For years now, ask any auto enthusiast which compact hatchback they'd buy and the Mazda 3 would be the inevitable answer. It's a tribute to the compact Mazda's intrinsic goodness that it's still the answer, as the Mazda 3 you can buy right now is more or less a direct descendant of a car that started life a decade ago.
Enough of that, Mazda declared as it pulled away the cover from the all-new 2014 Mazda 3 today in New York and four other cities around the globe. The 2014 model, going on sale this fall, fronts the brand's expressive Kodo design and gets power from the same direct-injected Skyactiv 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter gasoline four-cylinder engines Mazda has been spreading throughout its lineup. Those hoping for a Golf-baiting diesel for the new Mazda 3 will have to keep waiting.
Larger in Some Ways, Smaller Overall
Sure, Kodo-themed sheet metal may not be everyone's cup of tea, but most will agree the Mazda 6 and CX-5 are sharp-looking vehicles, so the Kodoed-out 2014 Mazda 3 starts from a solid styling foundation. The five-point grille (no more grinning front) is familial with the Mazda 6 and CX-5 and there's the same kind of sharpness around the headlights and taillights.
The bulgy fenders and sharp body side cut lines reinforce the fact that the new Mazda 3 is a wider car: 1.6 inches to be exact. But before you panic that Mazda's sold out to the family-sedan wannabes, Mazda is quick (but not yet specific) to say the new-generation 2014 Mazda 3 is lighter.
A few of the specifications that Mazda did detail to the press are equally encouraging: Despite a wheelbase stretch of 2.4 inches, overall length for the five-door hatch is chopped by 1.8 inches. The new Mazda 3's wheelbase of 106.3 inches is 2 inches longer than a 2014 Ford Focus and 1.2 inches longer than the 2013 Honda Civic sedan and exactly the same as the 2013 Hyundai Elantra sedan.
Although height is down by 0.6 inch, Mazda claims increases for many interior dimensions, mostly owing to the newfound width. Body rigidity is up by 30 percent and Mazda said newly developed sound-damping material for the dashboard and floor mats also has helped to cut weight while improving refinement.
Familiar Running Gear
No real surprises under the hood, as the 2014 Mazda 3 comes gunning with the well-regarded Skyactiv gasoline four-cylinder engines we know from newer existing models. The 2.0-liter makes 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and remains airy in its torque output of 150 pound-feet.
As with the 2014 CX-5, more satisfaction will be found with the 2.5-liter variant of the Skyactiv four-cylinder, which develops 184 hp at 5,700 rpm and a healthier 185 lb-ft of torque at just 3,250 rpm. Mazda said the new 2.5-liter is 10 percent lighter than the outgoing Mazda 3's 2.5-liter and makes markedly better low- and midrange torque. Even better news is the fact that either engine will be available with the agreeable Skyactiv six-speed manual transmission; a six-speed auto is optional.
As expected, the company isn't yet sharing fuel economy numbers, but the current Mazda 3 already is fitted with the Skyactiv 2.0-liter and six-speed transmissions, so we'd expect something similar — unless there's a drastic weight reduction (early Mazda communications are calling the weight reduction "significant") or the 2014 Mazda 3's i-Eloop regenerative braking is good for some spectacular benefits.
Yes, the new Mazda 3 is the first vehicle equipped with Mazda's i-Eloop ultracapacitor-based system to recover braking energy, a technology Mazda's foreshadowed in recent concept vehicles. Instead of using heavy batteries, braking energy turned to electricity is stored by capacitors in what Mazda claims is a world's first for production cars.
Capacitors reputedly don't wear out and are quicker than batteries to store and release electricity. The i-Eloop system releases its electricity to reduce the engine drain of running the alternator.
Once again, Mazda is forcing us to reevaluate what works and what doesn't inside the car. Surely the most notable new aspect of the 2014 Mazda 3's interior is the company's take on the use of a head-up display.
Mazda's Active Driving Display is a translucent screen that rises up between the gauge cluster's hood and the windshield, providing driving information, including navigation directions, at a focal point closer to that "where's a driver's eyes are naturally focused."
The gauge cluster itself presents a single central analog gauge with flanking digital displays, à la Ford's MyFord Touch. The markings on the gauge have a three-dimensional effect. Mazda also claims increased comfort for both front and rear seats, with the rears having an additional 2 inches of backrest height.
Mazda also is claiming advances in the 2014 Mazda 3's infotainment interface, which also borrows from head-up display tenets. Information provided on the center stack screen is grouped into organized categories, a setup claimed to allow the driver to better process and prioritize incoming information. The system also will read short e-mail and SMS-based messages, as well as Twitter and Facebook updates that can accept audio responses via Shout.
The new Mazda 3 also will have plenty of previously unavailable safety features, grouped under the umbrella of the newly coined i-Activsense. For the North American market, i-Activsense incorporates now-familiar warnings such as lane-departure and blind-spot monitoring, while also adding rare-for-this-class features like Smart City Brake Support (full automatic braking is possible at speeds of less than 19 mph) and automatic high beam headlight control.
A Mazda on Its Own
This is the first Mazda 3 that owes nothing to Mazda's former partner and part owner Ford. It's a vehicle that the only relatively recently-on-its-own Mazda can't afford to mess up. Not only has the Mazda 3 emerged to be perhaps as much representative of the soul of Mazda as the MX-5 Miata (particularly now that the RX-8 sports car is defunct), the Mazda 3 is in most senses much more crucial, as it is far and away the brand's best-selling model.
Given the generally fine character of the Skyactiv running gear in the current Mazda 3 and CX-5, we expect the same from the new Mazda 3. Historically, Mazda 3s have been the default compact car choice for those who prefer taking backroads instead of freeways to work. If Mazda's hints about lighter weight and a responsive chassis are true (we'll drive the car in a couple of months), the 2014 Mazda 3 may not have any trouble retaining that mantle.