November 14, 2012
Yesterday, after 12-months and 20,000 miles, the long-term test of this very blue 2012 Mazda 3 came to an end. A nice man from Mazda came to our office, grabbed the keys and drove off. We'll never see the car again.
Goodbyes were quick, and for a few of us, emotional. The Mazda was popular around here. And our year with this Grand Touring example with Skyactiv proved once again that the Mazda 3 is one our favorite compacts.
Look for a detailed wrap-up article with all of the Mazda's pros and cons to appear as soon as we can get it done.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 20,088 miles
November 09, 2012
I took what will probably be my last drive in the 2012 Mazda 3 yesterday morning. I didn't go anywhere special, just the San Gabriel Valley to walk a family member's dog, and as I was leaving, I noticed how our very blue Mazda 3 hatch matched the very blue sky. Around here, the sky only gets this blue just before or immediately after a storm. We're in the before stage right now (right now defined as 18 hours ago), which is why the San Gabriel Mountains are completely obscured by clouds.
I hastily parked the car (hastily yes, but still within the legally permissible 18 inches from the curb), took my picture and stared at the car. Aside from its goofy grin and the blue lenses around its projector-type headlights, the Mazda 3 Skyactiv is free of the gimmicks that adorn the other "fuel economy specials" in this class. It doesn't have a low-hanging front spoiler that catches on every driveway, or silly looking aerodynamic wheels, or low rolling resistance tires (although I would be resistant to purchasing this particular set of Bridgestones again).
Inside, the 3 has blue and white instrumentation and some questionable footwell lighting, but you're not forced to watch any kind of instant fuel economy gauge or made to feel like you should be putting the automatic transmission in an Eco mode.
It already does the Eco-ing for you, keeping the torque converter locked up as often as possible, and most the time, it all works out fine. You just drive the car and go about your business, and most of the time it returns great mileage -- we're averaging almost 31 mpg against an EPA combined rating of 32, which is ridiculously good by our standards. All the while, we've gotten to enjoy an efficient small car that still has sharp steering, a controlled ride and pretty firm brake pedal feel. What's not to like?
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 19,345 miles
October 31, 2012
Rolling out to Las Vegas in our longterm 2012 Mazda 3 reminded me how much I like this car's routine handling characteristics. While not out-and-out grin-inducing, the alert action of its steering, brakes and gearbox make for a satisfyingly cooperative driving experience. And that's welcome in the freeway nip-and-tuck maneuvers that always crop up on this long slog through the heart of the desert.
I had forgotten about the 3's seat, though. Its bottom cushion is just unyielding, and after a couple hours my butt was dead. Otherwise, the seat works well -- good seatback comfort and driving position.
I'll compile the trip's fuel economy tomorrow. Any guesses?
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
October 3, 2012
I recently got seat time in both the Impreza and Mazda 3. Brent already covered several bases here, and I don't have much to add. But a colleague said something recently that got me thinking. I mentioned that the Impreza seemed somewhat unloved around here, that no one takes it home much, even for one-night stands.
"Why would you if the Mazda 3 is still available?" this colleague asked.
Fair question, I thought.
So I had to get back in the Mazda 3 to see how it was better than the Impreza. Now, I like the Impreza. I road-tripped it nearly 1,000 miles and find it an easy car to slot through urban traffic and strip mall parking lots. Plenty of room. It does a lot and asks little.
The Mazda 3 is just as eager to please. Dynamically, the Mazda feels tighter. Feels more poised to respond, feels like there's a little more under you. It wants more steering effort. But the tires suck and undermine the Three's best intentions. On the other hand, the Impreza feels better than you'd expect when transferring weight.
One thing the Impreza has that the Maz3 doesn't: paddle shifters. As stretchy as the Impreza's CVT is, the paddles make driving more palatable for those less concerned with EPA ratings. But the Mazda's transmission programming is also pretty lazy, and I find I just prefer riding the manual shift mode. Paddles would definitely give the Three an edge here.
Then again, if we brought you this fine, free blog (did I mention free? You mopey guys in the back there, moaning your disappointment with Mike and Kurt's Alaska blogs, you caught the free part, right?) from New England or Colorado, then maybe the Impreza takes the lead. Both nice cars, both with deserving fanbases.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor
September 26, 2012
Our Mazda3's Skyactiv 2.0-liter makes a righteous clatter on start-up, which lasts for about 30 seconds thereafter. JayKav covered this already, but until I read his piece, I assumed the brief racket owed to some direct-injection freakout that ultimately helped the Mazda3 achieve its impressive fuel economy.
September 14, 2012
A line from Ron's Explorer post yesterday caught my eye: "It was a car that drove too big, had an engine that was too small ..." When we first got the Explorer, I was fine with its 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4. But as time went on, I found myself wishing we had the V6 instead for its more appropriate power and sound. Were it my Explorer, I'd have buyer's remorse over the turbo.
But I have no such problems with our Mazda 3's 2.0-liter "Skyactiv" engine. It's perfectly suited for the car, doesn't seem underpowered and is returning the best non-hybrid fuel economy in the fleet right now. I don't pine for the larger 2.5-liter engine at all.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 15,152 miles
August 23, 2012
I put nearly 1,000 miles on our 2012 Mazda 3 i Touring Skyactiv during last weekend's road trip to Monterey.
Just crunched my fuel economy numbers and realized how unusually wide the range was -- specifically, my highway numbers were very, very good, while my city numbers were pretty lousy. In this case, though, "city driving" amounts to being perpetually stuck in low-speed traffic between the historic races at Laguna Seca and the auctions in Pebble Beach.
Make the jump to see how I did against our automatic-equipped five-door's 28 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, 32 mpg combined EPA rating.
My best tank, spanning 328.8 miles, yielded 41.6 mpg.
