2014 Mazda 3 five-door revealedWed, 26 Jun 2013 00:00:00 -0700
Mazda has gained a fair amount of traction with its fuel-efficient Skyactiv technology, which was first fully implemented in production on the CX-5 compact crossover, followed by the 2014 Mazda 6 midsize sedan. However, unlike the CX-5 and 6, the Mazda 3, the company's best-selling vehicle, only enjoyed a mild Skyactiv makeover for the 2012 model year with the 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine and transmissions being made available on the second-generation model. This meant the 3 would have to wait until an all-new generation debuted to enjoy the entire suite of Skyactiv equipment, including the lighter-weight chassis, body and suspension.
Fortunately for small-car buyers, the wait is nearly over with the new 3 arriving for the 2014 model year. Like its predecessor, the 3 will be offered as a sedan and a five-door hatchback when it goes on sale in September. The five-door was shown to the media today before making its public debut via live streaming at 9 p.m. EST on Microsoft's Xbox Live network. Mazda says the event will be the first-ever global live stream of a new car introduction and is inviting fans to join the conversation through various social media outlets including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+ using the #GAMECHANGER hash tag. More information is available at mazdausa.com and xbox.com/gamechangerregistration.
As for the third-generation Mazda 3 itself, it sits on a longer 106.3-inch wheelbase that's good for a 2.4-inch increase over the outgoing model and is a little wider at 70.7 inches compared to 69.1 inches. In the length department, the new five-door shrinks by 1.8 inches and is shorter by 0.6 inch when parked next to its predecessor. Inside, there's more room for passengers, most notably 2.3 inches of additional front shoulder room and 1.6 inches more of hip room.
Visually, the new 3 wears Mazda's Kodo design language with the signature five-point grille, meaning the smiling front end is gone. The fresh sheetmetal also helps the 3 achieve best-in-class coefficient of drag of 0.275 on the five-door and 0.255 for the sedan when outfitted with the active grille shutter and i-Eloop brake energy regeneration system.
The cabin features better outward visibility with A-pillars that have been positioned rearward by 3.9 inches and outside mirrors that are now mounted on the doors instead of at the base of the A-pillar. To help cut down on driving distractions, Mazda is launching a next-generation human/machine interface system that's based on a head-up cockpit concept on the 3; it will trickle into other new Mazda vehicles going forward. The 3 will also be the first Mazda to feature an optional clear pop-up panel, known as an Active Driving Display, behind the gauge cluster hood. The vertically mounted display shows speed, navigation directions and other important information in the driver's sight line. When the car is shut-off, the display automatically folds down.
The infotainment system is also upgraded with a new operating system that can be connected to smartphones and tablets via Bluetooth, which can be updated easily for new features and services without needing to change out hardware. Features include text-to-voice technology and speech recognition to allow users to repeat, shuffle and search folders. When paired with a smartphone, the system can read Twitter and Facebook updates with audio responses available. Users can also search the Internet for locations and map directions. And a Bose premium sound system is offered.
More traditional interior improvements come in the form of a larger driver's seat cushion, sculpted front seat backs to give rear passengers more knee room and rear seatbacks that are almost 2.0 inches taller for added comfort.
In the U.S., the 3 will launch with two available gas, direct-injected four-cylinder engines: a 2.0-liter with 155 hp and 150-lb-ft of torque and a more powerful 2.5-liter churning out 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. The old 2.5-liter is rated at 167 hp and 168 lb-ft. Particularly noteworthy is peak torque in the Skyactiv 2.5-liter, which happens at 3,250 rpm, where the previous engine needed to wind up to 4,000 rpm.
Transmission choices include a Skyactiv six-speed manual or automatic.
Fuel economy figures aren't available yet, but considering the car's lighter body and chassis constructed from more high-tensile steel, i-Eloop, active grille shutters and the slipperier body design, it isn't farfetched to expect the 3 to eclipse the magical 40-mpg highway rating with the 2.0-liter engine and automatic gearbox. The outgoing 3 sedan with the 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine and automatic already turns in a 40-mpg EPA highway rating, while the old five-door with the same drivetrain is rated 39 mpg on the highway.
Safety systems are now gathered under a banner that Mazda calls i-Activsense, which includes high-beam control, forward-obstruction warning, smart city-brake support, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and radar cruise control.
Pricing hasn't been announced, but Mazda says the new 3 will be priced competitively with others in the segment, and names the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla as its main rivals. The 2013 Mazda 3 sedan starts at $17,495, and the five-door begins at $20,795.
With all that, the only thing left now is to see how it drives, which we will find out in the weeks ahead along with seeing what the sedan version looks like. Until then, we can't help but wonder what's in store for a possible more performance-oriented Mazdaspeed version, which a Mazda spokesman wouldn't confirm but did acknowledge that the Mazdaspeed program is alive and well within in the company. We also hope Mazda considers bringing the Skyactiv 2.2-liter diesel to the U.S. in the 3 like it gets in other markets around the world to give the Volkswagen Jetta TDI and Chevrolet Cruze diesel a run for their money. They've already confirmed that the 6 will get the diesel, and we don't see any reason why Mazda should stop there.
By Jonathan Wong