Buyers…are liars. How else to explain the Mazda 3? What does it not offer that people say they want? Refined styling. Luxurious interior. Powerful engine. All wheel drive. No CVT. Reliability. Pricing well under that of the Germans. There’s even a hatchback version. The car we received last week contains all of the above besides being a sedan, yet the newest Mazda 3 is enduring its worst sales performance in generations of being. Of course no car can be all things to all people but this situation is more baffling than most, given what’s on offer here that sets it apart from the flock.
As with most (all?) Mazda models, the styling of this one is expressive without being anywhere near over the top, derivative, or weird. From a clean and chiseled front end with Mazda’s signature grille to sculped bodysides with taught metalwork enveloping what looks like a muscular physique without any off-putting angles, there’s simply a modern and clean shape here.
Headlights and taillights are well integrated into the surrounding portions of the body with interesting details and shapes within their housings, and in this case the black wheels as well as black mirrors and small lip spoiler are meant to subtly evoke the athleticism of the powertrain and chassis.
Of course design and individual reactions to it are extremely subjective, but there doesn’t seem to be much here that’s objectionable or even questionable. Maybe the black wheels for some, but that’s quite easy to change or option out.
Interiors are something that Mazda have become known for over the last few years and in that aspect, the 3 certainly does not disappoint either. Finished here quite dramatically in black and white, the well-sculpted white leather seats invite a long stay.
Powered on the driver’s side while manually adjustable on the passenger’s, finding a comfortable position is simple, and dual memory options for the driver’s side ensures that the perfect position can be replicated. Seat and steering wheel heating is appreciated on cold mornings as well.
The dashboard’s spear of white across it with a minimum of obvious switchgear scattered about is refreshingly simple, although what’s most often needed offers quick access to itself. While the all-important 8.8″ screen is perched above, it sits in its own little alcove, rather than just appearing tacked on.
As with the Germans, most aspects of it are easily controlled using the wheel at the base of the center console with quick-menu buttons arrayed around it, however some commonly integrated aspects of the interior such as the dual zone climate control are in this case controlled via a separate small console in the middle of the dashboard.
At the base of the center console there’s a decent sized cubby fronted by two cupholders, then the shifter with the drive mode toggle next to it, and the multimedia controller aft of that. The knob to control the audio volume is just to the right of it and falls easily to anyone’s hand (and there’s a redundant and for the driver more convenient controller on the steering wheel). While the black surround at first seems solid, a little bit of light reveals a subtle patterning within it, adding more depth to its field.
The vents on the dashboard are well integrated to the shapes that they are apart of, from scalloped nacelles around the instrument binnacle to simple rectangles ahead of the passenger, all of them are simple there without being “there”. Similarly, the steering wheel with its phenomenally small center and superbly sculpted rim feels very natural within one’s hands.
All of the buttons on it are easy to comprehend and use with nary a glance, a comfortable position is easy to find both for its position relative to the driver’s seat and also in how it’s grasped without being too big or too small, too thick or too thin, just being right.
Similarly the instrumentation is simple, effective, and extremely legible without having (or choosing) to resort to gimmickry. In fact its biggest “gimmick” is that the center speedometer looks exactly like the analog physical gauges to its sides, yet it’s a digital representation. I’ve long enjoyed how Mazda’s technology will read a speed limit sign placed at the roadside and then illuminate a red hashmark to display that exact limit on the speedometer.
In this 3 it starts with that and expands on it by taking the needle and when it passes that speed limit point’s hashmark, seems to pull a small red digital “thread” around the dial from the limit to whatever the present speed may be, making it quite obvious just how much of a transgression may be in play by the driver. Simple and effective, yet subtle.
In the same vein the distance-to-empty gauge and the fuel economy gauges/graphs just flanking the speedometer are elegantly clean in their displays, making the information easy to interpret and obvious at a glance.
That white spear of contrast on the dashboard continues into the doors where it is interlaced with the door controls as well as some of the 12 speakers of the Bose audio system with again, simple, yet effectively styled, aluminum grillework and handles.
The front seating area is comfortable if not overly roomy, I fit fine but without an abundance of extra space. The sunroof surround was close to but not touching my head, and while the pillars are slim, the windshield is heavily raked so the top of the screen is closer to one’s head than in some other cars, especially non-sedan shapes. The sunroof’s opening in fact seemed mostly behind my head the way I sit in the seat, rendering any benefits of it fairly useless for me, although it then adds more light to the rear part of the cabin.
In back the overall ambience is the same as in front with comfortable and attractive surroundings. For me and my 6’1″ height with 32″ inseam there was just enough legroom to fit but not to move around much once seated. My head did touch the ceiling and while it wasn’t overly uncomfortable, it wouldn’t make for a great long distance position either. If you’re a little shorter, consider yourself lucky in that regard and this car might fit you extremely well.
A bigger issue affecting anyone is that there are no rear vents or power ports back there although perhaps access is possible to the ports under the front’s center console armrest. There is though a fold-down armrest with cupholders for liquid refreshment.
The trunk lid opens to reveal a good sized trunk with an aperture that’s decently sized and less of a slot than in some others, but it’s not exactly the longest trunk lid either. At least the depth of the cavity itself is good, and under the floor resides a temporary spare tire. There are also easily accessible levers to pull that will release the rear seatbacks 60/40 for extra carrying space.
Underhood is Mazda’s answer to everyone that used to complain about the perceived lack of power in their vehicles, namely the turbocharged SkyActiv-G 2.5 liter inline-4. As one of the few to do so, Mazda publishes two power figures depending on which gasoline the user prefers to provide, so in the case of regular gas being used, the engine will return 227hp@5,000rpm and 311lb-ft of torque @2,000rpm. If premium is used those figures increase to 250hp and 320lb-ft at the same rpm levels.
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