My worst tank, spanning 238.8 miles, yield 24.4 mpg.
My last tank (of 3) spanned 405.1 miles and yielded 38.2 mpg.
My average mpg was 34.4 mpg over 967.7 miles. I put in 28.2 gallons of 87 octane.
These are numbers I could totally live with, especially given the direct-injected 2.0-liter engine's energetic throttle response and livable performance levels (coupled with the six-speed automatic's smarts).
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 14,311 miles
August 21, 2012
By now, several of us have written about our Mazda 3's six-speed automatic transmission and how quickly it comes up with downshifts in passing situations. Over the weekend, I became acquainted with another side of this transmission.
So, basically, there's a ton of traffic on the Monterey Peninsula during the weekend of the historic races and the Pebble Beach Concours. On many occasions, I found myself trailing other cars at 30-50 mph on downhill stretches of twisty two-lane roads.
And in situations where I was in D, off-throttle and intermittently applying the brakes, the transmission would at a certain point drop down a gear to provide some much desired engine braking.
Now there are plenty of other automatic transmissions with hill logic that will downshift in these situations, but the timing and smoothness with which this particular automatic does it is just right-on and adds to the enjoyment of driving an automatic-equipped Mazda 3. It made me happy.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 14,214 miles
August 15, 2012
I still haven't gotten tired of driving our long-term 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv around Southern California. Oh sure, sometimes I wish we'd gotten the six-speed manual gearbox, but in the budget car class, you're really not going to do any better than this automatic. It's not perfect, but quick downshifts are what I care about, and this transmission delivers.
What's more, I'm still smitten by how quickly the Mazda responds to steering inputs. If I had the time, I'd take it on a back road every week -- it's that entertaining. We were at Dodger Stadium over the weekend for the L.A. stop of Ford's Focus ST autocross event. My spouse had signed up, and I ended up getting a turn behind wheel as well. And indeed, the Focus ST is as fun as we said in our first drive, probably better than the Mazdaspeed 3 (although maybe not on GMR) and of course way quicker than our workaday Mazda 3 Skyactiv.
Yet, I felt zero disappointment as got back into the 3. For the money, you won't find a more entertaining commuter car. If I owned this car, though, I'd already be looking for a different, probably more expensive tire to replace these really very all-season Bridgestone Turanzas when they wear out. They're squeally around turns and road noise is considerable. Not sure than new rubber would fix the latter, but I'd try a different tire anyway, especially one that offered a bit more grip.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 13,313 miles
July 11, 2012
The Mazda 3 is not the car you drive to the Hollywood Bowl. In my humble opinion, no car is, unless you have super-deluxe valet parking privileges. Parking at the concert venue is an unrelenting nightmare. The Mazda 3 is, however, the perfect car to take to the Park & Ride bus that takes you to the Bowl.
The Mazda 3's hatch will easily hold a picnic basket, backpacks and stadium seat cushions. It's small enough to park easily in the shopping-mall lot that serves as the bus staging area. It's inconspicuous enough to avoid being a thief magnet while you're gone.
As to the image on the screen: It's the brainchild of Herman Kolgen of the J. Paul Getty Museum. He created a video to go with the last movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and in it, joy expresses itself as a sinuous kudzu-like vine that overtakes streets, buildings and even parking meters, painting a gray world in shades of green. Works for me.
Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @12,083 miles
July 05, 2012
Just spent a couple days in our long-term 2012 Mazda 3, and it's a nice car to have when you've just moved to a new place, as all manner of small home improvement projects immediately suggest themselves. The day before the holiday, I had to run an errand to San Diego, and I hopped in the 3.
I noticed the loose driver seat when accelerating from stoplights (and if I'm honest, the slightly delayed throttle response when diving for holes in traffic), but overall, I was pleased with the Mazda's long-haul potential. For sure, the ride is on the firm side, and it feels firmer over certain freeways (the ones that haven't repaved recently), but it's just compliant enough to keep me content. The cabin isn't super quiet for a budget hatchback, but again, it's quiet enough.
Sometimes -- usually when merging onto freeways via a short onramp -- I'd wish I could get a little more torque from the direct-injected 2.0-liter engine, but then, the six-speed automatic would give me such a nice, prompt downshift, it was hard to dwell on any deficiency in grunt. If I had to get to an automatic transmission in a compact car, this would be it.
There weren't any interesting roads along my route, but I like that I didn't spend much time thinking about the steering and the brakes -- because they're pretty much exactly how I'd want them. Brake pedal feel is good, and the steering feels nice and stable on-center and appropriately quick and precise off center.
What I like least about our Mazda 3 is the driving position. It has nothing to do with the funky seat issue, rather it's the positioning of the seat relative to the steering wheel. Our car has power driver-seat adjustments so there are plenty, but the steering wheel doesn't telescope quite enough for optimum comfort. It's not a big deal, just something I noticed during half a day in the car.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 11,928 miles
June 14, 2012
The Skyactiv-ness of our longterm 2012 Mazda 3 is the real deal, as we've confirmed in our recent fuel economy test of 40-mpg cars. We used a 3 sedan for that test, by the way.
Somewhat related: one thing I've noticed about the Skyactiv engine in our longterm car is a muted high frequency 'shh' noise (it's not exactly a ticking, more like the sound made by tiny pebbles placed on the exhaust heatshield of an idling engine) during cold starts. Some owners might mistake the source as being from the engine's direct injectors.
Turns out the exhaust manifold has thin walls and thus transmits more combustion noise than if it was some old-school cast iron chunkus. When cold, the ignition timing is retarded which puts more heat into the catalyst to aid light-off. This retarded timing also has stronger exhaust blowdown pulses, and that's what you're hearing.
