2014 Mazda 3S Grand Touring First Drive

2014 Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback

(2.0L 4-cyl. 6-speed Manual)
  • 2014 Mazda 3 - Front 3/4 - 4

    2014 Mazda 3 - Front 3/4 - 4

    2014 Mazda 3. | July 11, 2013

67 Photos

Mazda Finally Puts It All Together

There's no Hippocratic Oath for automotive journalists. There's no creed, code or promise we swear to, right hand steadied on a weathered copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style. But if there were, somewhere between "I will tell the truth" and "I will not play favorites" should be, "I will not bury the lead." And so, without further ado, here it is:

The all-new 2014 Mazda 3 is very, very good.

Despite some serious growing pains that left elements of the car compromised, it remained among the best cars available in the segment. But now, free of the shackles of parent companies, Mazda finally engineered the Mazda 3 its way.

Drives Like a Mazda
We want to say we waited a few days, or hours, to come to this conclusion. That after driving the 2014 Mazda 3 we sat in front of a fire and contemplated the meaning of life and where, in this grand scheme, a new C-segment hatchback really fits. We didn't. Like a well-hit ball that sails off the bat into the wild blue yonder, we knew this one was good during the very first turn on Angeles Crest Highway.

2014 Mazda 3

By now, saying a Mazda has good steering response is like saying Gisele Bündchen is kind of pretty, but we're going to do it anyway. And even though it now comes with electric-assist power steering, the 2014 Mazda 3 doesn't disappoint.

"Electric power steering is very flexible," says Mazda Development Engineer Dave Coleman. "You can do anything with it. Basically, you give engineers enough rope to hang themselves." Previously, Mazda benchmarked BMW for the steering response in its compact hatch. It didn't do that this time. Nothing outside of the company met the development team's expectations, so they went internal and looked at the venerable Mazda MX-5 Miata.

Not only was the effort tuned to match the curve of a Miata's power steering, but the front suspension's caster angle was increased to 6.5 degrees — the same as the rear-drive Miata and RX-8. The result is a compact hatchback that turns in brilliantly, holds a line and returns sufficient weight and feedback. Again, this isn't a surprise.

The real surprise is how sophisticated and controlled the rest of the car feels after the turn-in.

Trust the Driver
In a speech that would make some other carmaker's cringe, Mazda 3 program manager Kenichiro Saruwatari stood up in public and proclaimed, "We believe in the human being." In an era of mandatory safety nannies, this borders on heresy. Glorious heresy.

2014 Mazda 3

Angeles Crest Highway is 66 miles of happiness, melted down and poured over an undulating Southern California mountain range. We know the road like we know the quickest route to the bathroom in the middle of the night and after about five minutes behind the wheel of the 2014 Mazda 3, we get confident — or cocky — and start having fun. Mazda 3s just do that to you.

Turn-in points get later and later. Braking zones all but evaporate. We're bounding from corner to corner, linking turns like a slalom skier when we finally notice that traction control hasn't once intervened. We test the waters with a hyper-late turn-in and the car understeers a touch, but stays planted and doesn't trigger ESC. We repeat this "test" but with a slight lift of the throttle mid-corner. The Mazda 3 tucks itself neatly around the corner like it's being steered from the back. We mix the two methods. Turn in somewhere around the apex and lift sharply, completely. It's not the fastest way 'round this corner, but it's fun and the Mazda's rear slides predictably, confidently and nanny-free.

But it's not simply the lack of electronic intervention that sets this apart. The s model handles bumps and broken pavement like no Mazda 3 has before. Where previous 3s have been bouncy, boundy things that are alive, but hollow-feeling, the 2014 Mazda 3 has more effective damping. None of the previous 3's eagerness has been lost, but the edges have been sanded off.

Skyactiv Power
Like the last generation Mazda 3, the 2014 is hitting the market with both 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Skyactiv engines. Added during a midcycle refresh a few years ago, Mazda is calling these engines carry-forward, not carry-over.

2014 Mazda 3

The volume-selling, lowest-cost option will be the 2.0-liter. Available on i trims, this powerplant makes 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. When connected to the six-speed automatic, it returns an EPA estimated 30 city and 41 highway mpg. The 2.0-liter example we drove was connected to the six-speed manual transmission which returns 29 city and 41 highway mpg. And that's about the best thing we can say about this engine.

