Thumbs Up: Impressive handling and fuel economy; good content for the money
Thumbs Down: Dated exterior design
Buy This Car If: You want a commuter car that delivers both features and frugality
Just a few short years ago , a car that served up features like a blind spot detection system, adaptive headlights, Bluetooth audio streaming, navigation, keyless entry with push-button start, rain-sensing wipers and a Bose Centerpoint surround-sound audio system would have fallen into the luxury car realm, priced far out of reach of the average consumer.
Today, that’s just a partial equipment list for the 2013 Mazda3 i in Grand Touring trim, fitted with the Technology Package. As if that weren’t impressive enough on its own, the car’s SkyActiv-G gasoline engine delivers enough power for reasonable acceleration (155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque), while returning highway fuel economy of 40 mpg. Did we mention that it serves up impressive handling, too, for a sticker price under $26,500?
If you’ve been new-car shopping lately, you know that there isn’t much in the under $30k price range that comes as well-equipped. Sure, the current Mazda3’s styling (which dates back to 2009) is getting a bit old, but with everything else in its favor, we can easily look past a design that’s starting to border on stale.
That’s not to say the Mazda3 is ugly, but it’s simply not as contemporary a design as served up by many of its rivals. We still like the strong creases that sweep from the grille, across the hood to the A-pillars, and we’re still fond of the muscular swell of the front fenders that tie it back to the MX-5 and the (sadly) out-of-production RX-8.
In profile, however, we find the looks of the hatchback to be much cleaner than the lines of the sedan. If anything, the styling of the four-door is a bit too conservative, with only a pair of character lines running across the doors to add interest. We appreciate the lack of brightwork around the daylight opening, but the Mazda3 sedan, even in Grand Touring trim, needs some kind of design flourish to reduce its anonymity.
The rear could also benefit from a clean design. Its taillights, like its headlights, are large by contemporary standards, and we think the white taillight trend has played itself out. The tastefully-minimalistic rear deck lid spoiler is a nice touch, but we wish the rear had something other than body-colored metal and plastic to look at.
If that’s the bad news, here’s the good news: a new Mazda3, wearing the company’s current Kodo design language, is expected to debut in 2014. If you’re in the market today, that’s still good news as it means the current Mazda3 models are priced to sell. If you want to hold out for the new design, chances are good you’ll be spending more money to get the same level of content, all in the name of fashion.
Inside, the Mazda3 (thankfully) skips the faux-luxury to serve up a well-executed cabin and dash design. Materials are what you’d expect in the car’s price point, but fit and finish are a step above most competitors. The dash layout, for example, uses a dual-screen display for functions like range, average mpg, time, outside temperature and cabin temperature. The displays are in LCD format, which isn’t as clean or stylish as most rivals are using these days, but we appreciate the fact that you’re not having to look down at the infotainment screen to adjust cabin temperature.
Instruments are well designed, with the driver looking at a hooded tachometer and a hooded speedometer, split by a gear indicator, an LCD bar-graph fuel gauge, an odometer and a trip odometer. They’re not fancy, but they’re functional and easy to acquire, which is good enough for us.
Front seats are better than expected at this price point, serving up a comfortable perch with plenty of head and leg room. The driver gets an eight-way power adjustable seat, which should allow buyers of all shapes and sizes to find the best seating position. The passenger seat lacks the same range of adjustability (and isn’t motorized), but both are wrapped in stout-feeling leather and vinyl, and both are heated.
Rear seat passengers aren’t likely to be as enamored with the Mazda3 as those in the front row. Despite the sloping roof, there’s room enough for passengers under six feet in height, but there isn’t much leg room to speak of. Mazda includes three seat belts in the rear, but let’s be honest: only two adults, or perhaps three children, will be comfortable in the Mazda3 sedan’s second row.
While the Mazda3 can be had with three different engines (excluding the Mazdaspeed3, which is really an entirely different model), the one to pick is the 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G, which cranks out 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. That’s good enough to get the car from 0-60 mph in around 8.5 seconds, which isn’t bad for the class, while returning 33 mpg combined (28 mpg city, 40 mpg highway) with the six-speed automatic transmission.
Unlike other cars focused on fuel economy, the Skyactiv Mazda3 doesn’t feel slow, even off the line. It’s no sport sedan, to be sure, but it doesn’t feel like a car that serves up near-hybrid levels of fuel economy. Like every other car that wears the Mazda badge, the Mazda3 Grand Touring sedan manages to provide some level of entertainment value behind the wheel, too, primarily via its optimally-weighted steering and nimble handling. Some will complain that the Mazda3 Grand Touring serves up too firm a ride, but we don’t find it harsh at all. If anything, the quick turn-in and minimal body roll deliver confidence, and we’re willing to accept a stiffer ride as a trade-off. The six-speed automatic transmission does include a manual shift mode, but it really doesn’t improve the car’s shift times (not that anyone is going to be drag racing a 2.0-liter Mazda3). Finally, the brakes deliver a good pedal feel and return reasonable stopping distances, especially in light of the car’s non-performance-oriented rubber.
If you’re in the market for a compact commuter car, should you shop the 2013 Mazda3? Our answer, without hesitation, is yes. It delivers an engaging driving experience, returns impressive fuel economy and gives buyers a variety of trim levels to choose from. Even optioned-out, in the highest Grand Touring trim, the car carries a sticker price under $27,000, yet gives buyers features like heated seats, navigation, Pandora audio streaming (via smartphone), Bluetooth connectivity, blind spot detection and adaptive HID headlights. There aren’t too many other cars we can think of that offer so much in the plus column, with so little in the minus column (the car’s somewhat dated styling, in this case).
Mazda supplied the 2013 Mazda3 i Grand Touring sedan for the purpose of this review. Base price on our press-fleet tester was $24,445, including a destination charge of $795, and options included the $200 Interior Lighting Kit, the $275 Homelink Rearview Mirror With Rain Sensor and the $1,500 Technology Package (auto on-off HID headlights, adaptive headlights, fog lights, LED taillights, body-colored heated side-view mirrors with integrated turn signals, Sirius satellite radio, alarm system, rain sensing wipers, rear deck spoiler) for a total sticker price of $26,420.
For comparison, a similarly-equipped Chevrolet Cruze LTZ would sticker for $27,795, while a comparable Ford Focus Titanium would price at $25,685.