2014 Mazda 3 s Full Test | Edmunds.com
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2014 Mazda 3 s Five-Door Full Test

2014 Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback

(2.5L 4-cyl. 6-speed Automatic)
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A Perfectly Balanced Hatchback


Balance is rarely achieved by accident, but through careful consideration and deliberate actions. Tip the balance one way or the other and you're left teetering on the edge. Maintain your balance, however, and you can deliver across the spectrum.

Mazda has managed to strike an impeccable balance with its redesigned 2014 Mazda 3. Available as either a sedan, or hatchback as we have here, the completely revamped Mazda 3 has taken a significant leap forward on a variety of fronts. Sharper styling inside and out, improved ergonomics and plenty of fun-to-drive personality have vaulted it to the top of our rankings.

2014 Mazda 3 s

Improvement Where It Was Needed
The previous Mazda 3 was a commendable choice for shoppers who placed big value on a fun-to-drive feel. In other areas, though, it came up short against competitors like the Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra. Many found the styling of the previous Mazda 3 a bit odd, and most winced at the flimsy interior plastics and outdated features. That was then. The 2014 Mazda 3 s hatchback you see here not only addresses its predecessor's drawbacks, it jumps a few steps ahead in many respects.

Now, we're taken with the exterior styling and impressed with the segment-leading interior. Gone is the wide smiling grille, replaced by a more angular inlet and tautly stretched headlights. The overall body sculpting conveys a more cohesive design that blends all elements seamlessly. The new hatchback balances a pleasingly sleek shape with just enough visual interest to make it attractive.

Even more significant than the exterior makeover is the Mazda 3's cabin, lifting cues from German vehicles that are priced well beyond the typical compact car. Our test car in range-topping Grand Touring trim far exceeds typical expectations for the economically minded segment.

Mounted high atop the dash is a 7-inch color display with tack-sharp graphics and faultless operation. Besides looking like an iPad mini, it seems to have been lifted directly out of the current Mercedes-Benz lineup. Unlike Mercedes' screen, though, the Mazda's display also responds to touch inputs.

2014 Mazda 3 s

Wait, Did We Just Compare a Mazda to a Mercedes?
Yes, and we're not through yet.

Situated right where you'd rest your inboard hand is an infotainment controller that distinctly echoes the setups used by Audi and BMW. This knurled dial has a satisfying heft to it and is thoughtfully flanked by physical buttons and a tiny volume knob. Thanks to a smart on-screen layout and a logical menu structure, operating the navigation, radio and climate systems is incredibly simple and requires very little time to get used to. In some ways, it's superior to systems found in those luxury German sedans.

Besides the surprising bells and whistles, the Mazda 3's interior features a more conventional design than before, with a horizontal dash from door to door. All controls and gauges are placed well within reach, requiring just a quick glance to read. Materials quality has suffered in years past, but the new plastics are easier on the eyes as well as to the touch. On top of it all, literally, is a head-up display that shows speed and navigation prompts right in the driver's line of sight.

In total, this new 2014 Mazda 3 represents a more mature interpretation of the compact hatchback. It deftly balances a wealth of features with thoughtful design and execution without feeling like gimmicky afterthoughts.

2014 Mazda 3 s

Maintaining On-Road Balance
As with its predecessor, the new Mazda 3 is offered with one of two available engines. Base Mazda 3i models are powered by a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder engine. Our Mazda 3 s test vehicle gets the more powerful 2.5-liter, four-cylinder that produces 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. In Grand Touring trim, as we have here, the only available transmission is a six-speed automatic with manual shift control.

In Edmunds testing, the Mazda 3 s hatchback made the sprint to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds (7.6 seconds with a foot of rollout as on a drag strip). That's half a second quicker than the Mazda 3i we tested with a manual transmission. It's also nearly a second quicker than the Ford Focus. While we wouldn't consider it fast, it certainly has enough pep to merge onto a crowded highway with ease.

Coming to a stop from that speed required 126 feet of pavement, which is about what we expect from hatchbacks in this class. The Mazda also weaved through the slalom cones at 61.1 mph and pulled 0.81g around our skid pad. These figures are also par for the hatchback course. But those numbers really don't do the Mazda 3 justice.

