Lower and leaner than its predecessor, the third generation Mazda3 is new from the ground up. Mazda has combined elements of the 6 sedan and CX-5 SUV to create a handsome and elegant compact. The new 3’s dynamic styling features Mazda's new, more aggressive-looking grille design and the cab rearward posture and raked profile emphasize agility and speed.
Such styling is not without purpose as the five-door and sedan models get coefficients of drag (Cd) at 0.275 and 0.255, respectively. A new-to-Mazda feature, an active grille shutter is mounted in front of the radiator and automatically opens and closes with varying driving conditions to improve aerodynamic performance and fuel economy.
The 2014 Mazda 3 is available in four-door sedan and hatchback body styles. Both are available in 3i and 3s trims and sub trims that offer a complete, but confusing array of choices. Our test car was a well-equipped hatchback in 3s trim.
Two engines are available, with the 3i models using a 2.0-liter, 155-hp. four-cylinder version. EPA-estimated fuel economy for the hatchback is 29 city/40 highway and 33 mpg combined with the manual and 30/40/33 with the automatic. Mazda 3s models get the 2.5-liter, 184 hp four-cylinder engine that gets an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 27 city/37 highway.
Mazda says adding the i-ELOOP system that captures and redistributes braking energy increases those numbers 1 mpg. The 2.5- liter engine comes only with the automatic—for now. The 2.5-liter brings quicker acceleration without much of a fuel-economy penalty.
The driver-oriented cockpit is impressive, with each control and function logically located. For example the pedals are located symmetrically to the left and right of the driver’s center-line. The redesigned instrument cluster features a large, centrally positioned tachometer, flanked by a pair of wing-shaped digital displays.
A clear pop-up panel, mounted on the instrument hood displays comfortably in head-up fashion vehicle speed, navigation directions and other important driving information. The panel folds down when the ignition is turned off.
Projecting out of the center of the instrument panel is a screen that displays radio, navigation, phone, and vehicle-setting information. it’s operated with the Commander knob or with touch inputs, and eliminates the plethora of knobs and switches used previously.
Redesigned front seats have been sculpted for more rear seat passenger knee room, and shoulder room for all passengers has increased as well. The driver’s seat cushion was made larger to create a more natural seating position with ample lateral support.
To stay connected a new operating system connects via Bluetooth. Access points include AM/FM radio, CD and USB/auxiliary port connections and premium content such as Satellite Radio and more. An optional Bose premium system with surround sound is available.
The system can read email and short messages aloud using text-to-voice technology. Short Message Service (SMS) messages can be received and shown on the touch screen monitor. The system can articulate the messages and lets you reply using fixed phrases. The system also allows you to search the internet for locations and map directions. An SD card-based navigation system is optional.
Driving the 3 is a delight. Ride quality was much better than expected with the 2.5’s standard 18-inch wheel/tire combination. The electric power-steering system is tuned to provide good feel and just the right amount of effort during cornering maneuvers and body roll is very well controlled.
Regardless of speed, the 2.5 feels strong and responds instantly. The automatic transmission performs like a properly driven manual. In Sport Mode the transmission delays upshifts and automatically downshifts when braking to give you the right gear for the next maneuver. If you want more involvement, the 2.5 includes paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
Sedan and hatchback pricing start at $16,945 MSRP and $18,945 respectively.