By Scott Araujo
In my last post, Buying a New Car, Part4: Starting Over, I purchased a 2014 Mazda 3 iSport. Here are my impressions after having owned it for a while.
I know this series only started a few weeks ago, but I've actually owned the car for about a year now and I've put about 12,000 miles on it. So far I'm thrilled with it. I'm really glad I spent a bit more money than I planned to because I got a car I really love.
In some ways it's really nice not to have had a new car in seventeen years because I really appreciate all the stuff I get in just a base model these days. Things I didn't have on my old Honda Civic: electric windows, electric mirrors, electric locks with keyless entry, keyless ignition, Bluetooth phone and radio, projector beam headlights, six-speed transmission, child seat anchors, cargo area light, front and rear sway bars, tachometer, four doors instead of two, and hill assist. There's probably even more but I think that should do.
Andy drove it and as soon as he sat down and adjusted the seat he just said, "Ahhhh! Everything is right where it should be." The wheel, gearshift, and pedals are all perfectly placed, and he immediately noticed it was super easy to heel-toe it. He also commented that it feels very solid, and it feels like it will still be that way in five or ten years. I agree.
Of course the controls for lights, climate, radio, etc. are all very accessible too. The steering wheel has controls for the radio, phone, and cruise control. If there were any more on there it would start to look crowded. While I had initially bashed the seemingly offhand way they put the radio on the dash I now have grown to like it. It still looks like a cheap digital clock sitting there but it is amazingly practical. Sitting high up, it's very easy to see without having to look too far from the road. I also love that it has a single knob/button right in the middle for volume and power. You can stick everything else into a slider or touch screen but having these two controls so readily available is great.
The interior is great but I do miss the mottled dark gray of the Honda. The black seats and carpet of the Mazda show everything. My son once dumped a small container of tatziki sauce on the front seats of the Honda. A napkin swipe and two seconds later it looked perfect again. It still needed a little washing to smell perfect again but the Honda interior never looked dirty. I miss that a bit. The Mazda interior does look sharp when clean. It's got a very nice instrument binnacle, touches of faux carbon trim around things, and a strip of piano black across the dash that adds class and is nowhere near anything you actually need to touch so it stays unblemished. The faux carbon looks pretty good now, but I bet that will fade fast when the first ding in the plastic reveals its charade.
Not everything is perfect. One dig is that the center console does does intrude a bit where the driver's right leg goes. Tall people may find this intrusive. There was something about the gear shift knob that kept leaving my palm feeling raw, just made of material that's too sticky. I swapped it out for a slimline chrome piece that works much better. The door pockets are really only suited to holding 16oz. bottles at an angle. And despite my best efforts to adapt I ended up removing the arm rest off of the center console. It has left it looking a little raw but now my elbow doesn't hit anything.
The radio is just the base model but pretty good. It has a speed-based automatic level control which works well. The highways around Portland are pretty rough and will give almost any car some cabin noise. With the ALC I rarely have to adjust the radio to compensate. The higher-end models get the touchscreen radio that will import a whole mess of contacts from your phone. With the iSport you can manually and arduously enter a handful by talking to the radio. It sucks. And if the car is moving at all it won't recognize the name I say. I gave up on it; I just press the button on my iPhone and talk to Siri. Siri gets me. Once I'm talking directly to my iPhone everything works very well regardless of speed. If I plug it into the USB in the car it works great as an iPod but won't work as a phone. I just plug into a 12V USB adapter and use Bluetooth. The music and phone work pretty well from there and it's really nice to have.
The lines of the car are really something. It's one of the few cars that doesn't have a body edge or piece of molding running in a single line from nose to tail. The front fender has its line, the rear fender has its line, and somewhere on the doors they subtly intersect. The rocker panel peels away from horizontal to rise toward the rear. There's also the subtle ridge in the hood that harkens back to when fenders were separate from the hood. It's so refreshing to look at a car that has some real curves to it. And then for contrast there's actually a vertical grill and an angle where the grill meets the hood instead of a wind tunnel mandated curve. I'd say the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra hatches both hit a lot of the same styling cues as the Mazda3, but to me the 3 makes a much more powerful impression. The beltline on the car swoops up as it goes rearward and this has a nice side effect: the rear windows roll entirely down. Just a nice little bonus.
One of the first things I did was get some alloy wheels. The OEM options are so boring and I wanted something flat black for a dark stealthy look. It's easy to find cheap wheels, it's easy to find wheels that you like, but getting both is tough. After a few weeks of searching I found something that hit the mark, that was out of stock. But it was back in a week later and Discount Tire Direct set me up. I went with the stock 16" diameter. This is my daily driver so a bit more comfortable and less curb rash prone. I like the way the flat black complements the dark gray paint. The Bridgestone Ecopia tires are just "meh." I like that they're made from recycled rubber and that they're low rolling resistance for fuel economy but the performance is just ok.
As soon as Mercedes saw the car with the new wheels she said, "NEEDS MOAR LOWWWW!!!"
I'm paraphrasing but she's right, it looks a bit dorky with cool wheels and that big fender gap. Somewhere on the horizon is a set of lowering springs. I got a hint of what it would look like when parking on my brother-in-law's off-camber driveway.
I have been putting more mileage on my car since I got the Mazda. The last year I had the Honda it racked up about 5,000 miles and I've more than doubled that in the first year I've had the Mazda. Some of that is because we used to always take my wife's Civic sedan on the weekend for family outings and now we can take either car. We also took the Mazda on a whirlwind 3,600 mile trip from Portland to San Diego and back, stopping in the Bay Area along the way to see family. The car was great the whole time, my five year old never imploded, which is a lot to say with that much time in the car, and I got to surf for the first time in a decade. Good news all around except for the fact that surfing showed me how out of shape I've gotten. The seats, which are a bit mores sporty and supportive than Andy and Mercedes' WRX seats, were super comfy for the whole trip.
I've been getting pretty good fuel economy with the car. I average just under 30MPG in my usual daily mix of driving, that's up a tad from the Honda's 27MPG. Still, even on the long highway stretches of the road trip, I never hit the advertised 40MPG. The best we did was 37. Not bad but it seems tougher these days to hit the published highway numbers.
In 2014 you could only get the 2.0-liter engine if you wanted a manual transmission. Now in 2015, Mazda is also offering the 2.5-liter with the stick. Given the choice I'd stick with the 2.0-liter. It's not screaming fast but it's got plenty of pep to get moving and slightly higher MPG. If you're performance minded, then by all means get the bigger lump up front. While I don't want to own one, I'd sure love to drive one. The 2.0 is perky and fun, I bet the 2.5 is just bigger and better.
The car really hit the sweet spot for me. Four doors and plenty of room for the family, enough cargo space for road trips, the unrivaled utility of a hatchback, beautiful lines that I love to see every morning I walk out to it, and a more sporty ride quality and overall feel than I ever expected. I also really like how solid it feels. There's something to be said for a Japanese car that's still made in Japan, I noticed the Scions were also very solid. Anyway, I'm pretty sure this car will be with me for many years to come. It's great but there might be a few tweaks to make. Time to start looking for some mods!