By Special Contributor Ken Glassman
Mazda has been making some great cars for a long time. And Mazda has been setting themselves apart from the crowd by dialing in more driving excitement. You can always count on a Mazda to offer outstanding handling and excellent performance into all their models. And the 3 series Grand Touring is no exception.
The styling of this 5-door hatchback is slick and unique. Hatchbacks are not nearly as popular in the US as they are everywhere else in the world, but this one may change how Americans look at a hatchback, and see that they don’t have to give up styling for the added practicality.
The car has an exaggerated long front end with arched fenders and some sexy curves, which sweep back to the A-pillars. The sleek sloping roofline still leaves rear seat passengers with plenty of headroom before it falls off into the abbreviated tail section. This model is definitely not a cookie cutter look, and stands out in a parking lot.
SEDAN OR 5-DOOR?
The top-of-the-line Grand Touring s 5-door is powered by Mazda’s 2.5 liter, four cylinder engine that makes 184hp and 185 ft. lbs. of torque @ 3200 rpm. That’s a lot more power than the standard 2.0 liter engine that puts out a more modest 155 horses and 150 ft. lbs. of torque at 4,000 rpm. So the 2.5 liter power numbers, combined with a curb weight that’s just over 3,000 lbs. means that this Mazda gives you the “Zoom Zoom” that the TV commercials trumpet. Plenty of grunt to spring away from a stoplight, and with the 6-speed manumatic transmission, you can just kick it down a gear, and take off for easy passing on two lane roads, or expressway merging. And you can push the Sport button to get more throttle response and gear changes occur at higher revs.
The suspension is ideal for relaxed comfortable cruising, and the Mazda more than holds its own when driving at a spirited pace on more challenging roads. The front wheel drive understeers a bit in hard cornering, but it holds the road nicely, and body lean is at a minimum. Instead of a rear torsion bar, Mazda fits an independent multi-link set up allowing for better response to the road. The boosted power steering had great feel and the car responds smartly to every steering input. So even though it’s hard to find many twisties in the Chicago area, you can still get your jollies by playing Ronny Racer on expressway on and off ramps, and squeal the tires as you push it to the apex, and lay down the power as you exit the turn. Good stuff.
Despite all the performance of the Mazda 3, the EPA mileage estimates are 28 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. My mileage was a couple of miles short of the estimates, but a lot of my driving was in Sport mode, and I tend to have a heavier right foot when testing cars this much fun to drive. The fuel economy numbers are aided by Mazda's i-Eloop regenerative braking system, which converts kinetic energy to electricity when the car is braking or coasting down, to power all of the car's auxiliary systems, taking some of the generator load off the engine. It is very similar to BMW’s system.
The cabin was very well appointed and laid out. Comfortable and well bolstered heated leather seats, dual zone climate controls, leather wrapped steering wheel, well lit controls and a host of other amenities, made me feel like I was in a car costing thousands more. There is ample room for four adults, and a fifth in a pinch. The hatch back offers good cargo room with the rear seats up, and plenty of hauling room with the rear seats folded down.
My tester came with the $2,600 SGT Tech Package which features that i-Eloop braking system, active grill shutters, lane departure warning system, Radar Cruise Control, Forward Obstruction Warning, and Smart City Brake Support, all worthy and well sorted out safety amenities.
What isn’t sorted out very well is the Nav system, and infotainment systems. I found the round control knob on the console to be cumbersome, and made it difficult to input an address, and save it. And looking for points of interest, restaurants, gas stations, and other similar info sends you back to that control knob, and you have to go through several steps and screens to access it. And I couldn’t figure out how to have the radio station appear on the Nav screen, or on the small info screen located in the gauge package. It was also difficult to program pre-sets into the radio. And don’t even get me started with the voice commands, which is the number one complaint for all new cars, regardless of manufacturer or vehicle price.
PRICING and SUMMARY
Manufacturers are trying to pack so much capability into their electronics systems, that they often forget to make them easy to use, And the more features they add, the more distracted the driver can become trying to use them. All I want from a car is to be able to easily use the cell phone, the Nav system, and radio controls. And fewer and fewer cars make that easy. Unfortunately, a bad experience with the electronic toys, can sour one on the overall feelings about the car. Therefore, I would advise anyone shopping for a new car to spend all the time necessary with the salesperson and make them show you how all these features work, BEFORE you buy the car.
My test car listed for $26,495. Add $300 for the Nav system, and $2,600 for the very worthwhile Tech Package, and the bottom line (including $795 for freight) came to $30,190. That may sound like a lot of money, but there is value in this Mazda 3, when you compare it to other cars in its class. You can get into a base model starting at $18,945 for the sedan, and $23,245 for the base Grand Touring model.
Pick colors and build your Mazda3 over here.