2014 Mazda Mazda3 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All-new version raises bar in compact class.
Redesigned for 2014, Mazda3 is Mazda's entry in the overflowing compact class, offered in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback body styles. The Mazda3 is the company's perennial bestseller, and the 2014 Mazda3 is the first to incorporate the full suite of Mazda's Skyactiv Technology, a strange marketing name for a holistic approach to design aimed at reducing mass and optimizing powertrain efficiency to maximize fuel economy.
While that fundamental objective dominated every element of the new Mazda3's development, the design and engineering team was also challenged to give the car contemporary good looks that would stand out from the herd, and also imbue it with a high fun-to-drive index, sustaining Mazda's zoom-zoom image ethos.
Based on substantial drive time with several models in more than one venue, we'd say Mazda has achieved most of its goals. But perhaps not all.
Basics: New from floor pan to roof, the 2014 Mazda3 is roomier than the previous generation. Overall length (180.3 inches for the formal sedan, 175.6 for the hatchback) has actually shrunk slightly, and height is down just over a half inch, to 57.3 inches. But at 70.7 inches, the new car is 1.6 inches wider and that, plus a 2.4-inch wheelbase stretch, adds up to increased interior volume, particularly in the rear seat. For contrast, the Mazda3 sedan is bigger in every dimension than the Honda Civic four-door.
Bigger is only part of the story. Mazda claims a 30 percent increase in torsional rigidity for the unibody, an impressive improvement since the previous generation was noteworthy in terms of its chassis stiffness (and consequent agile handling). Even more impressive, Mazda also claims reduced curb weights, 60 to 100 pounds, depending on body style and trim levels.
The styling that surrounds these roomy interiors echoes the new Mazda6, crisp and eye-catching, with distinctive character creases in the body side sheetmetal, and, mercifully, a new grille, replacing the ugly plastic smile that afflicted the previous generation. The hatchback is the more appealing of the two body styles, to our eye, but the designers have managed to make the sedan stand out, too, which isn't always true in the compact class.
Inside, the Mazda3's redesign is readily visible in new instrument clusters (they vary, becoming fancier in higher trim levels), a new dashboard with improved secondary controls in the center stack, and upgraded materials, even in the basic i SV model. Forward sightlines are better than average, the front seats are sporty and supportive, and of course there's an array of available infotainment features.
As with the 2013 version, the 2014 Mazda3 has two engine options, both four-cylinders, both naturally aspirated, both with direct fuel injection: a 2.0-liter (standard) and 2.5-liter. The 2.0-liter's output is essentially unchanged, although the torque peak occurs much earlier in the rpm range, whereas power from the 2.5-liter is increased in the 2014 Mazda3 by 17 horsepower and 17 pound-feet of torque.
The 2.0-liter engine is the line's fuel economy champ when paired with the optional 6-speed automatic in the sedan's basic Mazda3i trim level: 30/41 mpg City/Highway, according to the EPA. The standard 6-speed manual gearbox loses only one mpg on the EPA's City cycle and substantially increases the fun-to-drive factor, so the manual is our preference. A Mazda3s sedan with the 2.5-liter engine and automatic transmission is rated at 28/39 mpg. A 6-speed manual is not available with the 2.5-liter at launch, but will be offered later.
Like the previous generation, the new Mazda3 is exceptionally agile, and a pleasure to guide down a twisty two-lane highway. It's smooth, quiet, and refined in most operating situations.
There isn't much to criticize. Power is on the tepid side, especially with the 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission, and the lack of a manual transmission option for the 2.5-liter engine, although temporary, is disappointing. There is no hybrid version, nor is one on the visible horizon. This also goes for a diesel variant. Similarly, the bad boy Mazdaspeed3, one of the hot rods of the compact car world, may not be renewed in the latest generation.
Nevertheless, the new Mazda3 raises the ante in its class on several fronts: fuel efficiency, dynamics, quality, and style.
The 2014 Mazda3 comes in two body styles: four-door sedan and five-door hatchback. Mazda3i models come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, Mazda3s models come with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Each offers a choice of 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual. Trim levels range from basic SV to Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring.
Mazda3i SV 4-door sedan ($16,945) comes with air conditioning; cloth upholstery, power windows, mirrors, and door locks; tilt/telescope steering column; 3-spoke steering wheel; 4-speaker AM/FM audio; USB ports; 2 12-volt outlets; 16-inch steel wheels. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard; it's also available with a 6-speed automatic ($17,995).
Mazda3i Sport upgrades with pushbutton start; CD player; illuminated steering wheel controls; split-folding rear seatbacks; cruise control; tachometer; map lights; body-color side mirrors; Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity; USB ports. Mazda3i Sport 4-door sedan comes with manual transmission ($18,445) or automatic ($19,495). Mazda3i Sport 5-door hatchback also comes with manual ($18,945) or automatic ($19,995).
Mazda3i Touring adds 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels; heated side mirrors with turn signal repeaters; rear decklid spoiler; keyless entry; rear seat armrest. As with other models, Mazda3i Touring 4-door sedan is available with manual ($19,595) or automatic ($20,645).
Mazda3i Grand Touring upgrades with leatherette upholstery; heated front seats; three-way power driver's seat; dual zone auto climate control; MAZDA CONNECT infotainment system; satellite radio; Pandora and Stitcher internet radio; navigation; Bose premium audio; power moonroof; rearview camera. Mazda3i Grand Touring comes with manual ($22,745) or automatic ($23,795).
