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For 2014, the Mazda3 has undergone a complete makeover inside and out

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As it’s all new for 2014, the Mazda3 has been garnering awards and accolades from a myriad of automotive outlets.
This front drive is offered in sedan and hatchback, the latter of which we tested and was found to be quite a car as it offers a lot of content and driving pleasure for the money.

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Both styles are powered by a 2.0L, 155-hp (150 lb/ft of torque) four-cylinder that can be had with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. We tested the manual trans version with Hill Hold and a somewhat notchy shifter but fairly light pressure clutch. The combination carries EPA mileage estimates of (get this) 29 city, 40-highway mpg. Who needs a hybrid with these numbers.

There’s also a more potent Mazda3s that comes with a 2.5L, 184-hp four-cylinder that is only offered with the automatic transmission. This model is EPA rated at 28/39 mpg.

Either engine offers outstanding fuel economy and with the 2.0L engine, acceleration from a standing stop to highway passing or merging maneuvers is impressive. There’s certainly no want for power and it moves the 3’s curb weight of 2,799 pounds with ease. And unlike a lot of four-cylinder engines that are noisy at idle with diesel-like clatter, the 2.0L is exceptionally quiet.

Mazda3’s exterior styling has also undergone change. Gone is the smiley face grille to one that is more conservative as it blends nicely into the sides and back end of the car.

The interior too underwent a makeover with carbon fiber look door handle trim. However, the first thing you’ll notice upon slipping into the driver’s seat is the 7-inch display screen perched atop the middle of the dash that you’d swear is a mini iPad. But no, it’s not. This floating-look screen is used for audio and GPS nav functions that are controlled by a rotary mouse (infotainment controller) on the console. Young drivers will love the mouse; older drivers may detest it.

As for the GPS, it has some shortfalls. While driving, the nav system doesn’t show the street you’re on at the bottom of the screen as others do, but merely and quickly flashes the approaching cross street. Nor is the GPS system very detailed, but does show tiny posted speed limit signs where available.

HVAC controls are logically placed and easy to view at a glance. Same for the centered speedometer that projects a heads-up display.

Front seats are nicely bolstered and the black leather seats in the test car had red contrasting stitching for a classy look. The back seats are comparable and can fit two short statured adults where leg and headroom is adequate. Tall folks may have a problem. The rear seats are low to the floor for tall riders, which creates this tightness.

The cargo area is spacious. With the back seats up, there’s 20.2 cubic feet. Flip them and there’s 47.1 cubic feet. More meaningful, the cargo area measures 34.5 inches deep, 41 wide and 27 high. Fold the seats and there’s 64 inches of depth. Since it’s a hatchback, the hatch opening is a bit pinched, so large items have to be twisted in.

Visibility fore and aft is good especially rearward thanks to low profile rear headrests.

As for handling, and as with all Mazda’s, the car is well-balanced and in sharp turns taken at speed the car remains planted, not jittery. It has athletic reflexes and it parks easily with its relatively tight 34.8-foot turning radius. Its steering exudes a fair amount of road feel for a totally connected effect.

Ride wise, the 3 is smooth (on 16-inch all-season tires) on smooth highways, but rough roads and unimproved railroad crossings do reverberate somewhat into the cabin.

Overall, the Mazda3 is a competent performer in all categories that most buyers look for.

The test car came with a long list of standard items, most of which are desired features that some others charge extra for. In fact the 3 only had three extra cost items: cargo mats ($70), soul red metallic paint ($300), rear bumper guards ($100), scuff and door sill plates ($125) and delivery ($795), that brought the base price from $23,245 to $24,635.
Some of the goodies include XM radio, SIMS text message delivery and reply, Bose speakers, Pandora, halogen headlights, moonroof, heated front seats and side mirrors, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, rearview camera and many more.

Added to this, Mazda offers a 36 month/36K mile bumper-bumper, 60 month/60K mile powertrain warranties and 24-hour roadside assistance.

The Mazda3 is probably the hottest selling compact right now and is especially attractive to college students, commuters and retired folks who want good fuel economy, a spacious trunk, all at a reasonable price.

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