The sound is hardly annoying, but it's there. And it's normal.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
June 04, 2012
Just when you think that there can't possibly be another flavor of Mazda's MZR inline-4 engine, another one comes along. This weekend Mazda announced that it's going to build a racing version of its 2.2-liter MZR-CD diesel, an engine that is now sold in the Europe and is scheduled for introduction in the U.S. soon.
The 2.2-liter, Skyactiv-D racing engine uses the stock motor's block, cylinder head, and common-rail injection components, but a dual-stage turbocharger, upgraded internals, and a 14:1 compression ratio enable it to produce 400 hp. Mazda claims the racing engine is 10 percent lighter than the stock engine and reduces internal friction by 20 percent.
This racing engine will be showcased in Grand-Am's new GX class of high-tech sports cars with production-style silhouettes.
Aside from my own fascination with all the different uses to which the Mazda MZR engine has been put -- both in street cars and in racing cars -- the Skyactiv-D shows me that even in a world where mpg is more important than mph, there's still room for trick engine technology.
Maybe the Mazda 3 will still be fun to drive in the future after all.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com
June 01, 2012
Last week, I wondered whether our Mazda 3 was a car fit for a long road trip. After driving it to and from a driving event called Heels and Wheels this week, I've concluded that it's excellent company for a quick 200-mile round-trip journey.
Our Mazda 3 is maneuverable, energetic and comfortable. The controls are within easy, intuitive reach, whether for climate control or radio/satellite nav. There's power enough to pass, and enough acceleration to keep a good speed up the long, slow hills that Interstate 5 presents between San Diego, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano. People drive 80 to 85 here, when the CHP isn't around.
It was too early in the morning to realize it Thursday morning, but my drive took me along El Camino Real: the King's Highway. This backbone of the California transportation system had its beginnings in the1700s as a footpath connecting the missions, running from San Diego to Sonoma. Portions of it live on in U.S. Highway 101 and Interstate 5. My parents took me to every blessed mission when I was kid. I loved them all in their crumbling, gessoed glory.
My favorite part of this drive, on and off El Camino Real, is through Camp Pendleton, where young Marines blast along the road on motorcycles or Chargers or Camaros, dressed in camo and hell bent for speed. Every time I pass Las Pulgas Road, I wonder who decided to name a place in honor of fleas. I used to think it was the Marines. Now I know it was the missionaries.
I flick the accelerator, and a splash of sun parts the clouds. Just another couple hours until Im home.
Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @10,205 miles
May 29, 2012
There I was at a stop sign. Cross traffic does not stop (nor do they slow down). Considering Mazda's reputation for spirited driving, I figured this real-life game of Frogger would be easy. No. When I stomped the gas pedal I was met with the dreaded throttle tip-in.
That Dynolicious graph above illustrates it. There was that brief pause of lazy forward motion, followed by the rush of acceleration I was expecting from the get-go. Argh.
The tip-in was a bit of a surprise because I never noticed it in "normal" driving. That's when I decided to break out my Dynolicious iPhone app. Below is a graph of normal throttle application.
The tip-in is much less noticeable with a light foot, blending seamlessly into smooth acceleration. It's not at all like our departed BMW 7 Series, where tip-in was prevalent in every situation. Still, I think if the pedal it pushed to the floor, there should be no tip-in. Then again, I'm no engineer.
The moral of the story: plan ahead and anticipate a little hesitation.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 9,883 miles
May 21, 2012
As some of my colleagues have noted, our Mazda 3 has a praiseworthy automatic tranny. It's smooth, cooperative and even rev-matches its downshifts. But its performance is all the more impressive considering it's part of a powertrain geared towards high fuel efficiency. Unlike most automatics fitted to gas misers, this one doesn't tax your patience when you want a downshift. Yet it still allows strong fuel economy.
When you need it to step down to pass that lane-drifting zombie yacking on the cell phone, it does so swiftly and without requiring you to mash the gas to the floor and wait one-thousand-one before it gets its act together and moves the car out. Factor in the 3's thrifty fuel mileage, nice interior, comfortable seats and good stereo and you see why this Mazda is one of my favorites in a segment full of good cars.
John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 9,658 miles
May 18, 2012
So you're driving around in this little Mazda 3 wagonette and it's easy to wonder what it has to do with the whole racing persona that Mazda has created for itself. After all, what other car company has its name on a race track?
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Is this some sort of advertising scam? What does it have to do with a thrifty sort of runabout with a four-cylinder engine? You know, not exactly Formula 1, eh?
And yet once you step into the arena at Laguna Seca for the American Le Mans Series, you start to get the idea. It seems like every racing car in the place has a Mazda MZR four-cylinder engine at the business end.
In street trim, the 200-hp MZR powers the Miatas in the Mazda MX-5 Playboy Cup . A 230-hp MZR powers the DP02 cars in Cooper Tires Prototypes Lites 1. A 500-hp turbocharged MZR-R powers Dyson Racing's Lola B12/66 in the LMP1 class of the American Le Mans Series.
Meanwhile, you can go to other race tracks on this same day and you'll find Mazdas of almost every persuasion in competition. As Mazda keeps telling us, it has a whole ladder going that can take you from go-karts to the 24 Hours of Le Mans .
It's easy to think of this as simply advertising, like money thrown into the street. After all, bright guys have been saying for decades that there's no business case for motorsports.
Of course, Henry Ford would disagree, because he used speed and performance to prove the performance of the 80-hp "999," which finally made his name in the car business after several false starts. Since then, any car company with a shortage of advertising dollars and a lot to prove has chosen motorsports to do it, notably Ferrari and Porsche.
Mazda has been doing the same since it first put its name above the title at Laguna Seca in 2001 and has just renewed its contract until 2016. And unlike most title sponsors, it has used its involvement to good effect, establishing its heritage, creating a program that sells $8M in parts to amateur racers every year, and even achieving a substantial presence in the Monterey community.
