-speed automatic.
In our test driving, we got 29.5 mpg with the automatic while driving it hard over the curvy mountainous highways east of Los Angeles. Later, we averaged 43.7 mpg returning to the city in mostly freeway driving, running 65-70 mph and accelerating and decelerating with the fast flow of traffic.
We ran the 6-speed automatic transmission through all the obedience tests where other automatics usually fail, and it did not fail. It will downshift aggressively, and upshift at low rpm. It will do what you ask it to, and no more, quicker and smoother than before. Some other manufacturers use continuously variable transmissions, because they say they're more fuel efficient. Nobody really likes CVTs; some drivers don't notice, and some live with them, but these continuously variable transmissions turn cars into clothes dryers. There's a CVT in the Mazda3 for Japan, where it's all stop-and-go, slow driving. But this version wasn't even considered for this North American Mazda3.
The suspension on all models delivers a European feel. We ran a lot of harsh patchy pavement on curvy roads, and it wasn't quite a sport sedan, but the feedback was direct, driven hard with the 6-speed automatic transmission in Manual mode. The ride was never uncomfortable, though drivers used to cushy suspensions like those found on the Toyota Corolla might consider the Mazda3's on the firm side.
Mazda3 is a fun, versatile compact car in 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback variants. The 2.0-liter SkyActiv powertrain delivers ample power with impressive fuel economy. The race-inspired MazdaSpeed3 is fun, but is outclassed by newer competitors in both performance and gas mileage.
Sam Moses reported to NewCarTestDrive.com from Portland; with Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago; Laura Burstein in Los Angeles.
Mazda3i SV ($16,700); Mazda3i Sport ($18,375); Mazda3i Touring ($19,500); Mazda3i Grand Touring ($22,800); Mazda3s Touring ($21,300), Mazda3 s Grand Touring ($24,350); Mazdaspeed3 ($24,200).
Options As Tested
Mazda3i Grand Touring sedan AT ($23,650).
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