Interestingly, regular fuel is the recommended one, so rather than it incurring a power penalty, using the higher-grade stuff provides a bonus instead. The window sticker uses the lower figures as well, being a rare and welcome instance of a manufacturer underpromising and overdelivering.
That engine fires up instantly via the starter button and does not include a stop/start feature. The idle speed is imperceptible with no noise inside the cabin even though it’s direct injected, as well as being utterly smooth and vibration-free.
Pulling the gear lever (a normal one, no dial, monostatic nonsense, or buttons just to be different) into Reverse illuminates the image provided by the backup camera on the center screen, which proves to be crisp and clear with a wide field of vision to back up with, while swiveling one’s head shows that there is good visibility out the back as well. Once ready to go, pulling the lever further into Drive lets the car move forward again.
The transmission here is a 6-speed conventional automatic that shifts quickly and imperceptibly. While an 8-speed box may provide slightly better fuel economy, the 6-speed seems to be a bit of sweet spot in being perfectly adequate to the task of shifting, never seeming to be in the wrong gear, while still being quite efficient and presumably less complex and expensive.
What’s interesting is the sound of the engine, compared to how it presents itself in the CX-5 and CX-9, both of which we have tested here, it seems louder. Not obtrusive but not just along for the ride either, it makes a noise that’s quite distinctive, the best way to describe the warble it generates is as sort of a hybrid between an older Audi’s inline-5 and a Subaru flat-4.
Increasing in level and urgency the harder it’s pressed it adds a lot of character, but even at full chat isn’t annoyingly loud. If the sound appeals (and it certainly did to me), it encourages enthusiastic use of the accelerator pedal and then the engine is fully there to rocket the car forward and provide lots of usable power at any time.
This car was also equipped with Mazda’s i-ACTIV AWD system (optional on most Mazda 3 trims and required with the turbo), and coupled with Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control Plus system results in a drive system that simply becomes an extension of one’s brain, willingly pushing the car onto the road and around corners with aplomb.
Seeming very well balanced it encourages diving deep into corners and powering back out of them, with strong grip throughout while the computer moves the power around to the corner of the car that can use it most at any given time. The brakes were just as strong, the four wheel discs combining with the tires to slow quickly and cleanly time after time.
The tires on this car were Bridgestone Turanza EL440s sized at 215/45-18 and while not the ultimate performance tire, seemed very well suited to the application here. The weather was mostly good while I had the car so no opportunity to sample it in snow or heavy rain.
However even with heavy accelerator pressure there was never any instance of slip or awareness of beating the system to putting the power to the ground which bodes very well for adverse conditions, given that it isn’t exactly a meager power output at play here while the car is fairly lightweight, at 3,379lbs. On some surfaces I’d judge the road noise from the tires as perhaps higher than I’d prefer, but on some other surfaces it was dead quiet.
Loaded with tech, it made good use of it without being overbearing or annoying in use. For example the Lane Keep Assist will illuminate a small graphic (not just a light) inside the speedometer that shows the need to turn the wheel a little more if veering too close to the edge.
Not until you get even closer does then a subtle rumble-strip-like vibration enter the steering wheel before then gently helping to move the wheel a bit rather than doing it all at once or, even worse, just emitting a loud beep embarrassingly announcing your potentially imminent doom to all occupants. The car is your friend and helper, not your judge, helping you to save face.
Similarly the “Overhead Camera” feature is useful when pulling into a tight garage such as mine with stuff stacked all around the car. Getting close to the front I can see the boxes and tires stacked ahead of the car and see exactly how much distance is left before hitting anything. Or when pulling out of a parking spot the car can see what’s coming and if the view is blocked will alert the driver to the point of applying the brakes should a rear collision be imminent.
There’s plenty more stuff similar to this (such as how it can read your text messages to you and will take dictation to reply to them), but all of it is standard at this trim level which is refreshing and a welcome difference between the real “luxury” marques that generally upcharge for much of it and a more mass-market brand such as Mazda that here just provides the same luxury feel and features for a much more attractive price.
It’s also decently economical, my overall average over 413 miles came out to 26.9mpg as opposed to the official ratings of 23city, 32highway, and 27average. I drove it to the Boulder, CO vicinity twice via mainly freeways for about 200 miles of the total with the remainder being local town traffic as well as some limited medium speed highway as well as a fair amount of driving in our mountain foothill roads up to about 8,300 feet of elevation.
While regular is recommended I used premium fuel to get the most out of it (and did refill it at about halfway through during my time with it) but am not positive what the supplied tank of fuel consisted of. The tank is not overly large at 12.7 gallons so 400-mile stints may be difficult to achieve.
The Mazda 3 sedan lineup consists of multiple trim levels with the base one equipped with a 2.0liter engine and FWD retailing at $20,650, then several 2.5liter-engined trims quickly come into play with AWD as an option, and up through the range to this, the range topping 2.5liter turbo Premium Plus with AWD. At this level the price starts at $32,450 plus the $945 Destination Charge.
Built in Hofu, Japan, with the engine and transmission part of the 80% of Japanese content, the standard equipment list is quite long. Some highlights include the black painted wheels, LED lighting at all corners with adaptive fronts, AndroidAuto/AppleCarPlay, Auto-dimming frameless interior mirror, Blind Spot Monitoring System, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Radar Cruise Control with Stop and Go capability, Rain-sensing windshield wipers, Paddle shifters, Lane Keep Assist and Departure Warning and many of the other items I’ve mentioned previously.
The Premium Plus Package (which was listed as a no-charge option on the Monroney Sticker for some reason and seems to be included as standard online) consists specifically of the Leather Seats, Front and Rear Parking Sensors, 360Degree View Monitor (Overhead Camera), Traffic Jam Assist, Auto-dimming exterior mirror, Traffic Sign Recognition, Navigation System, Homelike, Rear Spoiler, Rear Cross Traffic Alert with Braking, and Rear Smart City Brake Support.
The only actual extra cost options were the Machine Gray Exterior Paint at $495 and All Weather Floor Mats for $125. Altogether this totals out to $34,015, which seems to be an extremely good value for a fast, safe, very well equipped sedan that easily is far more luxurious inside that anything from Germany’s big three luxury marques at anywhere even remotely close to that price.
It’s a shame that the market isn’t responding better to the Mazda 3 in its current iteration as it’s an extremely likable and competent sedan that should make an excellent long-term companion. Not to mention being attractive on many levels far deeper than just the physical, it presents a value proposition that should be extremely compelling to anyone considering the smaller premium sedan offerings from Europe.
It’s a real winner, it just needs opportunities to play in the game rather than seemingly being shut out of the big leagues. Perhaps the world’s slow emergence from the current global situation will cause some to reprioritize their needs and wants to Mazda’s (and their own) benefit.
Thank You to Mazda for providing us this car along with a full tank of gasoline last week!
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