Mazda3 (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)