Mazda3s Touring 4-door sedan ($24,595), in addition to the 2.5-liter engine with paddle shifter 6-speed automatic transmission, upgrades to 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels; bi-xenon headlights; halogen foglights; LED daytime running lights; Active Driving Display.
Mazda3s Grand Touring 4-door sedan ($25,995) upgrades further with perforated leather-trim seats; 7-inch touch-screen control; multi-function Command control system; rain-sensing windshield wipers; adaptive auto on/off bi-xenon headlights with auto leveling.
Mazda3i Sport 5-door hatchback is equipped same as Sport sedan plus center-mounted high stop light; rear spoiler; rear wiper; intermittent wipers. Mazda3i Sport 5-door hatchback is available with manual ($18,945) or automatic ($19,995).
Mazda3i Touring 5-door hatchback is equipped same as Touring sedan plus leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift lever, and hand brake handle; sport seats; blind spot warning; rear cross traffic alert. Mazda3i Touring 5-door hatchback is available with manual ($20,995) or automatic ($21,145).
Mazda3i Grand Touring 5-door hatchback ($23,245), Mazda3s Touring 5-door hatchback ($25,095), and Mazda3s Grand Touring 5-door hatchback ($26,495) are equipped similarly to the comparable sedans.
Although they're roomier than the previous models, both versions of the new 2014 Mazda3 are shorter than the previous generation, the sedan by just over a half inch, the five-door hatchback by 1.8 inches. Reduced overall length and a longer (by 2.4 inches) wheelbase reduce front and rear overhangs, giving the new car a more athletic appearance, enhanced by the raked windshield.
The new fascia on the 2014 Mazda3 discards the ugly plastic smile of the previous version, and the slanted headlamps emphasize the wings of the new grille. The body side panels are prominently sculpted, and the net achievement of the design is exemplary aerodynamic efficiency: a coefficient of drag of 0.26 Cd for the sedan, 0.28 Cd for the five-door. Mazda's optional i-ELOOP system, employing capacitor-based regenerative engine braking and active grille shutters, reduces those numbers to 0.255 and 0.275, respectively, according to the carmaker, and these gains improve EPA fuel economy ratings in the 2.5 hatchback by 1 mpg.
The bottom line: hatchback or sedan, the new Mazda3 continues to be one of the most eye-catching designs in the compact realm.
The Mazda3 interior is simple and verges on elegance, especially in the higher trim levels.
Our Mazda3s Grand Touring five-door, the highest trim level, came with a sporty black interior (almond is also available), tastefully picked out with piano black and a little satin chrome. The leather-trimmed bucket seats were supportive, with generous thigh and torso bolsters, and the additional elbow room of the widened body is appreciated.
Rear-seat legroom makes for comfortable seating for a pair of adult-size people. This can't be said of the center seat, though that's true for all compacts. The hatchback's rear seats fold flat to expand cargo space exponentially.
Mazda3 offers an extensive array of infotainment and connectivity features, via its new MAZDA CONNECT system. Noteworthy under this heading is the new nav system option, whose 7-inch touch screen pops up from the center of the dash, a big improvement over the previous generation. There's also a small pop-up (Active Driving Display) in front of the driver with vital info like vehicle speed, a new approach to head-up displays that works well an undoubtedly costs less to manufacture.
Overall, the new interior exudes quality, versatility and comfort.
Mazda emphasizes nimble dynamic responses in all its vehicles, the essence of the corporate zoom-zoom image-building, and the new Mazda3 is another excellent example of that ethos, building on the agility of the previous generation.
The steering is quick, 2.6 turns lock-to-lock, and accurate, although it suffers from the too-common problem of marginal feedback. High chassis rigidity allows suspension tuning that keeps body roll to a minimum and delivers eager responses in quick transitions. And the combination of stiff chassis and lengthened wheelbase keeps ride quality firm with enough compliance to soften the hard edges of warty pavement.
Power isn't a particularly strong suit. Acceleration is sluggish with the 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission, the best combo for fuel economy, a little better with a manual transmission, which is a pleasure to operate with its short throws and positive engagements.
The 2.5-liter engine is a better bet for sorting out the daily drag races of commuting: 0-to-60 mph in the low seven-second category. The optional paddle shifters, available only with the 2.5, help make the most of this engine's power. It should be more fun with a manual gearbox.
Braking performance, with vented rotors up front, solid at the rear and standard ABS, matches the Mazda3's generally sporty persona. We were unable to provoke fade in our drives, and pedal feel was firm in every episode. Operating on the theory that there is no such thing as too much brakes, we'd opt for the Mazda3 s model, which has bigger front rotors.
In addition to its agility and Euro firm ride quality, the new car is also distinguished by reduced interior noise levels, an improvement on the previous Mazda3.
The all-new 2014 Mazda3 stands out in several areas that count: fuel economy, refinement, styling, and responsive handling. For most, that will cover the important bases.
Tony Swan filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Mazda3 in Michigan.
Mazda3i SV 4-door sedan MT ($16,945); Mazda3i Sport MT ($18,445); Mazda3i Touring MT ($19,595); Mazda3i Grand Touring MT ($22,745); Mazda3s Touring AT ($24,595); Mazda3s 2.5 Grand Touring AT ($25,995).
Options As Tested
GT Technology Package (i-ELOOP regenerative engine braking system, active grille shutters, $1600); scuff and door sill trim plates, $125; rear bumper guard, $100; cargo mat, $70.
Mazda3s 5-door Grand Touring ($26,495).
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