So when I think about the state of small four-cylinder engines today, which are largely featherweight, highly stressed power plants with cooling and oiling systems barely capable of keeping all the components alive, the Mazda MZR under the Mazda 3's hood seems like a miracle of engineering in comparison.
And when the Dyson Lola B12/66-Mazda goes by , I can practically feel the breeze. For me, racing proves something. When I see my brand on the track, I feel better about what I drive. It might be advertising, but it sure works on me.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com
May 14, 2012
Setting aside the debate of regular Mazda 3 versus Mazdaspeed 3 for the moment, I do think the regular 3 is one of the best choices for a small car in 2012. If someone asked me, "What small car should I buy?" the Mazda would be one of my top three picks.
Much of the credit goes to the new 2.0-liter (Skyactiv) engine, as it gives the car the competitive fuel economy it's been lacking the past couple of years. Then there's rest of the Mazda 3 package -- responsive handling, upscale features and an available hatchback body style -- that makes this car so appealing in my opinion.
Incidentally, my other two picks for 2012? Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 9,658 miles
May 11, 2012
Our 2012 Mazda 3 has an MSRP of $25,520. It's an excellent urban runabout with just about every Mazda 3 feature included, plus great utility and fuel economy. But it's not very exciting.
Alternate choice: for $24,795 MSRP, you could get a Mazdaspeed 3, just without the Technology package.
Of course, it's easy to say "I'd buy the MS3!" But would you really in the real world, with the added insurance, stiffer ride, lower fuel economy and manual-only transmission?
So what say you?
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
May 10, 2012
I happened to be looking at one of our earlier posts (Steering Ahead of the Rest) and noticed a couple late comments. Specifically, they called out that the Mazda 3 has hydraulic steering but with an electrically driven pump, not pure electric power steering as originally described.
Well, they're right.
The 3 does indeed have a steering rack that is powered hydraulically with an electric pump. This is what is described as electro-hydraulic power assist (EHPAS). (A traditional steering setup would have an engine belt-driven pump.) Pop the hood and you can see that the 3 has a power steering fluid reservoir and lines that run from the pump to the steering rack.
According to our resident wonk, Dan Edmunds, there are two types of EHPAS. He wrote to me:
"There are two kinds of "electric over hydraulic." On type uses a constant-flow belt-driven pump. Full flow is used in parking situations, and at higher speeds a bypass valve siphons off a portion of the flow so less assist is generated (and more feel) at higher speeds. This would more accurately be described as electronically controlled power steering, or ECPS. Because it has a belt-driven pump, many dont consider it true electric. But Hyundai and Kia did promote it as such about 10 years ago.
"Another type -- and what's on the Mazda 3 -- uses a hydraulic pump driven by an electric motor, the output of which is managed by an ECU to create differing levels of assist.
"True EPS -- which the Mazda 3 is not -- has no pump or hoses. The motor can by located in more than one location, so EPS itself can be broken down to column-mount and rack-mount (sometimes called dual pinion) varieties.
But with any electric assist steering, the ECU and software are crucial to [steering feedback] success."
As such, I'd say the content of that original post -- that Mazda did a nice job tuning the 3's electric steering -- is still valid, even if the actual technical description isn't quite right.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
May 07, 2012
I filled up the Mazda 3 today. Calculating it out, I got 35 mpg from a 365-mile mix of highway and city driving. That even includes the back road drive I did last week. I'm impressed.
Were I buying a 2012 Mazda 3, I think I'd go with the 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine. I wouldn't miss the 2.5-liter engine. Sure, it's a little more powerful, but I'd trade that for the better fuel economy. The only thing that would be a drag would be not being able to get the features that Mazda offers for the S trim level (2.5-liter engine only), such as the keyless ignition/entry and the front sport seats.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 9,108 miles
May 03, 2012
We've written some previous posts about our Mazda 3's tires. Specifically, how they're not very grippy. Mike wrote that the Mazda's chassis "writes checks the tires can't cash." Objectively, our Mazda 3 posted up mediocre handling numbers and worse than average braking numbers. But we've still been praising the 3 for its steering, transmission and fundamental goodness.
So I began to wonder: is our 3 still fun to drive or do the tires suck the life out of it? I decided to head out to one of my favored roads to find out.
I had already noticed that you don't need a test track to realize that the tires don't have performance as their first priority. Even around town, they'll squeal when going around a city street corner at low -- but enthusiastic -- speed. Honestly, I was expecting the 3 to be disappointing on the drive.
Well, I was wrong. True enough, the tires aren't very grippy. But this particular road I drove on is sort of a medium pace road. And I realized that I could still drive at a quick pace and enjoy the good stuff about the car without overstepping the tires' limits.
The 3 is still fun. The steering, if not all that communicative, is quick and makes the three feel playful. Even on a bumpy road, the suspension does a nice job of being compliant without being soggy. And sure, our car has an automatic transmission, but it shifts quickly and smoothly in manual mode. And, of course, it has the proper forward/downshift backward/upshift setup for the manual mode selector.
Maybe if I drove on a tighter road or drove more aggressively, I'd be complaining more. And yeah, if this was my car, I'd still quickly swap out these tires and wheels for some grippier rubber and be fine with whatever drop in fuel economy would occur. But for the average economy car buyer, the 3 with Skyactiv is still plenty enjoyable.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
April 25, 2012
Out of the cars currently in our fleet, I'd say our 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv is my favorite for getting around the city. Sure, the A8 and the X3 (cars I know won't likely be cross-shopped with this hatch) are plush and luxurious but the Mazda 3 is the right size for going down narrow streets and alleys and it's not as terrifying to maneuver in crowded parking garages. Like our Camry, it's well damped for negotiating those pothole-filled alleys and gets decent gas mileage but it's also actually fun to drive.
