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The Daily Drivers | By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek, Times Staff Writers

The Daily Drivers: 2012 Mazda3 i Grand Touring is fun, fuel efficient

Mazda trumpets its "zoom-zoom" credentials in TV commercials, and it's understandable if you think that's hyperbole. But it's not. The company engineers fun across the model line. Now Mazda has set its sights on adding fuel efficiency to the fun with its "Skyactiv" powertrains. We got our first taste with the Mazda3 sedan.

Performance: The 2,950-pound car feels solid and rides that way. Mazda says it made the car's body more rigid for better handling, and you can tell. The ride may be stiff for some, but those who like to "feel" the road will enjoy it. What's Skyactiv, you ask? According to Mazda, it re-engineered the internal combustion engine to be more efficient and to reduce emissions. The 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G engine — available with two mid-level trims — produces 155 horsepower and 148-pound-feet of low- and mid-range torque. Mazda says it gets 15 percent lower fuel consumption and emissions than its previous 2-liter engine. Here's what we discovered: It took quite a bit of driving to get the needle on the gas gauge to move off "Full." The Mazda3 gets up to 40 mpg on the highway, a number that other carmakers reach with things like lower-resistance tires and transmission programming that takes away from the driving experience. The 3's transmission is the new Skyactiv-Drive 6-speed automatic, which shifts smoothly and provides steady acceleration for the increased torque. Lyra liked how that low-end grunt — and steering with good feedback — made driving on the curvy roads where she lives a lot more fun. (Just keep an eye on the speedometer; it's easy to get carried away.)

Appearance: Mazda didn't change much in the design department. Our tester was the sedan, which like many compact cars have a hatchback sibling, suffers in comparison. The sedan's most striking features are its grille, where the "grin," thankfully, has been toned down a bit, and its upswept headlights. (The headlights are influenced by Mazda's Nagare concept car.)

Interior: The cockpit is attractive, with the tan leather seats of our tester providing a nice contrast with the harder surfaces. Our tester had the i Grand Touring trim, which has comfortable and well-bolstered seats, including an eight-way power seat for the driver. The Mazda3 can seat five, but we would recommend sticking to four. Our tester also had a blind-spot warning system and other electronic goodies such as rain-sensing wipers as part of the optional technology package ($1,400). The trunk is big enough for a grocery run. The 60/40 split rear seats fold down for longer items.

Our 3 favorites

Peter Couture

Interior: Attractive, and a nice contrast in colors and materials.

Philosophy: The internal combustion engine isn't going anywhere, so let's keep refining it.

Blind-spot warning: It's great that it's an option in this class.

Lyra Solochek

Fun drive: Great handling makes your commute enjoyable.

MPG: Easier on your wallet with up to 40 mpg on the highway.

Options: Blind-spot monitor, adaptive lighting, rain-sensing wipers.

The bottom line: We loved how this compact sedan was fun to drive and had some available features you normally see only in luxury cars. And Mazda seems to be on to something with Skyactiv. We can't wait to see more.

2012 Mazda3 i Grand Touring

Price: $15,200 base start, $24,970 as tested

Powertrain: Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter I-4, Skyactiv-Drive 6-speed automatic, 4-wheel disc brakes, FWD

Horsepower: 155 at 6,000 rpm

Torque: 148 pound-

feet at 4,100 rpm

Curb weight: 2,950 pounds


in inches:

Wheelbase, 103.9

Length, 180.7

Width, 69.1

Seats: 5

Fuel economy:

28 miles per gallon city, 40 mpg highway

Safety features: Airbags and curtains, ABS, electronic brake distribution, brake assist, stability control, traction control.

Options worth considering: Technology package with blind-spot monitoring system, rain-sensing front wipers, bi-xenon auto-leveling and adaptive headlights.

Website: mazda

usa. com/mazda3

The Daily Drivers: 2012 Mazda3 i Grand Touring is fun, fuel efficient 03/02/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 2, 2012 3:30am]
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