2012 Mazda3 Grand Touring SedanPosted on January 4th, 2012
Skyactiv technology boosts gas mileage to 40 mpg
By Nina Russin
A refreshed exterior on the 2012 Mazda3 is just the appetizer: bigger changes under the hood include a brand new engine and transmission which give the compact sedan fuel economy comparable to some gasoline/electric hybrids. Engineers redesigned fuel nozzle jets and gave the new two-liter engine a compression ratio comparable to a race car: 12:1.
The compression ratio indicates how much pistons compress the air-fuel mixture in the engine cylinders before the spark plugs light it up. A higher compression ratio makes the engine burn fuel more completely but can also lead to detonation. By changing the shape of the piston heads and shortening combustion times, engineers minimized the possibility of preignition, so the engine can run on regular gasoline as opposed to high-octane premium.
The new engine, which is also 4.4 pounds lighter than the block it replaces, achieves 28 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway, according to EPA estimates, with a range of over 500 miles between fill-ups.
In addition to its large overdrive gears, the new six-speed automatic utilizes a lockup torque converter with friction couplings to boost gas mileage. Engineers redesigned the manual transmission as well, making it lighter than the gearbox it replaces for similar fuel economy gains.
But being Mazda, extending gas mileage wasn’t enough. The new powertrain had to satisfy the needs of the automaker’s core audience of driving enthusiasts. Having put 200 miles on the Mazda3 sedan, this writer believes that Mazda has fulfilled its mission. The newest version of its compact sedan maintains the responsive handling and peppy acceleration of its predecessors, at a price which won’t break the bank.
MSRP for the upscale Grand Touring model is $22,300, excluding the $795 destination charge. A $1400 technology package adds blind spot monitoring, perimeter alarm, bi-xenon adaptive headlamps, satellite radio and rain-sensing wipers, bringing the price as tested to $24,495.
Test drive in Phoenix
I decided to take the Mazda3 on the annual New Year’s Day drive which my good friends and local car collectors, Bud and Stephanie Bourassa put on. The route north of Scottsdale towards the town of Wickenburg was a good opportunity to test the sedan’s performance at higher speeds with about 1000 feet of altitude gain.
While it may not be quite as fast as Mazda’s legendary RX-8, the Mazda3 has every reason to feel comfortable in its own skin. Acceleration off the line and in the critical 20-50 mile-per-hour range is excellent. Although engineers borrowed from continuously-variable transmission technology for the six-speed automatic, there is none of the sloppiness which some competitive units suffer from. Quick, precise shifts are more akin to contemporary German sport sedans.
Variable assist rack-and-pinion steering provides more boost at low speeds which maintaining positive on-center response on the highway. The front-wheel drive isn’t particularly nose-heavy: it does quite well taking decreasing radius turns at speed. The sedan’s short wheelbase and 35.8 foot turning circle make it easy to park the sedan on the street, or perform the occasional U-turn.
A four-wheel independent suspension consisting of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in back is compliant enough to keep passengers comfortable during the daily commute, but responsive when necessary.
Visibility around the perimeter is good. I had no problems seeing objects to the rear when backing out of a vertical parking slot. The optional blind spot monitoring system is a wonderful feature for commuters in busy urban areas. The system illuminates LED warning signals if cars are passing through blind spots to the left or right, and will also sound an audible charm if the driver signals to change lanes at the same time. It’s rare to find the feature available in vehicles at this price, and I believe, well worth the extra expense.
The Grand Touring model comes with 18-inch alloy wheels as opposed to 16-inch rims on the base model. They give the car a fatter footprint for better high-speed performance. However, they also contribute to road noise which I found considerable at higher speeds.
Leather upholstery comes standard on the most upscale of the Mazda3 grades, as does a leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio, Bluetooth and cruise controls. Other standard comfort and convenience features include a power moonroof, heated front seats, a ten speaker Bose audio system and a navigation system.
Standard navigation is rarely standard equipment on a vehicle at any price. Although the display screen at the top of the center stack is small and can be difficult to read in bright sunlight, the feature saves the buyer from purchasing an aftermarket system which has the same size screen and is not integrated into the dash.
A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel enables shorter drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag as well as a clear view forward. Twelve volt power outlets recharge portable electronic devices on the go.
Both rows of passengers have ample access to cupholders, in the center console and a fold-down armrest in back. Bottle holders in all four doors are large enough to hold 20-ounce water bottles.
Access and egress to the rear seats is excellent. There’s a modest amount of head and legroom in the two outboard positions. Legroom in the middle position is quite limited due to the location of the center console bin.
The rear seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor. The trunk is ample for a compact sedan, capable of holding a weekend’s worth of luggage or the week’s groceries. Cyclists will be better served by the five-door version of the Mazda3.
The Mazda3 comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, four-channel antilock brakes, traction and dynamic stability control. The factory three year/36,000 mile warranty includes 24-hour roadside assistance.
Mazda builds the Mazda3 at its assembly plant in Houfu, Japan.
Likes: A versatile, affordable compact sedan with peppy performance and exceptional gas mileage. The optional technology package adds safety features rarely available in this segment.
Dislike: Road noise intrusion to the interior, especially noticeable at higher speeds.
Model: Mazda3 Grand Touring Sedan
Base price: $22,300
As tested: $24,495
Horsepower: 167 @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 168 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle Friendly: No
Fuel economy: 28/40 mpg city/highway
One response to “2012 Mazda3 Grand Touring Sedan”
Just took one of these for a test drive.
I had the Mazda 6 in the past and this one drives 100x smoother. I really am impressed with how far Mazda has come.
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