2015 Mazda3 Grand TouringPosted on December 11th, 2014
Value without compromise
By Nina Russin
Great cars in this technologically advanced era aren’t especially hard to find, but great cars priced below $20,000 are. The Mazda3 compact sedan, priced from $16,945, is one of those rare uncompromised values. Mazda makes the process seem so easy that one has to wonder why competitors find the challenge insurmountable.
The Mazda3 comes as either a sedan or five-door hatchback with a choice of two engines: the base two-liter block or the upscale 2.5-liter four cylinder rated at 184-horsepower. An automatic transmission is available but buyers who know how to drive a manual should opt for that gearbox: a delight to drive with its sporty short-throw shift lever.
The 2015 car is basically carryover from the previous model year when the third-generation design debuted. Mazda’s Skyactiv is the OEM’s proprietary fuel-saving technology. The term is an umbrella for improvements throughout the car, including the engine, transmission and aerodynamics. Fuel economy for the base two-liter model is 41 miles-per-gallon highway, while the larger 2.5-liter engine averages 37 on the highway and 25 around town.
The test car is the fully loaded Grand Touring model priced from $25,045 excluding the $785 delivery charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include leather upholstery, a six-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, satellite radio, navigation, heads-up display and a color center stack screen. There are two options on the test car: the metallic red exterior paint and a cargo mat, bringing the final MSRP to $26,335.
Test drive in Phoenix Arizona
This week I drove the Mazda3 sedan around the Phoenix, Chandler and Scottsdale metropolitan areas area as well as the foothills of the Superstition Mountains east of town.
The routes included some time in rush-hour traffic, giving me a good idea of what it would feel like to spend a lot of time pushing the clutch. It really is a non-issue, with plenty of space within gears to save the driver from having to shift constantly.
The engine develops 185 foot-pounds of peak torque at 3250 rpm: a modest dip of the throttle for the high-revving block. I had plenty of power off the line and in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range drivers use merging into highway traffic.
Driving the Mazda3 feels very much like the two-seat MX-5 but in a larger, more practical package. It begs to go fast and be tossed around in the corners. The Bush Highway east of town offers the perfect opportunity to do both. With its off-camber turns and pitchy hills, it seems custom made for a light car with a relatively short wheelbase.
The 2.5-liter engine makes a lovely sound when downshifting through the corners. A flick of the wrist is all it takes to shift gears. The clutch pedal is light without feeling insubstantial.
The fact that Mazda engineers refuse to cut corners on chassis components is one of the reasons that the car’s performance is so exceptional. A four-wheel independent suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in back. Twin tube shock absorbers provide excellent rebound on challenging roads.
The electric power assist steering system offers solid on-center response. Ventilated front discs and solid rear rotors stop the sedan in firm, linear fashion.
Visibility around the perimeter is quite good. Standard blind spot monitoring illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when cars in the adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. If the driver signals when the LED is lit there is also an audible chime.
Mazda makes its rearview camera standard equipment so monitoring cross traffic in crowded parking lots is a non-issue. The center stack screen is easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions. Ditto for the gauge cluster.
A heads-up display projects the speedometer at the bottom of the driver’s sight line. At night, bi-xenon headlamps project longer beams of light that are closer to daylight for improved visibility. Standard daytime running lamps make it easier for other driver’s to see the car in low light conditions: a feature I appreciated on a rainy morning with reduced visibility.
Engineers did a good job of minimizing NVH inside the car, so occupants can converse or enjoy the audio system.
Inside, the Mazda3 seems more like a sports car than a four-door sedan. I found the front sport seats comfortable for drives of several hours. An adjustable lumbar on the driver’s side adds ample lower back support.
Being a compact sedan, two adult passengers fit better in the second row than three. There’s enough legroom in the outboard position for average size adults. Second-row seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to extend the cargo floor for longer items such as skis or snowboards. Cyclists should opt for the five-door liftback rather than the sedan, since it has a taller cargo area with easier access.
The Mazda3 comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, blind spot monitoring, a rearview camera with cross-traffic alert, tire pressure monitoring, daytime running lamps, bi-xenon headlamps and hill start assist.
Mazda builds the Mazda3 in its Hofu, Japan assembly plant.
Like: An affordable compact sedan, beautifully styled with exceptional performance.
Model: Mazda3 Grand Touring
Base price: $16,945
As tested: $26,335
Horsepower: 184 Hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 185 lbs.-ft. @ 3250 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 25/37 mpg city/highway2015, Best Value 2015, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Mazda, performance, pricing, standard safety
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