Redesigned for 2014, Mazda3 is Mazda's entry in the overflowing compact class, offered in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback body styles. The Mazda 3 is the company's perennial bestseller, and the 2014 Mazda3 is the first to incorporate the full suite of Mazda's Skyactiv Technology, a strange marketing name for a holistic approach to design aimed at reducing mass and optimizing powertrain efficiency to maximize fuel economy.
While that fundamental objective dominated every element of the new Mazda3's development, the design and engineering team was also challenged to give the car contemporary good looks that would stand out from the herd, and also imbue it with a high fun-to-drive index, sustaining Mazda's zoom-zoom image ethos.
Based on substantial drive time with several models in more than one venue, we'd say Mazda has achieved most of its goals. But perhaps not all.
Basics: New from floor pan to roof, the 2014 Mazda3 is roomier than the previous generation. Overall length (180.3 inches for the formal sedan, 175.6 for the hatchback) has actually shrunk slightly, and height is down just over a half inch, to 57.3 inches. But at 70.7 inches, the new car is 1.6 inches wider and that, plus a 2.4-inch wheelbase stretch, adds up to increased interior volume, particularly in the rear seat. For contrast, the Mazda3 sedan is bigger in every dimension than the Honda Civic four-door.
Bigger is only part of the story. Mazda claims a 30 percent increase in torsional rigidity for the unibody, an impressive improvement since the previous generation was noteworthy in terms of its chassis stiffness (and consequent agile handling). Even more impressive, Mazda also claims reduced curb weights, 60 to 100 pounds, depending on body style and trim levels.
The styling that surrounds these roomy interiors echoes the new Mazda6, crisp and eye-catching, with distinctive character creases in the body side sheetmetal, and, mercifully, a new grille, replacing the ugly plastic smile that afflicted the previous generation. The hatchback is the more appealing of the two body styles, to our eye, but the designers have managed to make the sedan stand out, too, which isn't always true in the compact class.
Inside, the Mazda3's redesign is readily visible in new instrument clusters (they vary, becoming fancier in higher trim levels), a new dashboard with improved secondary controls in the center stack, and upgraded materials, even in the basic i SV model. Forward sightlines are better than average, the front seats are sporty and supportive, and of course there's an array of available infotainment features.
As with the 2013 version, the 2014 Mazda3 has two engine options, both four-cylinders, both naturally aspirated, both with direct fuel injection: a 2.0-liter (standard) and 2.5-liter. The 2.0-liter's output is essentially unchanged, although the torque peak occurs much earlier in the rpm range, whereas power from the 2.5-liter is increased in the 2014 Mazda3 by 17 horsepower and 17 pound-feet of torque.
The 2.0-liter engine is the line's fuel economy champ when paired with the optional 6-speed automatic in the sedan's basic Mazda 3i trim level: 30/41 mpg City/Highway, according to the EPA. The standard 6-speed manual gearbox loses only one mpg on the EPA's City cycle and substantially increases the fun-to-drive factor, so the manual is our preference. A Mazda 3s sedan with the 2.5-liter engine and automatic transmission is rated at 28/39 mpg. A 6-speed manual is not available with the 2.5-liter at launch, but will be offered later.
Like the previous generation, the new Mazda3 is exceptionally agile, and a pleasure to guide down a twisty two-lane highway. It's smooth, quiet, and refined in most operating situations.
There isn't much to criticize. Power is on the tepid side, especially with the 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission, and the lack of a manual transmission option for the 2.5-liter engine, although temporary, is disappointing. There is no hybrid version, nor is one on the visible horizon. This also goes for a diesel variant. Similarly, the bad boy Mazdaspeed3, one of the hot rods of the compact car world, may not be renewed in the latest generation.
Nevertheless, the new Mazda3 raises the ante in its class on several fronts: fuel efficiency, dynamics, quality, and style.
The 2014 Mazda3 comes in two body styles: four-door sedan and five-door hatchback. Mazda 3i models come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, Mazda 3s models come with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Each offers a choice of 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual. Trim levels range from basic SV to Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring.
Mazda 3i SV 4-door sedan ($16,945) comes with air conditioning; cloth upholstery, power windows, mirrors, and door locks; tilt/telescope steering column; 3-spoke steering wheel; 4-speaker AM/FM audio; USB ports; 2 12-volt outlets; 16-inch steel wheels. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard; it's also available with a 6-speed automatic ($17,995).
Mazda 3i Sport upgrades with pushbutton start; CD player; illuminated steering wheel controls; split-folding rear seatbacks; cruise control; tachometer; map lights; body-color side mirrors; Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity; USB ports. Mazda 3i Sport 4-door sedan comes with manual transmission ($18,445) or automatic ($19,495). Mazda 3i Sport 5-door hatchback also comes with manual ($18,945) or automatic ($19,995).
Mazda 3i Touring adds 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels; heated side mirrors with turn signal repeaters; rear decklid spoiler; keyless entry; rear seat armrest. As with other models, Mazda 3i Touring 4-door sedan is available with manual ($19,595) or automatic ($20,645).
Mazda 3i Grand Touring upgrades with leatherette upholstery; heated front seats; three-way power driver's seat; dual zone auto climate control; MAZDA CONNECT infotainment system; satellite radio; Pandora and Stitcher internet radio; navigation; Bose premium audio; power moonroof; rearview camera. Mazda 3i Grand Touring comes with manual ($22,745) or automatic ($23,795).
Mazda 3s Touring 4-door sedan ($24,595), in addition to the 2.5-liter engine with paddle shifter 6-speed automatic transmission, upgrades to 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels; bi-xenon headlights; halogen foglights; LED daytime running lights; Active Driving Display.
Mazda 3s Grand Touring 4-door sedan ($25,995) upgrades further with perforated leather-trim seats; 7-inch touch-screen control; multi-function Command control system; rain-sensing windshield wipers; adaptive auto on/off bi-xenon headlights with auto leveling.
Mazda 3i Sport 5-door hatchback is equipped same as Sport sedan plus center-mounted high stop light; rear spoiler; rear wiper; intermittent wipers. Mazda 3i Sport 5-door hatchback is available with manual ($18,945) or automatic ($19,995).
Mazda 3i Touring 5-door hatchback is equipped same as Touring sedan plus leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift lever, and hand brake handle; sport seats; blind spot warning; rear cross traffic alert. Mazda 3i Touring 5-door hatchback is available with manual ($20,995) or automatic ($21,145).
Mazda 3i Grand Touring 5-door hatchback ($23,245), Mazda 3s Touring 5-door hatchback ($25,095), and Mazda 3s Grand Touring 5-door hatchback ($26,495) are equipped similarly to the comparable sedans.