A striking leader in the growing compact segment
Actually, a week with the 2014 Mazda3 GT is starting to sound more and more like a perfect date.
I’ve developed a strange love-hate relationship with Mazdas. Driving one almost always goes one of two ways for me; I either absolutely love the car, or come away shockingly disappointed. That said, I’ve always been fond of the first generation Mazda3. In my opinion it is still one of the better looking compact cars out there and was great fun to toss around. On its initial release in Canada, that car became an instant hit. As good as the original car was, the second iteration of the Mazda 3 was rather forgettable for me; so I jumped at the chance to spend a week with the all-new 2014 Mazda3 GT, in fully loaded GT trim, to find out which way my relationship with the car would go.
In my mind, the new Mazda3 had beaten the previous version right out of the gate simply because that deliriously smiling face has been replaced by a rather aggressive iteration of Mazda’s corporate grill. The new facia is coupled with a long and slightly curved hood, paying a little homage to the legendary RX-7, and giving the exterior of the new 3 a properly sporty look. Truth be told, there are some angles of the new car that do come off as awkward, but it still represents a dramatic improvement over its predecessor.
Where the Mazda3 has always won me over is with its driving dynamics, and this latest model is definitely no exception. Equipped with the SKYACTIV-G 2.5L 4-cylinder pumping out a healthy 184 horsepower, the GT feels surprisingly quick. The interesting part is that the car feels a lot more powerful than it really is; I attribute that to the incredibly smooth power delivery from the 2.5L, aided by the sharp-shifting 6-speed automatic which makes passing at all speeds a breeze. Throttle response is also spot-on, contributing to the overall feeling of power.
Handling is another high point for the Mazda3. The steering is responsive, tight and predictable. Despite the fact that the car has grown in size over the years, it still remains composed through the twisties and has proven to be a stable highway cruiser as well. With these sporty driving dynamics comes one big compromise and that is the ride quality. While the ride is not overly offensive, driving on pothole-riddled city streets makes it quite clear that Mazda has had to make some sacrifices in the ride department in order to deliver an engaging driving experience. Actually, what struck me most was just how well balanced the car feels. When pushed it is inevitable that the front-drive platform shows some weaknesses, but in normal daily driving the Mazda3’s tight and responsive feel reminds me very much of the E90 BMW 3-series.
Mazda has also done an absolutely phenomenal job building an interior that is as comfortable and as well appointed as most entry-level luxury sedans. The black leather with prominent red stitching found in my GT tester really makes the interior a nice place to be. The same can be said for the sporty three-spoke steering wheel, which looks and feels great. Functionally, I found all the controls to be very well thought out, seats comfortable, plenty of storage up front and rear leg room adequate for most average sized adults.
My $30,000 GT trim tester came loaded to the hilt with both the $1500 Luxury Package and the $2500 Technology Package. The Technology Package provides a multitude of electronic nannies to help keep you safely on the road, along with Mazda’s latest fuel saving technology called i-ELOOP. This strange term refers to a regenerative braking system which very quickly charges a capacitor whenever the car is coasting or braking. The energy in the capacitor is then used to power the electronic accessories in the car, removing strain from the engine and saving fuel. Mazda claims this technology can help reduce fuel consumption by up to 10% in the city. A nifty diagram can be called up on the car’s info screen to monitor the i-ELOOP system’s usage. While I cannot validate or disprove Mazda’s fuel claims for this technology, I will say that it seems like a lot of effort and expense to save a relatively nominal amount of fuel in only certain driving conditions. With that said, I did observe decent fuel economy numbers. Despite the fact that we are currently in the middle of one of the coldest January’s on record in Toronto, the M-3 tester managed to get an average 7.8L/100km in my typical rush hour mixed commute.
The technology in the Mazda3 that did impress me was the new infotainment system. Mazda has clearly been working hard to step up their game here and it shows. For starters, the navigation system is infinitely better than the TomTom branded unit that Mazda stuck in the CX-9 I drove last year. Moreover, the entire infotainment system is controlled by a single knob on the console, something I greatly prefer over the increasingly popular touch screen. Try setting a destination into the navigation system with your winter gloves on using a touch screen, it’ll never happen. With the controller in the Mazda, it’s a piece of cake. Mazda has also added a number of thoughtful little touches that I really enjoy. For instance, the volume control knob is placed perfectly right next to the main control knob on the console. Even more genius is that when you’re approaching a cross street, the street name flashes up across the top of the screen, regardless of which application you are viewing. This is perfect for quickly identifying poorly marked streets without having to fumble to pull up the map on the screen.
To nitpick just a little though, one piece of technology in Mazda’s new baby that should be better executed is the heads-up display. Not only is it unnecessary, it is actually a little smoked plastic screen that rises up from the gauge cluster to act as the reflecting surface. The plastic screen looks cheap, and no amount of adjusting my driving position could get me lined up enough to see it properly. It should be obvious by now that this is one Mazda that I love. It is fun, good looking, well-dressed and reasonably frugal. What more is there to ask for from a compact car? Actually, a week with the 2014 Mazda3 GT is starting to sound more and more like a perfect date.
2014 Mazda3 GT Sedan Gallery