The Mazda3 made its first appearance on North American shores in 2003, as a 2004 model, replacing the Protégé. Since production began in June 2003, the Japanese car maker has sold over 4 million units of this fun little car. The Mazda3 accounts for 30% of Mazda’s sales worldwide and 50% of sales in Canada. To say the Mazda3 is an important car for the Japanese manufacturer would be an understatement, so for the third generation re-design, the company made sure they did it right.
I’ve never driven a Mazda3 before, so I was looking forward to reviewing the all-new 2014 Mazda3 and I really wanted to see if the car was really worthy of the “zoom-zoom” slogan.
The car we reviewed for a week was the Mazda3 Sport GT hatchback, with the 2.5 liter SKYACTIV engine; Mazda offers the 2014 Mazda3 in three trim levels: GX, GS, and GT with sedan and hatchback formats. The GX and GT models are powered by 2.0 liter 4-cylinder SKYACTIV engines with direct injection, producing 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 150 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. These cars are offered with 6-speed manual or optional 6-speed automatic transmissions. The GT is powered by a direct injection 2.5 liter SKYACTIV 4-cylinder engine that produces 184 HP at 5,700 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, no manual available on this trim level. Prices start at $15,995 for the GX, $19,965 for the GS, and $25,855 for the GT, before PDI and other fees and taxes.
The 2014 Mazda3 gets the “KODO-soul of motion” design language, which Mazda has been applying to its new vehicles. I personally really like the design on this car, especially the hatchback. I’m glad the “smiley face” front grill is gone, which made an appearance on the 2nd generation 3’s.
The new Mazda3 hatchback’s design makes it look like a European car. The car is 1.8” shorter, 1.6” wider, and 0.6” lower than the car it replaces, while the wheelbase has been stretched by 2.4”. Giving the Mazda3 a very sporty look, with a short overhang at the back and a long hood at the front; it looks fantastic, especially in the GT trim with the larger 18” wheels and roof mounted spoiler. These proportions give the car a muscular look of a bulldog; it looks ready to take a bite out of any twisty road.
The Mazda3 is one of the best looking cars in the compact segment, with cars from Kia and Hyundai the only other cars in this class that can compete with the 3, based on design. The Corolla and Civic look extremely boring compared to the Mazda3.
At the beginning of the test drive, I wondered whether this car is worthy of the “zoom-zoom” slogan? After driving it for a week, I can say YES with confidence. The car is very sporty and fun to drive. The 2.5 liter SKYACTIV engine with 184 HP has enough grunt for racing from one red light to the next and it has enough juice for cruising and passing on the highway. Because the engine has direct injection, it is a bit noisy at start-up, but once it gets going, there isn’t much noise coming into the interior.
The steering wheel has a heavy feel to it, which is great for people that enjoy twisty roads and the suspension is firmer than most cars in this class. Personally I prefer a firm suspension over soft; it gives the car a very sporty feel.
The Mazda3 GT also comes with an “S” button next to the automatic gear shifter, pushing the button really makes the car come to life. The throttle response is quicker and the gears are held longer, this is the mode you want to be to really feel this car. In this mode, the car feels lighter and is a lot of fun to drive, especially when put in the manual mode and shifting gears with the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
The interior on the 2014 Mazda3 is laid out in a very clean fashion; its clutter free and comes with lots of soft-touch plastics and carbon-fiber-look trim on parts of the steering wheel and door panels. The center console has a small area for buttons that are straight forward and easy to use; these buttons control the dual-zone automatic climate control system.
The interior is also pretty comfortable and quiet; the cloth seats are comfortable for long drives (leather seats optional) and come with 3-level heat settings for the driver and passenger. Our car’s seats had manual adjustments, but 6-way power-adjusted driver’s seats can be had with the “Luxury Package”.
The steering wheel is leather wrapped and is pretty thick; it comes with buttons for the cruise control, radio controls, phone, and voice command. Behind the steering wheel is a center mounted tachometer that digitally displays the speed. Above the gauge cluster is a very cool pop-up HUD screen, which shows the vehicle’s speed and turn-by-turn navigation instructions.
The heads up display is one of those things you don’t need but once you’ve used it, you wonder why other cars don’t have it. It’s very convenient, you don’t need to take your eyes off the road to check your speed, even if taking your eyes off the road to check your speed only takes a split second. I’ve become a big fan of this feature.
The one thing I’m not a fan on the interior of the Mazda3 is the touch-screen for the infotainment system, which just sticks out of the dashboard. I think it would look a lot better if it were smoothly integrated into the dashboard. Mercedes and BMW are also doing it the same way, let’s hope this trend ends soon.
What I am a big fan of is the way the touch-screen responds. I was pretty impressed with how quickly you can go from one screen to the next and how crisp the display is and the video quality is great from the back up camera. This display puts some of the $130,000+ cars to shame, which I reviewed recently.
Another great feature is the knob behind the gear lever to control the various functions on the touch-screen; the knob lets you browse through the entertainment, navigation, phone and settings. Using this rotary knob felt much more natural than reaching over to change things on the touch-screen display. Again, this is one of those safety features you won’t think about if you haven’t used it. Using the knob to browse through the different windows reduces the time looking at the screen, which means you’re spending more time looking at the road (we’re talking milliseconds, but every bit counts).
Like most modern cars, the Mazda3 is full of the latest tech wizardry. For safety, it comes with airbags, side curtain airbags, active headrests, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), and Traction Control System (TCS).
Other tech includes intelligent key system, push-button start, heated mirrors and front seats, automatic headlights, automatic rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth connectivity, USB and auxiliary audio, dual-zone climate control, Bi-Xenon (HID) with LED signature headlights, LED taillights, and a 9-speaker Bose audio system.
Features like these were only seen in luxury automobiles, only a few years ago; it’s pretty impressive to see them on compact cars.
The Mazda “zoom-zoom” slogan really does apply to the 2014 Mazda3 Sport GT hatchback we test drove. This is one of the best looking cars in this segment and you don’t have to spend a fortune getting one; you can buy a base model for under $16k or a fully loaded one with all the options and bells and whistles for about $30k. The car is fun to drive, easy on the eyes, and pretty comfortable and offers the latest technologies most people are looking for.
For more information on the 2014 Mazda3 Sport GT and other variants, check out Mazda Canada’s website.