The new Mazda3 gets its first true redesign after 10 years and goes on sale in September. That’s a milestone for us, as the outgoing Mazda3 is a staff favorite, as our employee parking lot will attest. Eager to sample this redesigned compact, we just rented a prototype from Mazda. Thus far, it is fun and efficient, but our excitement is tempered by a few potential pitfalls.
The 2014 model is the first 3 based on Mazda’s complete suite of Skyactiv technologies, which we have seen return exceptional fuel economy in the Mazda CX-5 and Mazda6. To reduce gasoline consumption, the new 3 weighs about 100 pounds less than the outgoing car (depending on the configuration), and all versions get Mazda’s new direct-injection four-cylinder engines.
The Mazda3 i—with its 155-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder—is EPA rated at 34 mpg overall. The 184-hp, 2.5-liter Skyactiv engine is stuffed in the Mazda 3 for the first time with the s trim, rated at 32 mpg overall. But the new s comes only with a six-speed automatic transmission for now. With the slick manual transmission in the 2.0-liter hatch, we’ve been noticing around 35 mpg average on the trip computer.
Like the outgoing Mazda3, the car is still available as a sedan or a hatchback, though the sedan won’t go on sale until about a month after the hatchback. Both offer a hint more room than before, especially in the rear seat. One of our main complaints with the last Mazda3 was pronounced road noise. After a brief drive, we’d say the new model seems quieter. Ride comfort is also improved. Handling may not be as sharp as in the previous generation, but the 3 is still one of the more athletic among its peers.
So far, so good. Our only reservation: Midlevel and higher versions get a new touch-screen infotainment system that uses a jog-dial controller, à la BMW’s iDrive, in addition to a touch screen. We’ve found most such systems to be cumbersome and distracting to use. The car we’re sampling is a 3i Touring hatchback, without that control feature, so we will reserve judgment.
Connectivity levels are up to date and surpass those in the CX-5 and 6. The system integrates Aha, Pandora, and Stitcher audio streams into the car via smart phone, and it can be updated as technology progresses.
The top-level Mazda3 will now offer a new suite of driver aids, including a heads-up display, lane-departure warning, cross-traffic alert, radar-guided cruise control, and automatic high-beam and wiper controls. Blind-spot assistance is standard on midlevel models, but you have to order a high-level Touring with the technology to get a backup camera. (Learn about car safety.)
Top-level Grand Touring’s will also offer Mazda’s new i-Eloop, a (very, very) mild “hybrid” system that charges a capacitor when coasting. This stored energy can be used to run accessories, such as lights and the stereo, rather than put the load on the alternator. A sunroof is now a stand-alone option on Touring models except the s Touring, where it is not available. And it’s standard on Grand Touring.
Prices start at $16,945, plus destination, for an i SV sedan, and run to $28,000 for a loaded Grand Touring hatchback. The hatchback adds $500 over the sedan’s price across the board.
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