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
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.
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.