Simply put, 155 horsepower isn't a lot when you're pushing around 2,815 pounds. It's sufficient at best, but feels sluggish until 4,000 rpm when the character switches to wheezy. It's fine around the city, or on mountain roads where momentum is king, but it's a bit of a bummer in any situation where merging, passing or climbing is on the table. We have no complaints about the slick, short shifter or the new clutch engagement that is progressive and smooth.

The One You Want
Mazda's other engine offering is a different animal. Cranking out 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, the 2.5-liter s trim is a much more pleasant powertrain. Torque comes on low and the power runs smooth all the way to the 6,500-rpm redline. It's quick to rev and respond to gearchanges and there's even a hint of intentional intake noise. There's not even a real fuel economy hit as this one, hooked up to a six-speed automatic, returns 28 city and 37 highway.

2014 Mazda 3

The 2.5 does come with two potential downsides, however. The first is that it will cost more in a highly price-sensitive segment. Mazda is yet to announce pricing for s trim versions of the car. The second issue is the initial lack of a manual transmission. One will eventually be available for the small percentage of buyers who want to row their own, but not at launch. That said, the six-speed automatic is expertly programmed and offers a sport mode that is predictive, shockingly fast and as capable as any sport mode on the market.

Both powertrains will be available in either the five-door or sedan body styles.

Mazda's Historical Weak Spot
Because Mazda has a highly talented team of development engineers who value driving and are given enormous power in the company, it's unsurprising that the 2014 Mazda 3 drives well. The bigger question is the interior. Mazda owners for years have argued that the car's mannerisms, looks and uniqueness made up for the interior. Everyone who couldn't define "steering weight" just bought something else.

This is largely rectified for 2014. There are no obvious, glaring missteps. The blank expanse of dark plastic in front of the passenger seat could be more welcoming and the navigation system feels tacked on. But textured plastics surround anything you touch, and buttons and knobs are solid with pleasing action.

2014 Mazda 3

So the new 3 is competitive with the rest of the segment in this regard, but there are two areas inside where it now excels: The front seats and the steering wheel. Sure, it's more stuff that comes from Mazda's fascination with racing, but the new, well-bolstered leather seats are exceptionally comfortable and look spectacular. The steering wheel, too, is near-perfect. No goofy flat-bottom, no unnecessary adornments, just a pleasantly fat wheel with accessible paddle shifters.

Mazda also added a central control knob for its navigation-infotainment system, but that was nonoperational on our preproduction test car.

The Takeaway
The Mazda 3's history is dotted with compromise. Working with leftover or shared parts, Mazda's compact sedan made a meal out of mincemeat. But those days are over.

From chassis to engine to seats, the 2014 Mazda 3 is designed to be a proper Mazda and it fulfills that promise with few shortcomings. Interior refinement is a premium, it's competitively efficient and the 2.5-liter version is quicker than anything in this segment needs to be. Finally, the 3 has all the pieces in place to conquer the C-segment when it goes on sale this September.

That's something even us hacks can appreciate.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

Comments

  • bankerdanny bankerdanny Posts:

    Mazda has long been a leader in good steering wheels. You could get a nice, 3 spoke leather wrapped airbag wheel in a Mazda long before you could in any of the domestics.

  • se_riously se_riously Posts:

    They should put the tach in middle for manuals, speedo in the middle for automatics. Either that, or just have the tach with the digital speedo for all models to highlight the "zoom-zoom". The car itself seems very promising, so long as they keep the price of the 2.5 models down.

  • tspacie tspacie Posts:

    Extra credit for a Dave Coleman quote.

  • rail1972 rail1972 Posts:

    It looks great. I hope the 2014 Mazda 3 sells well.

  • agentorange agentorange Posts:

    So Mazda built a car with fundamentally good handling and that means the electronic nannies don't have to work so hard. Wow, what a radical concept. ;)

  • Wonderful car. It looks like the makings of a true driver's car in a segment not known for driver's cars. I agree with se_riously. The tachometer should be front and center on cars equipped with the manual transmission. If Mazda can work such magic on an economy car, imagine what they can do with a full-blown sports car. Also, I miss the RX-8.

