3:37 PM EST, January 28, 2014


Redesigned for 2014, the Mazda3 is now completely on its own and is doing just fine. Thank you for asking.

In the past, the close working relationship between Ford and Mazda, an inevitable byproduct of Ford’s controlling ownership of Mazda stock, meant that the compact Ford Focus and previous generation Mazda3 shared some platform components. The arrangement benefited both cars.

However, Ford sold its Mazda stock during the start of the economic slowdown six years ago. This has left Mazda with a free hand in redesigning the 3, and the results are impressive.

The new Mazda3 rides on a wheelbase that is about 2.5 inches longer, has a body about half an inch shorter in the sedan and nearly two inches shorter in the hatchback. The result is supposed to be a passenger cabin that is now acceptable for adults, front and rear.

This six-footer would beg to differ. With the front seat set for a six-foot-tall driver, the rear seat will hold a person of comparable height, but space is cramped. However, front seat comfort is very good, and the rear seat cushioning is also acceptable. Shorter adults and children should be happy in the back.

My wife Paula and I had the Mazda3i hatchback with a 2.0-liter, 155-horsepower four-cylinder engine for review. A 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine with 184 horsepower is optional. Acceleration was adequate, with 60 miles per hour arriving in 9.4 seconds. The car actually felt more responsive than that number suggests. When it came time to merge or pass, the 2.0-liter Mazda3i never seemed at a loss for power.

A six-speed manual transmission, with its nearly effortless hill-holder clutch and smooth linkage is standard. For buyers who have never faced a clutch pedal before and don’t want to start now, a six-speed automatic is an option.

But concentrating on the numbers misses the essence of the new Mazda3. This compact is great fun to drive. It makes every trip entertaining. The precise steering is light, but still able to give good feedback and reflect higher cornering speeds through increased effort.

Then, there’s the handling. The Mazda3 is easily maneuvered in tight quarters and is a delight on secondary roads. The steering, tight suspension and good balance all make roads with twists and turns highly entertaining.

Buyers of the Mazda3s, with the “s” signifying the larger engine, get the automatic transmission, but can opt for the Technology Package that includes i-ELOOP technology.

This option combines active grille shutters to reduce air resistance and a capacitor that is charged by the alternator during coasting or deceleration. Think of a capacitor as a battery, and this one is big enough, when charged by this regenerative braking process, to shoulder part of the load presented by the car’s many electrical accessories. The i-ELOOP package also includes lane departure warning, high beam control and smart city brake support.

Even without this larger engine, the new Mazda3 delivers a memorable performance. Chalk one up for the “zoom-zoom” folks at Mazda.

 Mazda3 Sedan: $16,945 plus $795 for destination and handling
charges. 5-Door Hatchback: $18,945

4-Cylinder Engines:                         2.0                                                          2.5

HP:                                                155                                                         184

Torque (lb-ft):                                 150                                                         185

EPA Manual:                                      29/41 (29/40 hatchback)                    Not offered

EPA Automatic:                                 30/41 (30/40 hatchback)                28/39 (27/37 hatchback)

EPA Automatic i-ELOOP:               Not offered                                        28/39 (28/38 hatchback)

Starts at: $16,945 (sedan); $18,945 (hatchback)

Next week: BMW X5


Paula Says

I often say that I could live with a car. The new 2014 Mazda3i is a car that I’d like to live with. It’s genuinely fun to drive.

It is also an exceptional value. My husband Jim and I had the hatchback Grand Touring model, which featured every available option except the larger engine and automatic transmission – both unnecessary in my opinion. The price came to $24,635. The base sedan starts at $16,945 with the automatic
adding $1,050 to the price.

Our review car had a navigation system that delivered information on  a screen that I thought should retract into the instrument panel, but didn’t. The screen also supports the audio and communications systems in the car. It is operated by a center console array of two knobs and five buttons. This is a little complex, but it’s better than many of the infotainment systems that are growing in popularity. Voice control is also offered, along with steering wheel controls for audio, cruise and trip control functions.

The seats in the Grand Touring are heated and upholstered in handsome leatherette. Also standard was dual automatic temperature control heating and air conditioning with simple manual controls to override the automatic functions. This model also includes blind spot warning with cross traffic alert and a backup camera. Add the standard nine-speaker Bose audio upgrade and you have a very well-equipped automobile for a price that is at least $5,000 less than the average of a new vehicle today.

On the downside, the ride is firm and I noticed higher noise levels on the highway than I have experienced in some other compacts. However, it should be noted that these compacts were more expensive and less well-equipped than the Mazda3.

As for fuel economy, the trip computer showed an ever-improving picture over a one-week review period. It started out in the mid-20 miles per gallon range, eventually working its way up to 37 miles per gallon. In the end, we averaged 34.7 miles per gallon.