First Drive Review: 2014 Mazda3 s GT 5-Door

 

“Snap” takes a first drive look at the all-new for 2014 Mazda3 s GT 5-Door. He only drove the automatic and says it’s… great! Wow.

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The compact segment in North America is getting practically as interesting and desirable as on any other continent. Now comes this fully new generation of the Mazda3 and it is just as fine at what it does as the VW Golf or Ford Focus are at what they do. Maybe better.

Driving a good car inland from San Diego all along the California-Mexico border on the gorgeous (and thickly patrolled) rural two-lane highways that eventually and quickly lead you to surprising altitudes approaching 4,500 feet without you having even noticed…is always a pleasure. I suppose that doing it in a crap car would still be great, too, but if there is the choice a really good car is better since there are artful curves all along the way and slow pokes to be overtaken.

Southernmost California highways 94, 79, and 78 are best taken in any form of sportier car. My wheels this day were a fairly well optioned new-generation 2014 Mazda3 five-door hatch with the most peppered engine at launch, the latest 2.5-liter transverse four-cylinder Skyactiv-G good for 184 horsepower, 185 pound-feet of torque, acceleration to 60 mph of 6.8 seconds (maybe less), and realistically upwards of 39 miles per gallon. Though the manner in which the Mazda3 2.5 s GT was being driven by me was the sure-fire way to not get anywhere near 39 mpg.

While a Mazdaspeed3 tends to far outdo the promise of the forever silly “Zoom-Zoom” personality slogan Hiroshima is so attached to, this all-new non-‘speed’ Mazda3 with the 2.5 Skyactiv-G and in-house six-speed automatic transmission is the combo that really and truly hits the mentality at the bull’s eye. I switched off all traction helpers on this sunny perfect day, knocked the automatic’s console lever over into sport-manual, and poked on the Sport button in front of the gear lever that manages shift timings, throttle response, and steering weight. It was me in the middle of nowhere with a tight Mazda3 setup and standard 18-inch alloys with all-season Dunlop SP Sport 5000 tires – 215/45 R18 89W, a spec I just throw in to make it read like I’m some freakin’ tire expert.

But I know what I feel when I’m feeling it behind the wheel, though, and the Mazda3 on this new modular chassis – used first under the latest CX-5 and Mazda6 – and driven by the new family of Skyactiv direct-injection engines is perhaps better than the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus civilian trims. Versus the outgoing Mazda3, the new model is longer, wider, and lower, and the swoopy Kodo pouncing animal design language matures up this compact nicely.

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img_8144MY 2014 Mazda 3

I spoke a lot with very knowledgeable Dave Coleman, vehicle valuation manager for the Mazda lineup, and he walked me through the whys and huhs of the Mazda3’s impressive package. To be thoroughly honest, I didn’t even try the already widely tested 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G with 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque that will be the volume leader, didn’t try the manual shifter setup (to be available only later on for the 2.5-liter btw), and steered clear of the very handsome four-door sedan body. Just wanted to concentrate on this hot little red sports hatch and wanted to thrash the automatic to make certain it can be fun enough to endorse, or not.

Dave Coleman is the arbiter of the Mazda persona as it is expressed in the hands-on experience while living with the product day to day, though his most direct responsibility is to the drive and ride dynamics. A large part of the Mazda message for the new Mazda3 is all the stuff that can be included versus others in the C segment. One major leap this way that adds to the in-cabin bond between owners and their Mazda3s is the also all-new (So very much all-new-ness going on here.) Mazda Connect onboard mind-meld system. I generally do not choose to write much about the onboard connectivity gunk on cars because I generally don’t give a pooh about it all in real life. I drive because I love driving – a little old school maybe, but I’m built thus. Nonetheless, I notice good onboard gunk when it’s really intuitive and easy and thorough, and Mazda Connect is just plain all those adjectives. Nice work, Intuitive Dave!

But I like your dynamics much better no matter how good your onboard Purpletooth connectivity or female navigation voices may be etc etc. See, the Mazda3 has gone full-electric steering this time and the risk is that it just gets forced on the engineers as an operative only after the chassis has been formed. But the Mazda team knew they were going e-steer all along so they had the full development period to orchestrate the steering and bend it to their expectations of how a snappy little Mazda3 needs to drive. The results are remarkable. This is the best engineering of electronic steering that I have felt yet and it is explained in the much more raked castor angle of the front axle’s strut towers and steering link angle. Typically the steering on front-drivers is set based on a 3-degree angle as drawn from the front hub. The Mazda3 keeps the steering weight and feedback alive under all conditions by adopting a 6.5-degree angle there. This forces the electric steering to not go numb at any speed or steering angle. It’s tremendous stuff and arguably the finest steering in the business now. It brings to mind the MX-5s or RX-8s I’ve tossed around…not a bad thing at all.

Space inside the Mazda3 five-door is terrific for stuff, people and their heads,and  the exterior is more better versus the previous generation. Then that fuel efficiency from the new Skyactiv engines puts the cherry on top of the proceedings. This top-ish trim of the little Mazda goes (as tested here) for $27,590, but you can get a stripper version of the base 2.0-liter starting at $16,945 with the manual six.

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Oh, and that automatic is really phenomenally engineered by Hiroshima as well. For the first time you can get the sport steering wheel with shift paddles and the software guiding all of the gearbox’s responses has been designed spot-on. Both upshifts and downshifts are terrifically allowed and timed. Up at the 6250-rpm area where the redline is for the 2.5, the transmission does not ever upshift for you when in S/M. Just plain never, not even when you forgot to poke the Sport button. This is how a damned MANUAL setting on an automatic is supposed to behave, guys!

The Mazda3 is sexy, too. The lines are those carried on from the CX-5 and new Mazda6, so the sexiness is not surprising. Then inside, most of the work has been done by the California-based team led by Derek Jenkins. Besides the Mazda Connect ease of use and thorough feature set which I begrudgingly admit thrill me, the leather interior and seating design of the high-level trim unit I drove were class-leading. Everything on the dash and console has been designed for human use, not by engineers who frequently forget they are creating things for us numb skulls out in the real world.

So, me likey, yes. I foresee great things for every version of the new Mazda3. Honestly, versus baser versions of the VW Golf (i.e. not GTI), the Mazda3 wins it all. This 2.5 is more of a real driver’s car and it can be every bit as practical and even more efficient then the VW range of engines. It lacks only the telltale VW build robustness via sophisticated sound-proof stuffing in the body sections, the VW five-layer glass that does do much to fancy-up the cabin experience and door closures, and the more upmarket suspension sets, but everything that’s there has been so expertly dialed in to quite possibly make those added bells and whistles unnecessary.

Here’s to the new Mazdaspeed3, too, in eighteen months’ time on this new chassis with its new engine et al. That is going to be even better than the existing hot hatch. Something which I thought not possible.

2014 Mazda3 s GT 5-Door VITAL STATS

Engine: 2.5L i4

Power: 184 HP / 185 LB-FT

Transmission: 6-Speed auto

0-60 mph Time: 6.8 Seconds (est.)

Top Speed: 130 mph

Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 3,002 LBS (est.)

Seating: 2+3

Cargo: 12.4 cu ft (seats up)

MPG: 27 City, 37 Hwy (est.)

Base Price: $25,995

Price as tested: $27,590

[Snap – text, art; additional pics with Mazda photo team]

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  • http://www.fleetavenue.com.au Andre Villalba

    Such an enjoyable driving experience, i love this review and how it talks about how the Mazda 3 feels behind the steering wheel on open road.