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Grown-up boy racer

 

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Starting Price: $19,930 | Price yours

Above Average: Driving dynamics, styling

Below Average: Tight rear seat, high 5-Year Cost to Own

Consensus: The fun, fashionable option in a crowded segment

One aspect that has set Mazda products apart from the competition is the fun-to-drive quotient. Somehow the brand has mastered the secret sauce that makes for an engaging behind-the-wheel experience no matter the model. The 2017 Mazda3 is no exception to this rule. But this “zoom zoom” approach is not just a one-trick pony, as Mazda has added stylish design to make this hatchback not only fun to drive but also great to look at. 

This handsome 5-door hatchback wears its recent facelift well. The flowing lines, elegant use of chrome accents and our test car’s Machine Gray Metallic exterior combine in one of the best looking vehicles in its class. Unlike the Civic, which has a bit more boy racer attitude in its design, the Mazda3 delivers similar behind-the-wheel thrills but in a package that is, shall we say, a bit more mature in execution. It’s not flamboyant in the least, and yet when you get inside the well-appointed cabin, punch the start button and move on the down the road, the Mazda3 appeals to all your senses. It’s a comfortable place for the rote task of daily commuting and a great front row seat for more spirited motoring. 

2017 Mazda3

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Highway Driving

The Grand Touring edition of the front-drive Mazda 3 is powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. It offers up 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque compared to the base model’s 2.0-liter engine that makes 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. That extra muscle helps the Mazda3 cruise along at freeway speeds with ease, while only sacrificing 2 mpg in EPA highway mileage with its 35 mpg rating compared to the smaller engine. The combined EPA mileage figure for the Mazda3 Grand Touring is 30 mpg, again only 1 mpg less than the 2.0-liter. Overall, we saw 26.8 mpg, but that included 70-plus mph freeway speeds and some fairly heavy footed backroad work. While some tire and wind noise was noticeable, overall the Mazda3 has a fairly quiet and comfortable cabin. Noise, vibration and harshness suppression in the Mazda3 is better than average for the segment.

City Driving  

Visibility out of the Mazda3 is good, and the compact footprint of this 5-door hatch makes parking and in-town maneuvering easy. The backup camera provides a good view out the rear. The nifty head-up display also provides traffic sign recognition and the radar cruise control does a good job in maintaining separation and eases the drudgery of driving through urban congestion. There’s also a suite of lane departure and blind spot warnings along with lane keeping assist that provides an additional layer of safety.

Sporty Driving

This is the area where the Mazda3 comes into its own. On twisty two-lane roads, this hatchback is a blast to drive, especially with the addition of G-Vectoring Control. By modulating engine output to subtly modulate torque delivery to the front wheels when the steering wheel is turned, the Mazda3 sharpens its turn-in response with a slight forward shift in weight transfer. In a constant radius turn with no further steering input, power is restored with a subtle shift rearward in weight, which helps to settle the car through the corner. It makes the Mazda3 easier to drive quickly with confidence. Paddle shifting the 6-speed automatic keeps the engine in its sweet spot, so power was readily available for quick exits off the corner. Both the Mazda3 and the Civic topped the fun-to-drive category.

Interior Appeal

The cabin of the Mazda3 has a clean, modern upscale look that could be mistaken for an Audi’s. There are plenty of soft-touch surfaces and the front bucket seats earned high marks for their comfort. The overall layout and design of the interior mimics the exterior. The organic shapes, leather seats and padded dash and doors are set off with a tasteful use of satin finish and chrome brightwork. The head-up display module is a nice touch, though it could use a larger range of up/down adjustment. The overall layout with its blend of analog gauges and digital readouts is pleasant to look at and easy to read.

Infotainment  

The fixed 7-inch touchscreen is mounted on top of the center stack and you have the option of accessing the features using a console-mounted rotary control. There’s also a separate volume knob, redundant controls for the HVAC, and steering-wheel mounted switches. The Mazda3 earned high marks for how intuitive it was to operate the various systems. However, the voice recognition system for the navigation could use some work; it had a hard time recognizing addresses, negating the value of being able to find a place on the fly. The nav was much easier to program using the rotary dial, but you had to stop the car to do so. The Mazda3 was dinged for not offering Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but the rest of the infotainment including the sound system was readily accessible and easy to navigate.

Rear Seat Room

The rear seating area can accommodate three, but only in a pinch. It’s pretty tight with legroom at a premium compared to the other cars in the test. However, for a sleek-looking hatch, the rear-seat headroom is better than that found in the Chevy Cruze. The rear seat has a split, fold-down feature and incorporates a center armrest with built-in cupholders.  

Cargo Utility  

Aft of the 60/40 split rear bench is 20.2 cubic feet of cargo space. The large hatch and low liftover help with access to the load space and when the second row of seats is folded nearly flat, the space expands to 47.1 cubic feet. While not as spacious as the more wagon-like Impreza 5-Door or Civic Hatchback, there’s plenty of utility to be had in the Mazda3’s cargo bay.

Fuel Economy  

While the Mazda3 was not the mileage champ of this test, given the engine’s output it delivered more than respectable numbers, averaging 26.8 mpg over the various roads on our trip up to Santa Barbara and back. During the return trip, a leg featuring a long stretch of freeway cruising and a bit of rush hour stop-and-go traffic, the Mazda3 still netted a 30 mpg reading.

Resale Value  

All the vehicles in our test were priced between $29,000 and $30,000, with the Mazda coming in on the low end at $29,080 including $835 delivery. Big ticket options included the $1,100 i-Activ safety package with radar cruise control, traffic sign recognition, and lane departure warning and lane keep assist systems, and a $1,600 premium package that included navigation, LED lighting and paddle shifters. Even though the Mazda3 is competitively priced, it takes a hit on depreciation, which contributes to a KBB 5-Year Cost to Own of $43,412 or 57 cents per mile, which is above average. However, that extra cost has to be balanced against the Mazda3’s intrinsic value. It’s a car that is fun to drive and looks great, two elements that contribute to a satisfying ownership experience. You might pay less for another car, but the question to ask is whether or not you’ll enjoy it as much.

 

Photo Gallery: 2017 Mazda3 


 

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