It's really suited to my lifestyle as a single city dweller who likes to save money on gas but still wants fun doing it.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor
April 05, 2012
We were out testing our long-term Mazda 3 Skyactiv a couple days ago, and I was fortunate to run the test numbers. Fortunate, because our test track is the best and safest way to find a car's limits.
What I found was a bit of a let-down.
Not so much the acceleration times (full numbers will be published soon, and I don't want to spoil the surprise for you guys). It's an economy car, so I wasn't expecting much in the way of pure Go. But rather, it was the 3's handling and braking numbers that proved a bit sub-standard. At least for Mazda.
The problem? The steering and well-tuned suspension are trying to write checks the low-grip, high-fuel-mileage tires can't cash (hmm...why does that suddenly remind me of my own bank account?). Anyway, the blame goes to the Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires, which run out of grip before you can say, "Why won't this car turn for the next slalom cone?"
How important are tires? We went 3.4 mph quicker through the slalom in a 2011 Mazda 3 fitted with Yokohama Avid S34s.
On the bright side, so far we're averaging 29.8 mpg. Which isn't bad considering how many of our editors are either driving around town or muddling through stop-and-go traffic.
The problem, though, is that another long-termer on staff, the Chevrolet Sonic LTZ turbo, exhibits markedly better handling than the 3, yet is returning 29.4 mpg.
I think you can guess which one I'd rather drive.
Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 7,448 miles.
March 14, 2012
Like Mark (who loves the smooth shifts) and Jay (who mentioned, among other things, the proper directional functionality of the manual gate), I also feel the 6-speed automatic in our Mazda3 is engineered and calibrated very well. But I found another Mazda-specific Easter egg that makes me believe people at Mazda really do care about driving...
If your car has an automatic with a manual-shift gate, what happens when you initially select it? Does it stay in the current gear or does it kick down a gear when you snick the shifter over? Our Mazda3 does either/both depending on the throttle position. Why is this a case of Mazda "getting it?"
If you're on the throttle and move the shifter to the manual gate, it retains the current gear -- as if you're readying the car for some sort of "spirited action" ahead. If, on the other hand, you first remove your foot from the throttle (like when you're going down a grade and want some engine braking), the Mazda3 kicks down a gear (and matches the revs, by the way). By the way, is the shift surround supposed to look like the layout of a racetrack?
Thanks for sweating the details, Mazda. We noticed.
I don't know of any other car that does this. Do you?
Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 6,339 miles
March 01, 2012
It was one of those afternoons where I had to drive to Malibu's Corral Canyon Road "for work" -- for a video we're making.
Honestly, I'd never driven an automatic-equipped Mazda 3 with any kind of enthusiasm on a back road. And while I'd still take a manual gearbox for myself, I had fun. You've read a couple complaints about sluggish response from our car's Skyactiv six-speed automatic in stop-and-go traffic, but on this afternoon, I observed none of that sluggishness (on Corral Canyon and in the light traffic coming to and going from this road). Although, to be fair, I've never really had a grievance with this transmission.
On Corral Canyon, the automatic responded sharply to my (moderately aggressive) throttle inputs, and if you haven't experienced this transmission, you'd be amazed by how cleanly it drops from 3rd gear to 2nd -- rev-matching it every time. This is one of the few automatic-equipped cars that I can actually stand to leave in "D" on a back road.
The brakes felt good, too -- this thing doesn't have the mushy pedal you usually get in a budget car; it actually has real brakes. Good times.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 5,520 miles
February 23, 2012
Who knew that left-foot braking is such a mystery? Apparently if youre a left-foot braker like me it makes you into some kind of secret freak, as if you had been abducted by aliens and then let loose to subvert normal right-foot-braking humans.
Ive taken it for granted that everyone knows that this is a racing technique, not just in rallying but in all forms of racing, from stock cars to Formula 1. Plus, everyone has driven the go-karts down there next to the miniature golf place, right?
Of course, the question is, does left-foot braking have a place on the street?
The left-foot braking thing came to me long ago when Bob Sinclair at Saab brought Swedish rally driver Stig Blomqvist to the U.S. and made him road race the Saab 99, which looked as big as a bus compared to the other street stock cars it competed against. With left-foot braking, Blomqvist could do that whole Scandinavian-flick cornering thing on dirt or gravel, but he told us that on asphalt it was all about damage control on the outside front tire.
Soon after that, left-foot braking became a big thing in road racing, and Don Knowles (recently honored by the Road Racing Drivers Club) became its most famous exponent. Then the racing schools starting discussing the technique because it addresses the whole friction circle thing, where you attempt to balance the load of braking, cornering and accelerating on all four tires.
After that, the open-wheel racers starting talking about left-foot braking, especially since the good guys had been using it for years at the Speedway. And then the go-kart generation overwhelmed Formula 1, with Michael Schumacher being the primary exponent. Car designers werent leaving enough room in the footbox of open-wheel cars to move your feet around anyway, especially once electro-hydraulic shifting with paddles on the steering wheel were introduced.
The big controversy comes with using left-foot braking on the street. Some believe it quickens reaction time, though its hard to say if this is true. Some say that it compromises your ability to use the dead pedal and brace yourself in the corners, so you end up hanging on the steering wheel instead of using your fingertips the way you should. There might be something to this. At the same time, its impractical to use when youre in the downshift mode with a car with a synchromesh manual transmission and a conventional three-pedal setup. Take a look at the pedal work by NASCAR stock-car racers on road courses (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMZO8EBnmFQ) and rally drivers of the 1980s (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGIiarIrUCI) on YouTube if you want to learn more about where and when left-foot braking is useful.
