The all-new Mazda3 introduced itself to the market with a promotional hashtag – the media was presented this car as a “#GameChanger”. I personally was really looking forward to this car; while in my undergrad at university I briefly drove a first-generation Mazda3 GT with a 5-speed manual and thought it was a great car. The car eventually self-destructed, and the second-generation Mazda3 didn’t do much for me, so I was forced to look elsewhere for its replacement. If the 2014 Mazda3 Sport GS that I spent the past week with was around a few years ago, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that there would be one in my garage today.
There is no reason a compact car should be this good. The 2.0L SkyActiv 4-cylinder is immensely quiet and oozes Lexus-levels of refinement. It only puts out a modest 155-horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, but I don’t see a need for any more power in a car as modest as the Mazda3. Plus, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that Mazda will provide us enthusiasts with a Mazdaspeed version at some point in the near future. Acceleration is butter smooth, and at no point does the powertrain feel inadequate. While an automatic is available, my test car was equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission that everybody should experience once in his/her life. Mazda’s manuals are good, and Honda makes an incredible shifter too, but I have never experienced a clutch/shifter combination as perfect as this one. It only makes me anticipate the Mazdaspeed model even more.
The driving position of the new Mazda3 is very, very good. The seats in my GS were not powered, but do offer enough adjustment to very easily achieve a comfortable position. Not only are they adjustable, the cloth feels more upscale than I’d expect from a car in this class. The steering wheel tilts as well as telscopes, and the shifter is in the perfect position. One neat tidbit I noticed is that Mazda has taken a page out of Audi’s book of ergonomic perfection – the volume adjustment knob is located within inches of the shifter. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you’ve got it, it becomes second nature.
Styled similarly to the Mazda6, the 3 stands out in a crowd. The lines are sleek and flow beautifully. For the first time ever though, I prefer the sedan. The rear hatch area of the Sport screams “Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback” and doesn’t really tickle my fancy the way other hatchbacks do. In the initial few months of this latest generation, you unfortunately cannot get the top-level GT (2.5L engine) with the manual transmission. It’s a bit surprising considering the Mazda3’s older brother, the Mazda6, can be had with a manual on all trims. I consider my old 3 to be the perfect model of its generation – black with black leather, 17” wheels and the bigger engine coupled to a great-shifting manual. Considering the fact that there are quite a few younger buyers who are looking for a three-pedal Mazda3 with the 2.5L motor, I seriously hope Mazda sends over some manual GTs sooner than later.
The interior of the new 3 is a huge step up from the previous generation. My tester was a mid-level Sport GS (“Sport” is Mazda’s way of telling you it’s a hatchback), and came surprisingly loaded. For just under $23,000 as-tested, the car comes with a sunroof, fog lamps, a 7” TFT display with a controller, and heated seats. Other toys include a rear-view camera, automatic headlights, Bluetooth connectivity, and the list goes on. Seriously, the Mazda3 GS is a genuinely great value. Unlike the system on other newer Mazda models, this one actually read my 160GB iPod Classic, and the new HMI controller makes browsing through playlists and albums a breeze. The 6 and CX-5 both need this infotainment suite.
Typically, with test cars, I end up taking notes throughout my test week in order to remember to point out any gaping flaws in a car. Thankfully, the Mazda3 didn’t have too many. However, I didn’t even need to drive the car to notice its biggest flaw. The placement of the front license plate is the single most detrimental thing to the appearance of the car. I know it’s partially the Ontario provincial government’s fault for mandating front plates, but still. It’s a real shame too, because the car is striking without it. The only other issue I had with the car is the quasi-Smart Key system. I say “quasi” because even though the car is started via a button on the dashboard, you need to push the button on the key fob to unlock it. When locking it, it very loudly beeps the rather embarrassing horn that has been symbolic on the Mazda3 since its introduction as a 2004 model. The horn is a cheap bit on a car that otherwise hides any evidence of cost-cutting.
I know Mazda has been working quite hard to emphasize the efficiency aspect of their vehicles, and it’s been a long time coming. Where my first-generation Mazda3 really needed some fine-tuning was in the fuel mileage department. This new one implements the corporate SkyActiv technology and claims it can do 4.9L/100km on the highway. It’s very rare for a car to see any manufacturer or EPA claim in a real-world setting, but the Mazda3 came close. I was astounded to see a combined average over the week of 6.4L/100km. When considering the fact that it takes regular fuel, this is one seriously frugal little car.
We recently drove the 2014 Toyota Corolla as well as most of the other players in this crowded segment, all of which boggled my mind with how far they’ve come over the past few years. Long gone are the days of window cranks and using keys to unlock cars – we’re in the age of Bluetooth and leather seats in Corollas. The 2014 Mazda3 only proves the point that compact cars no longer need to be penalty boxes. They don’t need to be basic, beige appliances that are only purchased because the buyer requires reliable A-B transportation. This car has a soul that every driver can appreciate, and that in fact makes it a #GameChanger. Zoom zoom!
2014 Mazda3 Sport Gallery