  • jederino jederino Posts:

    Oh, yeah! Mazda had steadfastly developed its sporting credentials in the entire lineup, and is threatening to take BMW's crown. I do wish an RX-8 successor returns soon, with an engine containing less faults than the Renesis, that is.

  • dfelix70 dfelix70 Posts:

    Nice design inside and out. But that stereo add-on just looks absolutely tacky. The navigation screen doesn't look quite as tacky though it's still not an ideal design.

  • serezhkin serezhkin Posts:

    Cute, but where's the turbo?

  • alex38 alex38 Posts:

    Solid effort here and props to a nice stepup in the interior. HOWEVER, I think the exterior is overstyled and not digging that extra long nose. I actually prefer the exterior of the current model

  • unionbuster unionbuster Posts:

    You don't bury the lede. And yet you still did.

  • quadricycle quadricycle Posts:

    Color me impressed. Mazda seems to be on a roll. A great new Mazda 6, I don't care for crossovers but the new CX-5 is huge for them, and now what looks to be an exquisite new Mazda 3... Next you'll tell me that they're working on a new Miata with Alpha as we speak. Oh wait, they are! Not so long ago I was worried that they wouldn't be able to survive after splitting from Ford but it is so great to see this company succeed like this.

  • joefrompa joefrompa Posts:

    This has a more sophisticated less bulbous "futuristic" look to the current 3, and that makes me excited. At 2800-2950 pounds for these models, really curious what the Mazdaspeed 3 will pull in at - probably 3100 pounds, which is totally acceptable. I am doubtful, but hopeful, they will turn it into a RWD or AWD platform. However, I am extremely excited to see what they've done with this 3. My current focus points are on the new M3 (coming out next year). However, Mazda and Subaru could totally pull me "down market" with exceptional fun to drive cars if they do it right. Quadricycle - My Brother in law requires a spacious wagon/hatch with +30mpg and a manual transmission, yet a reasonable starting point price wise. Bonus points for fewer electronics. I pointed him to the Mazda CX-5, which still offers a FWD 6-speed manual option. He's extremely excited.

  • s197gt s197gt Posts:

    Sounds like Mazda has solved the two issues that made me trade-in my first new car (02 Protege5) all those years ago. Gutless engine and bouncy highway ride. Great city car but I did a lot of highway travel. By the time the Mazdaspeeds came out I had already moved on. I think Mazda is calling my name; I am afraid to test drive the CX-5 because I'll probably buy it and downsize from our Grand Cherokee. I think I can wait for some lightly used 2014s to hit the market in a year or two.

  • jeffinoh jeffinoh Posts:

    Why is its snout sooo long? The engine is sideways, so it could be shorter. At least it finally lost its jack-o-lantern smile. These lines work so well on the 6 but the 3 is just to small for such a long nose. especially in the hatch model. It is much much improved tho thankfully. Mazdas are hugely popular in Cleveland area so the better they look the easier it is to stand seeing so many of them.

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    I have a couple of small issues with this car. First, this car must have the biggest amount of overhang I've ever seen- it's a nice design but it was pulled off more successfully on the Mazda 6 (longer sedan shape)- the 3 looks like it has a huge nose. Secondly, the navigation system looks OK since it's a big screen, but if you get the base unit without the screen it's a hideous lump of a radio. Thirdly, the inability to pair the manual with the 2.5 is a real shame. Fourth, what the heck is with the gauges? The manual needs the tach centered! Overall it's a really solid effort, I really like the driver touchy-feely points (the seats and steering wheel look great) I think it has a real chance of taking the compact crown again. The smiley-faced Mazda 3 generation just wasn't any good compared to the competition...

  • Beautiful. Great review, gets me [more] excited about this little guy. On another note, something that hasn't been praised is the light colored seats that Mazda still believes in. Thank you Mazda! Black/gray interiors just look so drab and uninviting to me. Never owned one though.

