The Zoom-Zoom keeps on coming as we spend a week in the best all-around vehicle in the compact segment
Handling and performance
Interior quality and exterior styling
Rear seat room
Highway noise levels
2015 Mazda Mazda3 S Grand Touring
We continue to be baffled why Mazda doesn't sell more cars than it does here in the U.S. Because if you enjoy driving great handling small cars, prepare to be amazed by Mazda's Mazda3. With the choice of either a hatchback or sedan as well as two engines and either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, the Mazda3 offers a solution for practically every compact buyer's needs.
We imagine the Mazda faithful breathed a collective sigh of relief when the company decided to axe "Nagare" in favor of the new "Kodo" design language as the look of the third-generation Mazda3 is every bit as compelling as that of its big brother, the Mazda6.
Outside, both hatchback and sedan versions are at the top of the class and look as though they could easily cost thousands of dollars more. The hatchback, in particular, is a stunner from every angle and sets a new standard for design in the compact segment.
The interior itself is well executed and tastefully done in soft touch materials with brushed metal (along the dashboard), gloss black and carbon fiber look (on the door switch surrounds and steering wheel spokes) trim. Grand Touring models take interior style to a whole new level in the segment with the choice of a rich-looking black and ivory leather offering.
The gauges are straightforward and easy to read with a prominent center speedometer flanked by a tach and information center. Standard on 3i Sport models and up, which includes top-line S Grand Touring models, is an easy to read 7-inch touchscreen with a console mounted control knob. Another great feature is the separate knob for on-off and volume. The system can be a little distracting, but the large turn, push or slide knob can be operated without having to look down. S Grand Touring models also come standard with a head-up display that shows vehicle speed as well as turn-by-turn navigation directions.
The front seats are firm, supportive and nicely bolstered. There's a decent amount of hip, shoulder and legroom up front and in back for two adults, but a third in back is still tight.
Thanks to the low cowl and beltline and narrow b-pillars the driver's view out the front, sides and back is all excellent. The rear three-quarters view is hindered somewhat by a wide c-pillar, but the standard rearview camera on 3i Touring and above trim levels pretty much negates this issue.
For 2015, two engine choices are offered, both featuring Mazda's SKYACTIV suite of technologies that include direct injection, variable valve timing and a 13.0:1 compression ratio.
The first is a 2.0-liter inline-4 generating 155 horsepower and 150 lb.-ft. of torque. The one under the hood of the S 5-door is a 2.5-liter unit that achieves 184 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque that, in our Blue Reflex Mica tester, was mated to a 6-speed manual transmission.
Despite the high level of performance, fuel economy is another one of the high points of the 2015 Mazda3. The EPA rates 2.5-liter models at 26/35/29 city/highway/combined mpg. Even in some pretty aggressive stop and go suburban winter driving we averaged 28 miles per gallon.
To give buyers the widest choice possible, Mazda markets the 3 in no less than two body styles and six trim levels, although only the four door sedan is available in base SV trim. Both sedans and hatchbacks (a $500 premium over the sedan) offers the choice of five additional trim levels – i Sport, i Touring, i Grand Touring, s Touring and s Grand Touring.
As a top-shelf model, our S 5-door Grand Touring tester came with a plethora of exterior standard features including, adaptive, automatic bi-xenon headlights, LED taillights, power heated side mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, moonroof, rear spoiler, rain-sensing variable intermittent wipers, as well as a rear wiper, washer and window defroster.
Inside the long list continued with dual-zone automatic air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and door locks, proximity key with push button start, leather seating, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped brake handle, shifter and steering wheel (with audio, cruise, voice, message center and Bluetooth controls) that both tilted and telescoped, a 7-inch color touch-screen, multi-function command control, rear-view camera, nav system, Bose speakers, Aha, Pandora and Stitcher, SMS text message delivery and reply and internet radio integration along with an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary audio input jack.
Standard safety systems included blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, hill launch assist, dynamic stability control, ABS with EBD and brake assist as well as traction control and driver/passenger, side and front and rear side curtain airbags.
On the road
As far as we're concerned, the Mazda3 is, flat out, one of the best handling vehicles in the compact segment. The suspension is firm and well damped and the steering is very direct with great feedback to the driver. Underfoot the brakes have a nice bite to them and never grab, while it's easy to modulate the pedal.
The engine never sounds buzzy or ragged, even at full throttle. The clutch pedal engages smoothly and the shifter throws, although not particularly short, are precise. The suspension soaks up minor road imperfections with aplomb, while even rough washboard surfaces hardly affect it.
Toss it into a corner and the chassis remains firm and well-planted with little body lean. At freeway speeds the Mazda3 also feels extremely stable. You always know exactly where you are on the road. There's very little body lean in corners, it's unaffected by wind or grooved pavement, and it tracks straight and true down the road.
As far as gripes go, there are few. For one, outside noise levels on the highway are only so-so for a vehicle in this class allowing an above average amount of wind, road and engine noise in the cabin. For another, the suspension, although highly responsive, might be a bit firm for some people's tastes.
2015 Mazda3 pricing starts at $17,765 for a 6-speed manual-equipped i SV 4-door and can top out at over $33,000 for a fully-optioned and accessorized s Grand Touring 5-door with an automatic transmission.
This particular S Grand Touring 5-door had a base price of $25,545; a $70 cargo mat, $100 rear bumper guard, $125 worth of door sill plates and $1,750 for the appearance package (front air dam, door mirror caps, rear bumper skirt, side sill extensions, rear hatch spoiler) brought the total MSRP of this model, including a $795 destination charge, to $28,385.
The Bottom Line
There isn't much not to like about the latest Mazda3 although its ride is on the firm side, it could use more room in the back seat and models with a lot of equipment – like this one - can get pricey.
The plus side is that it's fun to drive with great styling and terrific handling; it's still available with a manual transmission and, despite the performance, provides excellent fuel economy.
All in all, with the latest Mazda3, Mazda continues to raise the bar in the compact segment. Buyers looking for a versatile, all-around fun-to-drive vehicle with both exceptional dynamics and excellent fuel economy should put it at the top of their lists.