If driving excitement is your thing, the 3 brings with it the kind of athleticism that Mazda is known for. Even though the weight is biased toward the front, the 3 feels remarkably balanced on winding mountain roads. Its limits are far beyond what the average driver will ever need, but that translates to a solid on-road feel that may yet bring out the enthusiastic driver in you.

2014 Mazda 3 s

There's enough power to bring a smile to our jaded faces, yet not enough to get into trouble. The transmission capitalizes on the available power with smart gearchanges in automatic mode and quick responses in manual mode. When it comes to steering, this might be one of the best tuned in a wide swath of categories. Reactions to steering inputs are immediate and precise without ever becoming busy. Feedback is there, too, but there's no torque steer, or a tugging at the wheel, under acceleration.

Best of all, you get all that performance and excellent mileage as well. The Mazda 3 has an EPA estimate of 31 mpg in combined driving (27 city/37 highway). Even with our exuberant driving styles, we managed to attain a respectable 28.3 mpg over a few weeks. In our highway-heavy evaluation loop, however, we were astounded by a 41.1-mpg result.

Not Just a "Driver's" Car
Don't let the Mazda 3's performance credentials scare you off if that's not your thing, though, because it's well mannered in every setting. The suspension is a little stiffer than the typical hatchback, but it's in no way harsh or intrusive. It's perfectly enjoyable in the daily commute and tackles errands with ease.

Behind the rear seats, you can cram 20.2 cubic feet of cargo, which is about 3 cubes less than its main rivals. Flip those 60/40 seats forward and you get 47.1 cubic feet, a number that splits the difference between its competitors. The hatch opening is on the narrow side, so wide objects may take a little maneuvering.

What gripes we do have are minor. On the highway, road noise is ever present, but not to the point of annoyance. After several hours behind the wheel, the lack of lumbar support for the driver seat may also be a source of discontent for some. The rear seats provide adult-sized headroom, but legroom is limited and having the seat cushions mounted low to the floor makes those accommodations less suitable for tall passengers over the long haul. Shorter folk will fare just fine back there.

More Than You Bargained for
Our range-topping 2014 Mazda 3 s Grand Touring came to us nearly fully loaded with a sticker of $27,585. The only significant option missing was the $1,600 GT technology package that adds a regenerative engine braking system, active grille shutters, automatic high beams, a lane departure warning system, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and automatic braking. It's worth noting that other hatchbacks don't even offer some of these features.

While that 27 grand may seem high, the luxury-leaning infotainment system and head-up display we mentioned earlier are included, along with a rearview camera, adaptive headlights, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, leather upholstery, heated seats, dual-zone climate control, smart key entry and ignition and a nine-speaker Bose audio system. Going with the S Touring trim will still get you the larger engine but cuts down on some of the features to bring the pricing down by about $2,000.

Should You Buy a Mazda 3?
The 2014 Mazda 3 s is now our top pick among compact hatchbacks. It unseats our former favorite Ford Focus, which is still a great choice in its own right. We have yet to run the new Hyundai Elantra GT and Kia Forte cousins through our battery of tests, and the new VW Golf is on its way, too.

Knowing this, we're still confident that the Mazda 3 can compete. Its overall balance is hard to come by in any car category and if one of the new contenders does manage to best it, we can't imagine it will be by a significant margin. With athletic performance, all-day comfort, a wealth of features and a versatile layout, the Mazda 3 delivers on all counts. The fact that it does so while remaining fun to drive is an added bonus that you can't put a price on.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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Comments

  • corollamike corollamike Posts:

    Why buy a $27k compact car when, for practically the same money, one could buy a Mazda 6? It just makes no good sense. Same with Ford's Focus: By the time you optioned out a Focus, you could have a comparatively-equipped Fusion. Same with the Elantra/Sonata. Today's mid-size cars get about the same mileage as their compact siblings, too. Same money, smaller car. Makes no sense.

  • gloss gloss Posts:

    Because sometimes you don't want the larger vehicle?

  • guy1974 guy1974 Posts:

    CorollaMike - it makes sense to some. Lets take the Mazda 3, for $26K you can have a 3 S Turing which has the same engine as the 6, but navigation, HID's, auto lights, upgraded stereo and other goodies. The 6 Touring for the same price has none of that. So if you don`t need all the extra space in the rear but like the extra equipment then you buy the 3. Plus most 3's (and most compacts ) will still be below $20K. Remember you can spend $33K on a 6 (or a Camry) and for that money you can get a BMW 320i.

