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2014 Mazda 3i Grand Touring test drive

Wed, 26 Mar 2014

What is it?

The 2014 Mazda 3 marks the introduction of the third generation of Mazda's most popular car. The first generation was produced from 2003-2008, the second gen began in 2009. The 3 received a major styling update for 2014, ditching the smiley face for the company's new five-sided grille.

The 3 moves over to the company's Kodo design language, meaning “soul of motion,” (Editor's note: Supposedly). Honestly, the car's body does seem to flow. The front end is more upright than the outgoing model's, and it features cleaner projector headlights. The fog lights are on top of the lower intakes instead of above, and the grille looks more like a cat's nose—sorry, Kia--than the gaping maw it was before.

In back, the car looks lower than the last model did, with standard red taillight lenses as opposed to the flashy clear ones on the 2013 model. Styling lines run from the bottom of the rear bumper up to the center of the trunk.

The 2014 Mazda 3's wheelbase is longer than the outgoing model by 2.4 inches. It also reduced the height of the car by half an inch and gained 1.6 inches of hip room.

Our Mazda 3 i Grand Touring trim came with the 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G engine making 155 hp at 6,000 rpm and 150 lb-ft of torque, peaking at 4,000 rpm. Upgraded s models get a 2.5-liter Skyactiv four making 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. That would be the one that we choose, were it not for the absence of a stick shift. Combined mileage for our model is rated at 34 mpg with the six-speed automatic; manual rowers get 33 mpg combined.

Jake Lingeman
The 2014 Mazda 3 i Grand Touring is on sale now.

In addition to standard features, the Grand Touring trim gets almost everything Mazda offers on the 3, including power sliding-glass moonroof, variable leatherette-trimmed heated sport seats, six-way power-adjustable driver's seat with manual-lumbar adjustment, dual-zone automatic climate control and blind spot monitoring. As for entertainment, the Grand Touring adds the Mazda Connect infotainment system with a 7-inch full-color touchscreen display, multifunction control, voice command, rearview camera, navigation and a premium Bose audio system that rivals anything you can get at your local car-audio store.

All the panel gaps inside are tight, and we really dug the faux carbon-fiber trim on the steering wheel and doors. The leatherette seats are comfortable, and we found it easy to dial-in a good driving position.

Jake Lingeman
The 2014 Mazda 3 i Grand Touring has a 155-hp engine.

How does it drive?

The word we'd use is “comfortable.” The lower-powered i trim car is not made for enthusiasts and the 2.0-liter needs to be floored for any kind of aggressive acceleration. Passing on the expressway is a bit of a crapshoot, but the car gets up to speed eventually. We drove the 2.5-liter-equipped 3 a while back, and found it much more eager to zip around. The six-speed automatic is tuned for efficiency with the SKYACTIV engine. It offers smooth operation, and keeps the small mill in the meat of its torque. Again, we'd prefer the six-speed manual, but at least the auto stick is in the up-is-downshift format.

The steering feels a bit lazier than the last 3 we remember, and we're wondering if the s models skew tighter. This 3 has a tendency to understeer in hard corners, though the chunky winter tires might add to that effect. Letting off the gas brings everything back in line quickly. The brakes were also a little spongy in this particular vehicle, with lots of travel, which didn't give us much confidence.

The suspension—MacPherson fronts, twin-tube shocks, multilink rear—soaks up the big potholes, making it great over rough roads following a winter thaw. Of course, that cushiness leads to a lot of body roll during turns, and it could possibly be responsible some of that understeer. Road noise is kept to a minimum, though we detected some wind noise above 60 mph, and when you really have your foot buried, some engine noise through the firewall.

Outward visibility is good from almost any angle. The small C pillars are easy to avoid when looking for cross traffic. The power sunroof lets in a ton of light, and it was perfect for a cool day with warm sun beating in.

Jake Lingeman
The 2014 Mazda 3 i Grand Touring competes with the Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze, Nissan Altima and others.

Do I want it?

After we saw the new corporate face on the Mazda 6 sedan, we were eager to see it on the company's volume car. In that respect, it doesn't disappoint. Do note that the "zoom zoom" is sacrificed a bit in the name of fuel economy and comfort in this i trim level. In the past, even the base models felt like they hid a sporty edge. The steering used to be entertaining and a bit high strung. This latest 3 feels more like a Corolla. Of course, as Mazda may point out, Toyota sells a zillion of those things.

As far as your bank account goes, our tester's high price isn't fully representative of the line. The Mazda 3 family ranges from $16,945 to $25,995 plus options, which is almost exactly the same price span offered by the Ford Focus and Honda Civic. As with those cars, you can get the Mazda 3 for around $22k with nearly everything you'd need over the lifetime of the car.

Either way, from a styling standpoint, the 3 is one of the best-looking cars in its class, and despite the smaller engine its not nearly as boring to drive as some of its competitors. I think we'd even spring for that Soul red-metallic paint.

Jake Lingeman
The 3 has a tendency to understeer in hard corners, though the chunky winter tires might add to that effect.

2014 Mazda3 i Grand Touring

Base Price: $24,590

As Tested Price: $25,085

Drivetrain: 2.0-liter, 155-hp, 150 lb-ft DOHC I4; FWD six-speed automatic

Curb Weight: 2,848 lbs.

Fuel Economy (city/highway/combined): 30/41/34

Options: Soul red-metallic paint ($300); Scuff plates/door sill trim plates ($125); Cargo mat ($70)

By Jake Lingeman