  • cotak cotak Posts:

    1) Overhangs, likely similar length to old car just now they widen the front so it looks worse. 2) I don't mind the old look (I drive a speed 3). In some ways I think the new look is going to age faster. Like the fusion when it first came out with the DB9ish look. At first it looked great but now, i don't know just doesn't really mean anything to me anymore. Maybe I just don't care much about looks as long as it's not a PT cruiser or Aztek like. 3) The tach is in the center for the model with the HUD. Make sense. While the lower end model has the speedo in the center, again make sense. 4) The interior weren't bad before but the appears to have gone up market. 5) Where's the new speed 3? I have been debating what I would replace my current speed 3 with and there's just nothing else in the price range (in Canada), new, that checks the same requirements. Sure the WRX is faster in a straight line but you have to live with the butt ugly toyota cast off interiors and softer suspension and poorer brakes. And if you get an STI you still only have HID low beams (WTF is the practical point of HID in a low beam? It's just for looks isn't it?)I am not into modding cars so for me the Mazdaspeed 3 has everything I want out of the box. I sure hope that in the future it has even more (please add AWD..).

  • By the way....the new Mazdas will look great here in Delaware. No front license plate required here :-)

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    Are you sure the captions are correct on the IP pictures? I can't imagine Mazda put the tach in the center on automatics, and the speedo center on manuals. That's completely backwards.

  • so the 2.5 will eventually be available with a stick? If so I'm downsizing and going with a MT in the near future.

  • joner800 joner800 Posts:

    i love mazdas - i have owned three: a protege and two mazda6s. the new mazda3 looks to be a very nice automobile. but, as many reports since the 2014 redesign release dub it the little brother to the redesigned 6, i think, for what it is, it is nicer than the new 6! i would love to trade in my 2011 6 for the 2014, but the nav screen is smaller, there's no more V6 (i have been told by the dealer initially that the turbodiesel would be available this summer, now i am being told the end of the year), and i really dislike everything about the dash. meanwhile, the interior of this new 3 looks very well done and fitting of a smaller car!

  • vtx1 vtx1 Posts:

    They need to have a traditional Tach and Speedo, not one or the other depening on the transmission. That is just dumber than Ford's myfordtouch concept.

  • Cannot wait have a 2011 5 door. 2.5 is great however gas mileage has been very disappointing (knew it going in). Love the torque of the current engine. Never fast off the line but amazing at highway speed. Expecting a low7/sub 7 0-60. Should be right there with a Civic SI.

  • Cannot wait have a 2011 5 door. 2.5 is great however gas mileage has been very disappointing (knew it going in). Love the torque of the current engine. Never fast off the line but amazing at highway speed. Expecting a low7/sub 7 0-60. Should be right there with a Civic SI.

  • darthbimmer darthbimmer Posts:

    Looks great! I am really excited about the strong handling, fresher looks inside and out, and improved 2.5 engine. One niggle is that the gauge treatment seems backwards. If you're going to give a lame digital speedo, do it on the manual transmission where drivers actually want to watch a big tach. Most auto trans drivers don't care about the tach and just want a clear speedo. This is a small detail but important enough that Mazda will probably lose sales over it.

  • darthbimmer darthbimmer Posts:

    Looks great! I am really excited about the strong handling, fresher looks inside and out, and improved 2.5 engine. One niggle is that the gauge treatment seems backwards. If you're going to give a lame digital speedo, do it on the manual transmission where drivers actually want to watch a big tach. Most auto trans drivers don't care about the tach and just want a clear speedo. This is a small detail but important enough that Mazda will probably lose sales over it.

  • irnmdn irnmdn Posts:

    With each generation Mazda 3s look dumber.

  • hikingmike hikingmike Posts:

    Agree with comment by se_riously. Why would the automatic get a huge tach in the middle with a dinky digital speedometer and the manual gets a huge speedo with a dinky digital tach? This makes absolutely no sense?!?! Completely [non-permissible content removed]-backwards!!

  • jesse357 jesse357 Posts:

    "The second issue is the initial lack of a manual transmission. One will eventually be available for the small percentage of buyers who want to row their own, but not at launch". Wonder what "eventually" means ? The company that extols zoom zoom should always keep that an option. Hopefully it still comes out in 2014 in the 2.5 liter.

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The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2014 Mazda Mazda3 in VA is:

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