The new Mazda3 gets a redesign that brings the compact in line with the midsize Mazda6 and the CX-5 crossover with a wider body, longer wheelbase and, most importantly, no more Joker grin up front. In its place is the more sophisticated grille found on the 6. It's now time for this oft-overlooked compact to draw more attention.
Appearance: The third-generation 3, which comes in sedan or hatchback, is striking; its lines seem to flow even when not in motion. This is especially true of the hatchback, which is the model we drove in S Grand Touring trim. The 3's sinewy lines extend the length of the car and give it a dynamic profile. The gloss-black grille has a slender chrome accent that results in a much more elegant fascia. The large headlights are graceful — slender and upswept. The 18-inch wheels looked great on our tester. Lower trim levels get 16-inch wheels. From the rear, the hatchback has a wide stance and a more chiseled look.
Performance: There are two engine choices for the 3: a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder (155 horsepower) and 2.5-liter 4-cylinder (184 hp). The smaller motor comes with the choice of a manual or automatic transmission. For now, the 2.5 comes only with an automatic. The car has Mazda's Skyactiv technology — a suite of engine, transmission and other features to maximize fuel efficiency. Our tester had the optional i-ELOOP regenerative braking system (part of the GT technology package, $1,800), which captures the car's kinetic energy and converts it into electricity. The car's electronics are powered by i-ELOOP instead of the engine for better fuel economy. In braking, there's none of the hypersensitivity we've experienced in hybrids. Our 3 came with Smart City Brake Support, which is an automatic braking system for lower speeds. The 2.5-liter engine works better in the higher rev range than off the line, and the 6-speed automatic is one smooth-shifting gearbox. In sport mode, the shift points are tweaked. Our loaded tester had lots of safety features you see in more expensive cars: lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, rearview camera. The strength of the 3 is its well-balanced feel, which inspires driver confidence.
Interior: Our tester had an attractive Almond interior with black accents and faux carbon-fiber trim, which gave it a European look. The tach dominates the minimalist instrument cluster, with a digital speedometer at the bottom. But there's also a head-up display, which shows the speed and turn-by-turn navigation on a translucent dashtop panel. It's a nice idea and its visibility worked fine for Lyra, but it frustrated the taller Peter. For infotainment, the 3's Mazda Connect uses a combination of on-screen controls as well as the rotary dial control, much like an Audi. Oddly, the 7-inch touchscreen sits on top of the dash and resembles an aftermarket GPS. Still, it's easy to read and Peter liked its graphics.
Our 3 favorites
Design: It's the antidote for the boring compact car.
Ambience: It feels like a driver's car.
Potential: I can't wait for a hot hatch MazdaSpeed3 version.
Safety features: Loaded with high-end features.
New look: Much more elegant and mature.
Mazda genetics: Feel connected with the car for a fun commute.
The bottom line: This is the compact for those who want more than just the ordinary. It has an engaging ride, comfortable interior and sleek design. Peter summed it up simply: "I would buy this car."