Our long-term 2015 Mazda Mazda3 has no idea how good it is. With enjoyable straight-line quickness and an ability to show off in corners -- as well as one of the most appealing shapes among small sedans today -- the Mazda3 has the compact-sports-sedan thing nailed. That part's expected, though. Less expected is how well the Mazda's Skyactiv 2.0-liter engine and 6-speed manual transmission play in heavy traffic. The clutch take-up is so clean and unfussy, you could use it to teach a Labradoodle to drive a stick. And the little Skyactiv 4-cylinder engine's roll-on of decent power (155 horsepower, 150 lb-ft of torque) integrates flawlessly with the manual, making stop-and-go traffic a lot less soul crushing.

So our long-term Mazda3 makes good on snaky roads and on snarled freeways -- so how does it work on long drives on straight, open roads? All you had to do was ask.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015

Road Trip!

The road trip between Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, California is a North/South trek I've made dozens of times in every kind of car imaginable. It's about a six, six-and-a-half hour journey that, after you've escaped the L.A. Basin, allows you plenty of time and high-speed roads on which you get to know your vehicle's highway manners. As expected, our Mazda3 made short work of the foothills and almost-mountains bordering Los Angeles. Then, when I got to the endless stretch of the Interstate 5 freeway, I settled into a comfortable cruise with the Mazda quiet enough to let me listen to podcasts without cranking up the volume on the Mazda Connect infotainment system (the 7-inch color touch screen of which sticks out of the dash like a planted iPad). At the end of the day, I arrived at my destination perfectly relaxed, unrattled and ready to play music with my friends.

Santa Cruz is a good-lookin' university town across the bay from Monterey, California. I was able to get some great photos of our Mazda3 and its optional Soul Red Metallic paint. Never has an extra $300 been better spent on a car. Why Mazda doesn't include a camera with every Soul Red Mazda3 sold is a mystery to us. During the trip, the little Mazda's trunk swallowed up all my stuff -- including my guitar -- with room for more, and it regularly logged fuel economy in the mid-to-high 30-mpg range. Let's just say I kept it legal, but wasn't especially light on the throttle.

Road trip in the 2015 Mazda Mazda3? I can't wait for the next one.

See Past Reports on our 2015 Mazda Mazda3

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