As for me, I'm a big fan of balancing the cars weight in the cornering process, doing my best to optimize the cars cornering attitude according to the whole friction circle thing. Jackie Stewart has told me more than once that the way you get into the brakes and get out of them is crucial for good corner speed, and only hacks stand a car on its nose under braking and then leave the corner with the nose up in the air under acceleration. Its kind of the same thing as braking earlier and lighter because youre able to gauge you entry into a corner better, so your speed improves compared to the thing where you stomp on the brake pedal at the last nanosecond.
Of course, left-foot brakers do use up brake material quicker than right-foot brakers, but as several race engineers have reminded me, brake pads are way cheaper than tires or clutches or transmissions, so dont over-think things. Ill admit that its annoying to follow a left-foot braker because the brake lights are always flashing in a distracting way, as guys on road trips with me often report.
There is a strange divide between right-foot brakers and left-foot brakers, as if they were religious cults. If youre looking to get educated on the subject, Ive attached some links below. I have a lot of time for the special site created by the Road Racing Drivers Club. In the old days, wed be reading books by Paul Frere or Piero Taruffi, utterly confused by the little mathematical diagrams.
You should be glad that there is so much information about fast driving, because there was a time when there was no information at all. I remember F1 and Indy 500 driver Dan Gurney telling me about his first-ever road race at Torrey Pines in San Diego with a Triumph TR-2. Whenever Gurney was braking his car into a corner, he couldnt figure out why he could hear blipping throttles from all the cars around him. It was only afterward that he and his buddy Skip Hudson heard guys talking about heel-and-toe downshifts.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com
February 21, 2012
Have you seen the new Mazda SkyActiv commercial yet? SkyActiv (as on our long-term 2012 Mazda 3 SkyActiv) is supposed to blend performance with efficiency. SkyActiv works pretty well (though I wish we got the 6MT instead).
The "Revolution" commercial is a cocktail mix of exciting and environmental images, backed by a Bo Diddley soundtrack. It's all topped off with a few clips of the Mazda 787B sports prototype race car that won Le Mans in 1991, with Johnny Herbert behind the wheel (yes, that actually did happen; Mazda was the first -- and only!! -- JPN manufacturer to win Le Mans.)
Hit the jump to see the full-length version of "Revolution" and the 787B in action.
Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ ~ 5,300 miles
February 08, 2012
Our Mazda3's six-speed auto, set in default drive mode, is pretty sluggish on the throttle input. It's a little out of character for a car, and brand, known for sharp reactions. In manual mode though, it calls up the neighboring cog surprisingly quick. Since I spend most of my time in traffic flicking the lever up or tapping it back, I figure my left foot should also do something useful. If you're shopping this car, just get the manual.
If you must have the auto -- someone in the family can't drive stick and refuses to learn -- or you just want that seven percent improvement in fuel economy over the previous auto, this is not a bad box to live with. Just know that you'll be rowing back and forth a lot. I'd be curious to spend an entire tank of fuel with this car to see how that style impacts our average fuel economy.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor
February 01, 2012
I like this car. It's that simple.
There's a certain fundamental goodness about the way Mazdas drive that's appealing to me. Nearly all of them offer it. Even this, the fuel-economy-obsessed compact hatch has built-in qualities that make driving it meaningful. It's steering, for example, feels like it was tuned. It's not just a product electro-hydraulic motion, but rather an integral component of a larger system. And it's one that contributes to the overall experience -- even in a slow car.
Also, its transmission, and I'm not the first to say this, is awesome. By locking up the torque converter quickly and offering sharp, immediate rev-matched downshifts, it makes the most of a minimalist powerplant. Nice.
Finally, it's a utilitarian hatchback that has, since November, twice achieved more than a 41 mpg average on a tank of fuel.
Hard to argue with that.
Josh Jacquot, Senior editor
January 30, 2012
Our long-term 2012 Mazda 3i Touring SkyActiv is equipped with a 6-speed electronically-controlled SkyActiv sport auto transmission and has a torque converter with electronic lockup, with overdrive in 5th and 6th gears for good fuel economy.
Several of my colleagues have reported many good things about this transmission. And they're right. Acceleration is very smooth in our Mazda 3 -- there's almost no shift shock. And shift timing once you're rolling is fine too.
But here's the thing...
When moving from a standstill our Mazda 3 is a slug. With 154 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque from the SkyActiv engine I was expecting more. I understand that this powertrain was tuned for fuel economy over sportiness, but the Mazda TV ads are saying you can have both.
Not really. With this 6AT normal acceleration feels smooth and sedate, but boring and slow. If you try to accelerate quickly, you'll get a big downshift and a full-body lunge forward from the shift shock. It's not pleasant. And that 6AT is reluctant to downshift, in the name of fuel economy of course.
I was surprised to find out that a 6MT is available with SkyActiv. I wish we could have gotten that version instead, because the rest of the car is quite nice for a subcompact.
Come to think of it, off the top of my head, I cannot think of any small car that I like equipped with an automatic transmission. I believe that every itty bitty car I like (the Base Mini Cooper and Ford Fiesta, for example) has been equipped with a MT. You just have better control of those small engines, and can rev it or short-shift as you like. Larger engines with their greater power, and especially torque, can get by with an AT.
What do you think? Is there any small car you've driven with an AT that had good performance?
The video breaks down the SkyActiv 6AT and 6MT.
Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 4,455 miles
January 25, 2012
Our longterm 2012 Mazda 3 has electric power steering. Normally these are not words associated with good steering.
Anyone that has fiddled with racing dampers that have adjustable compression and rebound (never mind high and low speed adjustments...) knows -- the more options at your disposal, the more likely you are to find the options that suck.
And that's at the root of the problems with EPS -- it tempts engineers with its apparent vast potential. With EPS, all of sudden there is an entire open toolbox brimming with tools. Hey, we can do drift/pull compensation! Hey, we can manufacture steering feel! Hey, we can vary effort not just with speed, but with engine load, throttle angle, side view mirror position, dome light state and GPS location!