  • themandarin themandarin Posts:

    Extreme cab-backward design results in cramped rear seat in what is supposed to be a useful car

  • bankerdanny bankerdanny Posts:

    The GT Tech package has some interesting options, but absolutely nothing that I would want to spend $1,600 to get. Kudos to Mazda for not forcing buyers to spend this money to get something like heated seats or HID's.

  • auto4fun auto4fun Posts:

    I feel like you guys are not addressing one of the main competitors to the the Mazda 3 s - the GTI. The GTI is marketed more towards the hot-hatch segment than the everyday hatch like the 3, but the price is pretty similar and I feel the comparison is warranted (especially considering these are my current top 2 contenders to replace my dying '98 M3 - though I would be waiting for the 3s manual and the Mk7 GTI). You mention that it is more athletic than the other standard hatches, but how does it compare to the GTI in terms of being fun to drive?

  • piredon piredon Posts:

    Does anybody else think the new 3 has some Alfa-Romeo-ness to it? The hatchback in particular. Maybe it's because we haven't had Alfas in this country for so long, but I'm surprised none of the major automotive outlets have commented on it. This is a giant positive, by the way. Alfa fairly consistently produces some of the best looking vehicles in the world. Unfortunately, we don't get hardly any of them (8C and now 4C excepted).

  • nh6 nh6 Posts:

    how did you guys get such a slow 0-60 time? Most other publications have gone less than 7.8 with one even in the high 6's. You guys might wanna try again when the car's got some more miles on it cause this car is definitely quicker than that.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    You might want to mention in the text body about the laggy manual upshifts, the brakes that fade a bit, the typical crappy Mazda OEM tires and the slightly intrusive stability control that you cover on the test spec page.

  • lions208487 lions208487 Posts:

    @ nh6- Edmunds tends to have the slowest track times of any publication. Even Motorweek yields faster track times than they do. Again. Mazda has made the most fun to drive hatch in the segment. Hope the Speed3 comes to the party soon. The only thing

  • rickibobbi rickibobbi Posts:

    price has really gone up, I got a new 2012 MS3 for 21k, and I'm sure the new Mazda is great, but that seems really high for a compact car, Maybe all car prices have gone up?

  • szlachta szlachta Posts:

    There are many reasons. 1. A hatchback has a much more usable storage / trunk area than sedans. 2. Smaller cars are easier to park and navigate in tight streets. 3. The Mazda 6 is not as good of a car as the Mazda 3. 4. Extra weight / mass usually means poorer handling and performance. 5. Some compact hatches have larger back seat room or legroom than mid size sedans. 6. Some smaller hatchbacks are cheaper to insure than larger cars. 7. Most people simply don't need anything larger than a compact car - more and more people seem to be realizing that fact. 8. Some people may find small hatchbacks better looking than larger sedans.

  • Lol for the same price you can get a used M3. What's your point? Like gloss said, sometimes you don't want a larger car. It doesn't make sense to you but to someone like myself, who, enjoys cars in the class, it does. I'd still like the be able to have the latest tech too.

  • meest00gt meest00gt Posts:

    @auto4fun- You do realize the standard 3 is not competing against the GTI directly. That would be the mazdaspeed3. They are vastly different animals. The standard 3 would compete with the Golf, not the GTI.

  • saintviper saintviper Posts:

    Wow, I just bought a CX-9 for $27K. It doesn't get 40mpg though.

  • tim_boo tim_boo Posts:

    Mazda has been using this approach for more than a decade, of providing more fetures than anyone expected in a small car, of course for a price. It is a smart move for Mazda and one the industry is following. Of course many buyers in the 3 market are looking for sub 20k pricing and Mazda provides those cars, however more and more people are looking at small cars but they want the luxury features too! Smart plan Mazda!

  • rxanand rxanand Posts:

    The rear seat looks to be a little claustrophobic with the high belt line.

  • nutellapr nutellapr Posts:

    I'd recheck your 0-60 times. Other mainstream car magazines with dedicated test tracks and instrumentation clock the times anywhere from 6.9-7.4 with Car & Driver coming in at 7.2.

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