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Mazda3: Solid Compact Car for Driving Enthusiasts

By Frank A. Aukofer, June 23rd, 2018

A longstanding favorite of driving enthusiasts, the Mazda3 is a quality compact with exceptional overall performance and many desirable features. Yet, sedans and hatchbacks have been losing ground to SUVs, especially the car-based crossovers. At Mazda, for example, the CX-5 midsize crossover outsells all of the Mazda cars, including the Mazda3, Mazda6, and the MX-5 Miata two-seat sports car.

Manufacturer photo: Mazda3's combination of craftsmanship, quality and uncommonly good driving dynamics place it apart from its competition in the crowded compact segment
Manufacturer photo: Mazda3's combination of craftsmanship, quality and uncommonly good driving dynamics place it apart from its competition in the crowded compact segment

Still, there's a solid cadre of American customers who prefer sedans -- especially those with some sporting credentials -- for pure driving enjoyment. That's where a car like the Mazda3 Grand Touring comes in.

strong>Two versions are available: a four-door hatchback and the subject here, the traditional four-door notchback sedan, which comes with a choice of two engines. The base model starting at $18,095, which is no slouch, is equipped with a 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Grand Touring model we tested, featured a 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 185 lb.-ft. of torque. It is the torque, or twisting force, that delivers the excitement of strong acceleration off the line. The Grand Touring moves to 60 mph in about 7 seconds, more than respectable for a compact sedan in the Mazda3's price range.

For enthusiasts who like to shift for themselves, our Grand Touring tester arrived with steering-wheel-mounted paddles to manually shift the six-speed automatic transmission. Though the transmission did fine on its own, the paddles were useful for holding gears on twisting, hilly roads.

Manufacturer photo: Mazda3's combination of craftsmanship, quality and uncommonly good driving dynamics place it apart from its competition in the crowded compact segment

With a starting price of $25,070, the Grand Touring with its six-speed automatic transmission is a bit more expensive than some of its compact competitors. Spiffed up with a short list of options, it came with a $28,470 bottom-line sticker.

That's roughly $5,000 less than the average price of a new car these days. Yet it's a complete package, with a full suite of safety equipment, including lane keeping warning and assist, low-speed automatic collision braking, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, and tire-pressure monitoring.

One of the options deserves a separate mention. It is Mazda's adjustable head-up display, which uses a separate screen that rises up from the top of the dashboard into the driver's line of sight. In addition to a digital speedometer, it also reads traffic signs (like speed limits) and shows other information.

A center-mounted 7-inch color touchscreen displays navigation and an array of vehicle functions as well as satellite radio and other entertainment data. Selections can be made from the screen or by using a rotary knob mounted on the center console.

The Grand Touring sedan's exterior styling borders on the generic for compact sedans, handsome without being offbeat or offensive. Where it stands out is in the interior materials, design, and execution. The heated leather-covered sport seats on the test car showed quality workmanship and offered long-distance support and comfort up front.

Manufacturer photo: Mazda3's combination of craftsmanship, quality and uncommonly good driving dynamics place it apart from its competition in the crowded compact segment

Desirable equipment, both standard and optional, included a motorized glass sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control; LED headlights, fog lights, and taillights; pushbutton starting; keyless locking, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

On the road, the test car cruised quietly except for engine noises that intruded under hard acceleration. The electric power steering felt nicely weighted and responsive around curves and maintained a strong line in straight freeway cruising. A supple suspension system, abetted by 18-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, helped the handling without sacrificing ride quality.

Mazda has long touted its SkyActiv technology, a holistic approach that covers every aspect of vehicle design to improve fuel economy as well as driving dynamics, no matter how tiny. When you sweat the small stuff, you get something like the Mazda3 Grand Touring.

Specifications

Base price $25,070 (as tested: $28,470)
Curb weight 3,100 lbs.
Displacement 2.5-liter
Engine type 16-valve SkyActiv-G 4-cylinder
Epa mileage rating 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 13.2 gal.
Horsepower (net) 184 at 5700 rpm
Overall length 180.3 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 185 at 3250 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger FWD compact sedan
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