Date Posted: October 15, 2013
By Zack Spencer
One of the best handling compact cars just got better.
Mazda, on a global scale, is a small company, so developing new products is a major undertaking. This is why they shared engineering with the Ford Motor Company for many years but that relationship dissolved in 2010. Instead of modifying existing, co-developed vehicles platforms, engines and transmission, the company took a radical turn in the way they develop new products. I'm sure by now you have seen Mazda's ads for ''Skyactiv Technology''. This is the name for their radical design and manufacturing approach. By engineering vehicles from a blank sheet of paper, Mazda could focus on simplifying the manufacturing process to save money, a crucial part of this small companies survival. This new 2014 Mazda3 is the third vehicle to be built using Mazda's Skyactiv Technology, behind the Mazda CX-5 SUV and Mazda6 sedan.
The platform used to build this all new Mazda3 is a shared chassis with the other two Skyactiv products. They elongate, widen or shorten the platform to suit each vehicle. In this case, it is slightly shorter then the CX-5. In fact, the new Mazda3 is lower, wider and slightly shorter than the last model but the wheelbase has been stretched by 60mm. This pushes the wheels out to the corner of the car, providing a solid stance and improving interior space. Then Mazda went about hand forming the body to produce a style that conveys motion, even standing still. Sold as a sedan or hatchback, the long hood, sweeping lines and powerful stance make a statement in a class that can be rather subdued.
The goal for this latest model was to have a dynamic looking interior, fitted with materials and features not typically found in a compact car. The dashboard is covered with, not only a soft material, rather a plush-feeling dash. Then there is the dash-mounted communication screen placed in the centre of the dash. This is standard on the middle GS and upper GT trim; the base GX is not so lucky. The driver can touch the screen to access music, navigation and phone settings but once the car is in motion the screen is only adjustable through a rotary dial controller between the front seats. Mazda places three, easy-to-memories, buttons above the dial for access to the most common functions. On the top GT model there is even a heads-up display that sits right on top of the driver's instrument cluster, helping to keep the information high enough that it focuses the driver' s attention on the road. The seats are comfortable and can be fitted with leather on the top model. Even though Mazda lengthened the wheelbase by 60mm, the back seat isn't long on legroom.
By developing the direct injection engines, chassis and transmission at the same time, the Mazda engineers were able to shed weight. The lighter platform and powerful 2.0L 4-cylinder with 155hp is a nice match on the base and GS trim levels, driving either a 6-speed manual or all-new 6-speed automatic. The top GT is equipped with a 2.5L engine with 184hp but is only available with the automatic. I'm surprised that the manual is not offered with this engine, as driving enthusiast will be attracted to this engine right away. On the road, the steering is very quick and the feedback well above average. The previous Mazda3 was at the top of the class in terms of driving dynamics and this new model takes it to a whole new level. I'm confident in saying that this new model feels like a much more expensive car.
The standard features list is strong, including keyless entry, push button start, Bluetooth and USB connectivity for $15,995. If you equip the base model with air conditioning and automatic transmission, the price jumps to $18,795. The middle GS trim is the place most Canadians will shop and the range is from $19,695-$22,595 for things like heated seats, leather steering wheel, rain sensing wipers and more. The top GT with the larger engine, 18-inch wheels, xenon headlamps, Bose stereo and navigation, ranges from $25,855-$$29,855. As you can see, the price can ratchet up rather quickly. The upside is that this is a car that can provide solid, fun to drive transportation, wrapped in a stylish package. Higher-end models feel like a much more expensive car, with qualities not found previously in this class of car. So, the price might be justified. I truly believe that Mazda is onto something, this is the best car in the compact class.
Power: 2.0L 4-cylinder with 155hp or 2.5L with 184hp
Fill-up: 9.9L/7.0L/100km (city/highway)
Sticker price: $15,995-$29,895