Just like that, OEM engineers become like that trackday neophyte staring at their suspension's knobs, jaw agape, shellshocked by choice and destined to make bad ones.
This is not Mazda. Somehow, this little company has figured out which things to focus on in their EPS development and which to ignore. The result is steering that feels more consistently natural than the EPS in other automaker's offerings. Mazda's been doing EPS well for years, too. For example, the RX-8 has been (rightfully) praised for its steering. It's EPS. Yes, the RX-8 had electric power steering ages ago and many people -- some of them autojournos -- didn't even know it by driving it.
--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
January 24, 2012
I confess that I use my left foot to brake. I cant help it, really. It all came from a rally in the middle of the night in the Olympic rain forest when it snowed (while driving a Mitsubishi Cordia of all things) and I learned to balance a car while cornering by using the brake.
The Mazda 3 doesnt entirely like this and will occasionally cut the throttle. Of course, its not the Mazda that's the problem, actually. Its the Toyota Prius, and the panic about unintended acceleration, which of course has since been shown pretty comprehensively to be unintended driver error.
But in any case, no carmaker wants to risk any confusion with pedal application these days. When you press the brake pedal, the car assumes that you want to slow down. The same thing happened with German carmakers after the Audi 5000 panic in the 1980s (another case comprehensively shown to be unintended driver error).
So the Mazda 3 doesnt entirely like my left foot.
There are times when I'm left-foot braking into a corner and the throttle will cut completely. Nothing dangerous, but certainly annoying. And even more annoying when the automatic transmission seems to lose its place for a moment, prolonging the whole episode.
It really only seems to happen at low speed, and apparently theres nothing more involved than looping the brake lights into the circuitry for the fly-by-wire throttle, or so Im told. The car just assumes that if both the throttle and the brake are pressed at the same time, the brake should have priority. Most manufacturers have reacted to the Prius episode with similar measures, some simple and some more elaborate.
Toyota actually describes its own technology this way:
As an added measure of safety, Toyota created the braking system enhancement known as Smart Stop Technology. This advanced technology automatically reduces engine power when both pedals are pressed at the same time under certain conditions.
Smart Stop Technology intervenes when the accelerator is depressed first and the brakes are applied firmly for longer than one-half second at speeds greater than five miles per hour.
In normal driving conditions, you wont notice Smart Stop Technology as it is imperceptible. The feature doesnt engage if the brake pedal is depressed before the accelerator pedal. This allows for vehicles starting on a steep hill to safely accelerate without rolling backward (known as hill start).
Toyota has installed Smart Stop Technology in all its new models since the beginning of 2011, making it one of the first full-line manufacturers to offer this braking technology as standard equipment."
All this just means that there are fewer cars that let me use left-foot braking. First German cars and now Japanese cars. There is hope for the future, though. Im told that Mazda is working on a throttle-cut system that depends on brake pressure, so itll tolerate a certain amount of pedal overlap and let you use the brakes to balance the car while cornering. The protocol starts with the forthcoming Mazda CX-5 and will be incorporated with new model launches thereafter.
As the Mazda guy told me, We are the Zoom-Zoom company, after all.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 4,252 miles
January 17, 2012
I spent the weekend in our 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv-G and put mostly freeway miles on it. I like the way our car rides. It's highly controlled. No matter what kind of pavement you encounter, the suspension is able to cope with it. It never gets unsettled, and this builds up your confidence. No other car in this class feels this good.
However, I'll admit that the setup on our i Grand Touring model (with P205/55R16 89H Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires) toes my personal threshold for ride compliance. Which is to say, it's great the way it is now, but I wouldn't want it to ride any firmer than it does now. (Which makes me a bit of hypocrite, given how I loved on the stiff-riding Mazdaspeed 3.)
After renting a Ford Focus SEL hatchback (seen after the jump parked outside an atmospheric Microtel at night) last week in Michigan, I can understand why someone might drive both of these cars and prefer the Ford's slightly cushier ride. Arguably, the Focus feels more luxurious, though less fun than the 3.
Still, for a personal vehicle, I'd go with the Mazda, as I prefer its sharp-shifting six-speed automatic to the Ford's dual-clutch box, along with the freer-revving character of its newer engine (the Focus 2.0-liter is based on the old MZR motor that's still the base engine in the Mazda 3). Also, I'm not really a fan of the Ford's electric power steering -- not enough feel and I found myself making tiny on-center corrections on I-94 and U.S. 23.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 4,050 miles
January 13, 2012
Mazda is offering too many engines on the 2012 Mazda 3, and if you haven't read up on the Skyactiv technologies, you're liable to make the wrong choice.
Our long-termer's brand-new, 155-hp, direct-injected, 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G four-cylinder engine is stuffed in-between the old 148-hp, 2.0-liter MZR engine and the 167-hp, 2.5-liter engine (which is a bored/stroked version of the 2.0 MZR motor).
Neither of these older engines is as efficient as the new Skyactiv-G engine, but several of you have written here that you'd still go for the 2.5-liter for its extra torque (166 lb-ft vs. a 148-lb-ft rating on the new engine). And to that I say, well, you really need to experience the new transmissions that come with the 2.0 Skyactiv-G engine before you make up your mind. Low-end grunt is nice and all, but I'll trade that for the new six-speed automatic's super-smooth upshifts and very quick, rev-matched downshifts any day of the week.
Regrettably, I can't be at every Mazda dealership to tell you what to do. And the automaker is taking a far more subtle approach of letting customers know that there's something special about i Touring and i Grand Touring models with the Skyactiv drivetrains. To start, these models all have blue halos on their gauges; other Mazda 3s have gray rings.
There's another blue ring in each headlight assembly. Since our i Grand Touring model has the Technology package, said headlights are bi-xenons.
