The popular Mazda3 scores in many areas, including driving fun, practicality and value for the money. The 2017 model ups the ante with revised styling, an upgraded interior and more refinement.
New safety features, either standard or optional, include blind spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist and radar cruise control.
New are a revised front design, upgraded interior with more storage space, better materials, added sound insulation new console with covered cupholders, and new "G-vectoring control" for better stability on subpar roads and during rain and snow.
I'm very familiar with Mazdas, which always seem to have a European flavor. I owned a quick 1974 Mazda RX-4 coupe with a smooth rotary engine and aircraft-inspired dashboard. However, my wife disliked its manual choke, so I sold it. I owned it during a national gas shortage, and it only got 14 miles per gallon in town. I envied a neighbor who owned a racy 1972 Mazda Cosmo rotary engine sports coupe. It cost $4,390 and now is valued at $115,500.
The 2017 Mazda 3
comes as a compact four-door sedan or hatchback, with list prices going from $17,845 to $24,945. I tested the higher-line $23,145 Grand Touring four-door sedan, which costs $23,895 as a hatchback.
The Grand Touring sedan's features include custom-design 18-inch alloy wheels with 45-series tires, leather sport seats, 6-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, automatic climate control, push-button start (put awkwardly behind the optional heated steering wheel), 9-speaker Bose sound system, cruise control, some handy console controls and a rearview camera.
The roomy trunk has a low, wide opening, but reaching its back end calls for an extra-long stretch. The split folding 60/40 rear seatbacks easily flip forward and greatly increase cargo room, although the pass-through area from the trunk could be a little larger.
Mazda3s have a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. In keeping with the Mazda3's sporting character, my test car had the manual gearbox, which shifted slickly but had a long-throw clutch that took getting used to. I recommend the automatic if you spend lots of time in traffic.
This Mazda comes with either a 2-liter 155-horsepower four-cylinder engine or a 2.5-liter 184 horsepower four-cylinder. My test car had the nice-sounding 2.5 engine. It provided strong acceleration, although fast 65-75 m.p.h. passing was best done in fourth gear.
The Mazda3 occasionally was going faster than I thought, so I had to slow down when, say, moving at 75 m.p.h. in a 65-m.p.h. zone. That was curious, as this car is quick, but no fireball.
Added sound insulation has made the interior quieter, but there's a fair amount of road noise and also wind noise on very windy days at highway speeds.
My test car had a large tachometer, and the speedometer was a digital affair. There's a mixture of small and large controls that are easy to use after some time is spent in the car. The multimedia system has a big center screen, but I never quite got comfortable with the infotainment system controls. A handy feature is available traffic-sign recognition, such as speed limits.
There are plenty of cabin storage areas, and the substantial fold-down rear armrest contains dual cupholders.
There's a new thick steering wheel design, and the electric power-assisted steering is precise and nicely weighted. The ride is on the firm side, but is supple. Low-profile tires help handling, as do dynamic stability and traction controls. The brake pedal has a linear action, but--like the clutch--has a rather high engagement that takes getting used to.
Fuel economy is a long way from the RX-4's figures: an estimated 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on the highway with the manual transmission and 27 and 36 with the automatic.
Yet, I miss the Mazda rotary engine. It powered Mazda to victory in the famous LeMans 24-hour race in France against the world's best racers. And Mazda's popular RX-7 sports car had a less gas thirsty rotary engine for years.
The newly designed front seats are supportive, and The Mazda3 comfortably handles four tall adults--or five in a pinch--in a generally roomy interior, although a tall occupant behind a tall driver may want a little more legroom.
Safety features include front side-impact air bags and front/rear side air curtains.
I suspect that many owners of the new Mazda3 are more likely than average car owners to check engine oil and other fluid levels, but will find the hood is heavy and held open with only a prop rod, instead of a hydraulic strut.
Still, the Mazda3, especially my test Grand Touring model, offers features seldom matched by rival compact cars.