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Road test: 2014 Mazda3 fuel economy challenge

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The 2014 Mazda3 is all new from the ground up. No longer sharing its underlying architecture with the Ford Focus, this gave Mazda both the freedom to do as they wish but also the challenge of going it alone. Add in their new SkyActive engines which promise 40 plus hwy mpg so today we just had to put one to the test.

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Right out of the gate, Mazda made a few styling changes, bringing the Mazda3 in line with the company’s KODO design language which also graces the larger Mazda6 sedan. It’s sharp and crisp lines are more upscale looking before as are the addition of more chrome elements.

Notable up front is a distinctly longer distance between the front wheel and the cabin. This affords additional space inside for legroom and in the engine compartment for its SkyActiv engine. It also gives the car a longer and more planted stance.

The style is undoubtedly Mazda and thankfully loses the smiling Jack Nicholson joker face of the last Mazda3 model. There are also a few heritage touches in the rear three-quarter view in the window lines which harken back to the first RX-3 of the seventies.

Under the hood is a 155 horsepower 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection and high compression. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission is designed to save fuel. The entire power-train fulls under the marketing umbrella of what Mazda calls SkyActiv technology.

In our first driving impressions the Mazda3 shows itself to be pretty tight and sporting. The steering is precise and the chassis offers up a firm ride that transmits plenty of surface information to the driver. A more aggressive romp in the mountains showed us this chassis has plenty of poise and hard edged grit.

It handles high paced curves one after another without getting unsettled on rough pavement, a trait that betters its larger Mazda6 brother we tested last spring. It feels fun and light when pressed, a quality that most other cars in its class lack.

The cabin of our Mazda3 Grand Touring features a well optioned package of materials and features. Signature is black leather seats with red accent stitching. The accent thread also weaves through the leather steering wheel too.

Piano black trims are found on the door panels and dash as well as the center console. With this trim grade, a large screen audio and navigation system is at the top of the dash, controlled by a console mounted puck and satellite buttons.

This was very off-putting at first as we expect to normally find radio controls on the dash. In this case you are forced to tune, adjust, and interact with the audio system as well as the navigation system via a single puck and cursor button, with a few additional controls.

It was hard to learn at first, but in time became very intuitive much like using a mouse on a PC. While it won’t be for everyone we found once learned it works better than you might think. And at the end of that learning curve is a very well learned navigation system as good sounding audio.

The rear seat is adequate for space in this class, offering fold down backs for increased storage area through the trunk. Overall, the materials and execution of the interior are well done and business-like in character.

On the highway the Mazda3 rides well and isn’t that bothered by cross winds. Noise levels are moderate and passing power from the 2.0 liter SkyActiv engine is actually pretty impressive given its efficiency minded tune.

That efficiency is rated by the EPA at 30 mpg city, 41 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined. We did our test on a road trip from Phoenix to Kingman, AZ which was about 90% highway and 10% city. In our test we achieved a flat out impressive 46.1 mpg despite the terrain being oppressively mountainous.

This high efficiency while commendable does come with the trade-off of some refinement. In town the high compression direct injected engine can be a little course while under acceleration. Add this to the six-speed automatic transmission which lugs this engine a lot, all in the name of fuel economy.

These are minor things, but something you should measure yourself on your own test drive if you are looking at this car. Overall though, I think if fuel economy is your bag, the 2014 Mazda3 knocks it out of the park with a otherwise fun to drive character.

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