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2014 Mazda3 First Drive

New and redesigned, does the 2014 Mazda3 live up to expectations?

What It Is
From college kids to young professionals, the 2014 Mazda3 adds character to the compacts.
Best Thing
The Mazda3 is fun and fuel-efficient.
Worst Thing
You have to pay considerably more for the Mazda3 five-door hatchback.
Snap Judgment
The 2014 Mazda3 is a must-consider if you're shopping the compact car segment.


The 2014 Mazda3 represents the third and possibly most important of Mazda's new SkyActiv models. Implementing a new, holistic approach to efficiency, Mazda seeks to become a relevant player in the global market, and if any one single model will get it there, it's the automaker's bread-and-butter Mazda3. But competing with heavyweights such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Jetta, and Hyundai Elantra, the 2014 Mazda3 has no small task at hand. Then again, Mazda has sort of always done its own thing. Rather than deviate from that model, it's trying to update it for future generations, creating a premium niche within its segment.

The 2014 Mazda3 is powered by a choice of two four-cylinder engines, a 2.0-liter good for 155 horsepower and a 2.5-liter engine capable of 184 hp. Most shockingly, the larger, more expensive engine gets almost identical fuel economy as the 2.0-liter. Buyers will also have a choice of a six-speed automatic or manual transmission. Our tester was equipped with the 2.0-liter engine paired to a six-speed automatic transmission and delightfully came in the five-door, hatchback body. Most impressively, the 2014 Mazda3 equipped as such gets an EPA-estimated 29 mpg city/40 mpg highway/33 mpg combined. Add a new 7-inch media screen that replaces the 5.8-inch we've seen in the 2014 Mazda6 and 2014 Mazda CX-5, and things continue to get interesting. What else is new? What do we think of the new Mazda3? You can read on to learn more.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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Walkaround

Walking up to the 2014 Mazda3 hatchback, you get a sense of an athletic, sleek, and nimble car. Employing the automaker's newest "Kodo" design language, the Mazda3 looks like an animal waiting to leap. Designers set out to give you a sense of tension, of force being held back, and the muscular styling can easily fool you in to forgetting the 2014 Mazda3 2.0-liter gets 40 mpg highway. Drawn back headlights, a sloping windshield, and prominent grille all give the impression of a sporty, fun car, and continue the feel of motion suspended.

Sitting Down

While we loved the previous Mazda3, we felt the interior was nice, albeit plain. For 2014 Mazda upped the ante, especially in the upper-level Mazda3 i Grand Touring we tested: a dash-mounted 7-inch media screen and scroll-knob are reminiscent of features we've seen in luxury makes such as Audi. High-quality two-tone leatherette—seemingly an oxymoron, but it works really well here—hugs the seats, while the steering wheel is wrapped in real leather. Brushed metal elements are present throughout the cabin, and similar buttons and climate controls that we saw on the Mazda6 have happily made their way down to the 2014 Mazda3 as well.

Overall the interior has a clean, simple, and modern feel. Rear-seat passengers will find generous room as well, although Corolla, Sentra, or Civic shoppers might hardly agree, and cargo space is sufficient, though the seats can be folded to allow for more room.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Driving

While the 2.5-liter engine adds a considerable 29 hp, we found that when paired with the transmission, we were never short of power with the 2.0-liter engine. This wasn't the case with this same engine on the CX-5, where the automatic transmission—in an effort to achieve the best possible fuel economy—consistently opts for a higher gear. You can mitigate this by shifting yourself with the paddles or shifter in the automatic transmission, and keeping the car in lower gears. This of course will ding your fuel economy numbers, but will likely up the fun factor considerably.

Engineers went to great length to make the steering intuitive, and by and large, succeeded. The suspension is sporty but the ride is still comfortable. The 2.0-liter Mazda3 isn't particularly fast, but it has all the power you'll need to get you around. The 3's famous cornering and handling capability have been thankfully maintained, and the 2014 Mazda3 continues to be the driver's car in the compact segment.

Summary

The 2014 Mazda3 plays in one of the toughest segments in America, and after testing the automaker's new SkyActiv bread-and-butter model, we're keen to think it only makes the segment that much tougher. With added style inside and out, a choice of two engines and excellent transmissions, and a lot of standard equipment, the Mazda3 adds value to its driver's car credentials.

Available in both sedan and hatchback body styles, there's seemingly a Mazda3 to suit all tastes. While the 2.0-liter engine served us well, we'd consider getting the 2.5-liter engine that we've sampled on the Mazda6. With almost identical fuel economy, there's a lot of upside for a relatively small premium. But regardless of which engine you opt for, if you're shopping the compact car segment, the 2014 Mazda3 is a must-consider.

Basic Specs

2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine, six-automatic manual transmission, FWD, 155-hp, $24,635 as-tested, 29 mpg city/40 mpg hwy

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