Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: 2014 Mazda3 s Grand Touring

The four-door compact car market is absolutely jam packed with offerings. There are so many choices it’s staggering. The good news for buyers is that there really isn’t a bad car out there. But, like most things in life, at some point something comes along and raises the bar. And while there might not be a bad car out there, some are better than others. The 2014 Mazda3 is one such example.

Mazda’s compact 3 was already at the very-good end of the spectrum, but the all-new 2014 Mazda3 is one of these cars that simply takes it to the next level, and other automakers should take note.

I’ve long said that all Mazdas have a bit of Miata in them: Great steering with feel and feedback that should be studied by other manufacturers; reflexes that make some much more expensive cars jealous; and braking and handling that are at the top of their games. These descriptors are true of the ’14 Mazda3 s Grand Touring. The car feels perfectly dialed in. It’s one of these cars that makes you wonder—why aren’t other automakers building cars this good?

The new-for-2014 Mazda3 now more closely resembles the larger 2014 Mazda6, which I think is a great thing, since it, too, is a handsome mode of transportation. Gone is the 3’s old smiley-faced grille; its front fascia certainly different, but more modern. In fact, the whole car is sophisticated and contemporary looking with crisp lines and sleek design. Those lines elongate the shape and make the car look longer than it really is. For example, its 173.8” overall length is 10” shorter than a ’14 Toyota Corolla, nearly 9” shorter than a ’14 VW Jetta, but 1.8” longer than a Subaru Impreza. Of particular note, the long-looking hood. Our s Grand Touring came with the attractive 18” wheels and tires as well as 11.61” front disc brakes (0.59” larger than Mazda3 i models); Xenon headlights that turn with the steering wheel; LED daytime running lights; rain-sensing wipers; dual exhaust outlets; and a host of other features that add to the car’s premium appeal. And make no mistake, this car has a premium feel both inside and out.

Under the hood is Mazda’s SKYACTIVE-G 2.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine making 180 hp and 185 lbs./ft. of torque. It’s got plenty of power and that torque helps the Mazda3 accelerate strongly and feel much more torquey than many other cars in its class. In addition, it’s also smooth and quiet. While producing a class-leading amount of power, it also still is rated at 28 city, 38 highway for fuel economy when equipped with i-ELOOP, which our tester was. To put it simply, i-ELOOP is a regenerative system that turns kinetic energy into electricity. The alternator can vary from 12 to 25 volts and that electricity is used to power electrical components on the vehicle. No, this isn’t a hybrid, but it uses some of the same technology. Our Mazda3 was attached to the very good six-speed automatic that has the ability to shift the transmission manually. All Mazdas do this right, too: Pull back to upshift, push forward to downshift. I find this mush more intuitive than having it the opposite way. Regardless, shifts are smooth and fluid; no complaints here.

In addition to the high-tech i-ELOOOP and SKYACTIV-G engine, our Mazda3 had gobs of technologies often found on higher-end cars. This included radar cruise control, blind spot detection, heads-up display, and a unique entertainment system. All of the infotainment/navigation is controlled via a center console-mounted dial, and it works very well. It’s also one of these features that has trickled down from much more expensive vehicles. The brilliant and expansive screen stands vertically from the dashboard’s center and looks as if it was designed specifically for a futuristic concept vehicle. It takes a bit of getting used to but becomes quick and intuitive.

The rest of the interior is also gorgeous. The two-tone leather, solid build quality, and premium interior materials make this compact feel as if it was plucked from a luxury lineup. Like most other Mazdas, so much of the interior is driver oriented. The steering wheel feels just-right in the hands; seating position is just as you’d like it. Nothing feels awkward. Visibility is pretty good, and there is a backup camera when reversing. The interior is also very spacious. The driver/passenger area is very comfy, and there is plenty of space in the back seat for passengers. The cargo area behind the rear seats is also generous. Fold down the rear seats and the Mazda3 allows people to carry scads of cargo—extremely practical.

On the road the 3 feels refined, smooth, and sporting. The ride is athletic without being harsh. It cruises effortlessly, yet handling is remarkable. The aforementioned steering feels perfectly weighted. The car corners flat and quickly. Yes, this is a driver’s car. In fact, it’s one of the best compact driver’s cars on the market. I just hope they make a MAZDASPEED version.

All this tech and tuning comes at a price, however. Our test model stickered at about $29,000. That’s definitely on the upper end of the compact market. Then again, with all these accouterments, it suddenly becomes a pseudo luxury car. And if you look at it that way, it’s a pretty good deal. If $29K is too much, take comfort in knowing you can get in to a base Mazda3 i for $18,945, thought it has a 2.0-liter engine and not quite as much tech.

Few cars make me feel as if the bar has truly been raised in the segment. Sure, some have great powerplants or fantastic steering; amazing interiors or sexy looks. However, few are able to deliver the whole package as well as the Mazda3 s Grand Touring. And while you will pay for this goodness, it might be well worth it to people who love driving and are looking for a roomy, practical, and sporty compact.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"Visibility is pretty good"? The rear sides look like massive blind spots. And the high beltline means kids won't be able to see out of the windows when sitting in the back seat! As a former owner of one, I still think the first-generation Mazda3 had the best styling.