Slick handling, sharp design in Mazda3
The idea that bad things happen in threes is embedded in our cultural psyche. But hold on a minute.
Consider that Mazda has unveiled its third-generation of the Mazda3 for 2014. And that Mazda has sold more than 3 million Mazda3s worldwide. Oh, and the combined mileage figure this year? Yep, 33 mpg. That sounds like pretty good reasoning to say good things sometimes happen in 3s, too.
Now, never mind that the Page 1 designer at The Miami Herald just bought a 3, and that the photo editor just closed on a 3 hatch (and this guy shops as intensely as I do).
More important, it's about a fresh look, more power with improved fuel efficiency. It's about crisp handling, a refined interior and this available hatchback version that adds function plus is great-looking, too.
The new 3i has a wheelbase that is 2.4 inches longer and 1.6 inches wider, and it's lower, too. It comes with the new and aggressive grille design found on other Mazdas. No more of that goofy grin.
The 3i models are powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that gets 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, more than enough for a brisk ride – especially with a six-speed manual tranny. Zero to 60 takes around 8 seconds.
If you seek something quicker and even quieter, and can afford a $3,000-plus increase, go for the 2.5-liter engine. You'll get an extra 29 horses, and there is only a slight difference in fuel economy.
Both engines employ Mazda's SkyActiv technology, which offers variable-valve timing and direct injection.
An optional six-speed automatic is a lesson in precision, with timely and smooth shifts.
On the road, the Mazda3 handles like, well, like a Mazda3. I mean, has anyone ever complained about a Mazda's handling? Steering is crisp, and the car is stable on curves and flat on the corners.
The bonus is that the 3 is also a nice cruiser on the highway. It's smooth and comfortable, and wind and road noise are insignificant, so conversation and radio play comes easy.
Inside, the new 3 is classier and more refined this year, and especially nice for this mid-$20,000 segment. Seating is decently bolstered for the dynamic drives, and the adjustable lumbar support reduces back complaints on longer drives.
Back seat passengers will be happier, too, with enough legroom and headroom even for 6-footers.
Space tightens up in the sedan's trunk, though, offering just 12.4 cubic feet of space. The hatch is more accommodating with 20 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. Lower those rear seats and it more than doubles to 47 cubic feet, though vertical space is limited as with most hatchbacks.
The cabin even feels are more luxurious this year. The dash and interior panels have a rich feel. What appear to be carbon fiber accents on the Grand Touring trim are really fakes, but most will never know it.
Instruments and controls are easy to use and within easy reach. The infotainment knob between the front seats makes it a breeze to navigate, too. I'm bothered only by the location of the 7-inch touchscreen display on top of the dash. Makes it seem aftermarket.
Mazda3 comes with the usual suite of safety features – ABS, traction and stability control and front-side and side-curtain air bags – but also has a nice lineup of high-tech features often found in higher-priced vehicles. New this year in a technology package are lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring plus rear-view camera with rear cross-traffic alert.
There even is a low-speed collision-avoidance system that will automatically brake the car if the driver doesn't see the obstacle or vehicle in front.
The 3 comes in sedan or hatch and each is available in 3i or 3s trims. The base comes only as a sedan and has steel wheels, but does offer full power accessories and tilt-telescoping steering wheel.
The 3i Touring gets 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, sport seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel. Options include sunroof, 7-inch touch-screen display and 9-speaker Bose sound. Move up to the 3i Grand Touring and get upgraded seats – not real leather, but an upgraded vinyl good enough to fool you.
The 3s group gets sportier with a more powerful engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, paddle shifters to take more control and a head-up display with the driving vitals.
One guy on a car forum said three words sum up his new 3: handsome, fun and tech. Hmmm ... perhaps good things do happen in threes.
–Base price, excluding destination charge: $16,945
–Price as tested: $24,635
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