Finally, the Skyactiv models have this badge on the lower right side of the their hatch or trunk lid. This area is blank, of course, on sedans with the base MZR engine, while s Touring and s Grand Touring models have the usual 2.5 badge. Now, of course, one of my new commuting games is to tally up all the Skyactiv-badged 3s I see. So far, I've seen very few.
These details are too subtle, I think, and I'm not sure most buyers will notice them.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 3,854 miles
January 09, 2012
This weekend our 2012 Mazda 3 was my conveyance about the city. And I have to say that I loved it. Honestly I can see myself owning this car as it suits my needs as a city girl with a dog (no dog report here though but stay tune). Easy to maneuver in congested traffic, consequently easy to park. And it's actually fun to drive and bonus that it gets decent mpg. How often do you see both those qualities in a car?
Even though I'm an "enthusiastic" driver, I still managed to get about 31.5 mpg, just below the 32 EPA. Also it checks some of the other boxes for my simple likes in a daily driver:
-- Effective seat heaters. These go to 5 and the hottest point of this highest setting is intense. I actually found myself flicking the level down a notch! I know, riight?
-- Responsive and easy automanual shifter.
-- Straightforward controls. "Oh, there's the button for the trip, there's the one for the fuel door." Plus three knobs for climate controls. No guesswork, no reading manuals. All you have to do is look.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 3,795 miles
January 05, 2012
My first impression of our long-term Mazda 3 is definitely positive; which is quite a departure from our old Mazdaspeed 3.
Our new Mazda 3 is smooth. The ride is well cushioned while still remaining communicative. But really, I was struck by how smooth the transmission shifts. They're CVT-smooth. When I'm leisurely rolling down the boulevard, the only indication that the gears are changing is by the drop of the tach needle. The same goes for downshifts.
So far, I'm impressed.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
December 27, 2011
We're going to see a lot of 400-mile tanks with our 2012 Mazda 3 i Grand Touring and its 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission.
After 397 miles of indifferent driving in both city and highway conditions (but with a fair amount of 70-mph cruise control usage in mostly light holiday traffic), I fueled up our Mazda 3. I put 12.117 gallons of 87 octane into its 14.5-gallon tank. That works out to 32.7 mpg, which is smack dab in the middle of its EPA ratings -- 28 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, 32 mpg combined.
In my previous post, somebody (was it blueguy?) expressed doubt that the 3's acceleration could really be adequate with the 2.0-liter engine. And it is, I tell you. I'd trade the 2.5-liter's better low-rpm kick any day for the direct-injected 2.0-liter's more balanced performance and the superior transmissions that go with it.
The added fuel range (and mpg) is more like icing on the already tasty gingerbread, as opposed to the only compelling reason to get the models with the Skyactiv drivetrains.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 3,296 miles
December 26, 2011
After I dropped a couple friends and their luggage at LAX on Christmas morning, I figured I'd stop off at the iconic Randy's Donuts in Inglewood to see what all the fuss is about. Randy's never closes. Except on Christmas Day. Nevermind. I probably didn't need a bear claw anyway.
I've spent the holiday weekend trying to convince myself that our 2012 Mazda 3 (and its Skyactiv-G engine) fits into my life, now and in the future.
The trip to the airport touched the limits of its utility. It was me and two friends, and one of the friends is well over six feet tall. They had two weeks' worth of luggage. I had presents and various paraphernalia for a family gathering I was driving to immediately after the airport run (and the donut stop).
My friends cast doubtful looks when they see I've already got stuff in the hatch, but I have some experience packing cars (I was nomadic in college and regularly tetris'd nearly all of my worldy possessions into a moldy '80s-era Camry). We manage to fit everything in (barely) and I still have a view out the back.
One of the friends grew up in Germany, so he likes cars, and is fond of hatchbacks, but is skeptical of small, gasoline engines (because diesel exists) and automatic transmissions. Of course, I start proselytizing about Skyactiv technology as soon as he indicates a willingness to listen. I go on for about five minutes and by then we've reached the freeway on-ramp.
"Watch what happens when I floor the throttle."
We listen as the 2.0-liter engine revs smoothly and sweetly, building strength in the midrange. It still feels strong as the transmission executes a nice, clean upshift at 6,100-6,200 rpm. In D, at least, that upshift comes just shy of the marked 6,500-rpm redline. Wish it was right at redline, but oh well, that's why there's a manual gearbox.
My friends do the right thing and indicate that they're impressed and that this car is the greatest.
Ah, well, maybe that's not quite how they said it, but even with all the weight on board, straight-line performance is still sufficient. Nope, this isn't a sport compact, but with the new, D.I. 2.0-liter engine, this car is quick enough that I wouldn't even consider getting the less efficient 2.5-liter engine and its less sophisticated automatic transmission.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 3,246 miles
December 19, 2011
In due time, we'll have amassed enough fills to quantify our longterm 2012 Mazda 3's real-world fuel economy. Clearly, that is the driving force behind this thing's all-new new "Skyactiv" engine and transmission.
There's no waiting on driving impressions, though, and so far I'm impressed with the new 6-speed autobox. I'll always prefer a stick, but as autos go this one does a lot of things right.
There's very little torque converter syrupyness.
Upshifts and downshifts are quick and smooth.
Downshifts are rev-matched (!)
The shift calibration is cooperative -- downshifts are served up willingly when you dip the throttle.
Yes, this transmission is a big improvement over the old 5-speed automatic in many more ways than just the extra cog. Furthermore its console selector is simply a model for "how to do it right":
The manual gate is canted toward the driver
Push forward for downshifts, pull back for upshifts
Precise, distinct action and effort. Short throws and fluid movement. Feels substantial, too. Unlike that of so many other cars, Mazda's selector was apparently designed by someone who actually uses the manual mode. Thumbs up.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor