2014 Mazda 3 First Test Drive

skyactiv gray

Mazda 3 – Luxury qualities at an economical standpoint.

Over the recent years, technology has flooded the car industry.  And to no surprise, studies have shown that technology plays an influential role in the purchase decision factor.  But gadgetry is not the only selling point for the 2014 Mazda 3.  For a few years now, the SkyActiv powertrain has been well received for offering both fuel economy and excellent ride quality in the economy mid-size sedan class.

Design

Mazda continues to push forward with its Kodo design language with the Mazda 3.  Overall, the design of the Mazda 3 resembles a polymorphic species of both performance and practicality.  Its long wheel base, short wheel overhangs visually inspires performance.  But at the same time, the smooth and upright silhouette provides economical comfort.  Up front lies an aggressive long hanging grille accompanied by chrome trimming.  Front LED headlamps are equally well proportioned embodied with seamless spline contours.  And finally, the headlamp-hood vertex diverges outwards towards the side mirrors giving off a sharp, yet bubbly front hood. Following the rooftop silhouette around to the rear shows off its bubbly tail lamps funneling towards the horizontal trunk under hang.

front bumper gray

Despite that the Mazda 3 is an economy car, its looks still manages to share the some of the luxury design cues as some of the upper end mid-size sedans such as the Lexus IS series.

What we have always despised about with previous models of the Mazda 3 is the interior cabin quality.  Overall looks and feel of the center console controls have a nice touch and is generally well laid out.  But we do have to admit that the bolt on infotainment screen looks a bit clumsy and non-congruent with the overall layout.  And the low placement of climate control buttons makes it difficult to find and press while driving.

Our tested model came equipped with a off-white leather seats that were both pleasing to the eye while offering economical comfort compromised  by minimized lateral support.  Overall, front seats offer plenty of freedom and rear seats provide enough leg-room for 3 regular sized passengers.

Rear Exterior

Technology

In terms of  car technology, Mazda has always lagged behind in this field.  The new Mazda 3 infotainment system has definitely been a great improvement with a more user-friendly home screen and robust navigation system.  It’s still no where near par with its competitors such as Kia/Hyundai’s UVO and MyFord touch, but all the basic features are there.  This includes navigation, smart phone connectivity with contact list support and call support as well as satellite radio, Pandora music support and HD radio.

Infotainment navigation is accomplished by means of a glorified control knob termed:  ”HMI Commander Switch”.  Minus the space age name, I like it.  Menus and widgets are easily accessed by turning the control knob and selected by pushing down.  Typing keywords using the control knob is also a breeze, making it a simple and intuitive solution as a whole.

Infotainment Screen

One of the major features introduced in the late Mazda 3 models is its “Active Driving Display” heads up display.  Borrowed from military aviation technology, the active driving display projects the vehicle speed and navigation information onto a transparent display.  This allows drivers to focus more on the road while retaining vital vehicle information.  Proven to be a valuable driver’s asset, an extra feature that would have brought the heads up display to the next level would be interchangeable information displayed such as a multi-color RPM bar or the transmission gear number when in sequential shift mode.

Mazda Heads Up Display

The Drive

When it comes to comfort in the economy sedan class, the Mazda 3 is pretty much as good as it gets.  The Mazda 3′s SkyActiv platform delivers silky smooth acceleration.  Steering proves to be light weight and nimble with its electronic power steering system.  Base models  offer 4 cylinder engine producing 155 horsepower and and 150 ft.lbs of torque.  Mazda boasts about these numbers reigning over its competitors in both power and fuel economy including the Volkswagen Jetta 2.0L, Hyunda Elantra 1.8L and the Honda Civic 1.8L.  Speaking of fuel economy, the Mazda 3 EPA ratings weigh in at 30/41 mpg city and highway respectively.  For those that want a more heart-throbbing driving experience, the Mazda 3 can be configured with a more powerful 2.5L engine producing 183 horsepower and 185 ft.lbs of torque, but compromised by limited option to the 6 speed automatic/manual sequential transmission, and a penalty of a 2.4 mpg fuel economy rating.

But the aforementioned penalties should be a setback to the overall purchase decision.  The Mazda 3 GT model equipped with the upgraded 2.5L engine proves to be a valuable package that includes a sport mode feature that holds transmission shifts at higher RPM’s and tights steering and handling response.  Its 6 speed manual transmission also proves to be very smooth between gear shifts and manual shift mode is fairly obedient, but with a slight delay in response without that quick gear snap effect found in the performance oriented realm.

Skyactiv Engine

Final Verdict

Let’s face it.  No car is perfect, and none will ever be.  Where the Mazda 3 holds its edge is its ride quality with its SkyActiv platform.  You really can’t beat the the duo smooth and fuel economy features, and Mazda’s marketing team ensured that the Mazda 3 symbol portrayed that image.

Gray side view

Our tested Mazdz 3 GT model is priced in at $25,995.  That is stretching the upper limits of in the mid-size economy class.  But with that being said, there isn’t much to complain.  Interior quality employs good quality leather seats, with an overall clean and elegant layout.  And all the basic technological amenities are there including navigation, smart phone connectivity and audio controls.  Minus some of the minor intricate details in the digital space within the Mazda 3 including subpar audio quality, and lack of voice control and UI infotainment responsiveness, the still Mazda 3 still earns podium in the mid-size economy class.