This one’s for the girls
The July 15th cover of Autoweek features a Mazda on its cover, winning the Six Hours at Watkins Glen (New York). And you should know from the git-go that the winning Mazda has almost nothing in common with our test Mazda3, beyond its logo and moniker. On the showroom, Mazda’s ‘zoom-zoom’ has headed for the breakroom, and in its place is – we’re guessing here – an extra dose of estrogen.
But before getting to what’s not under the hood, a word – or two – about the sheetmetal. In one word, it’s beautiful. And if ‘beautiful’ doesn’t quite do this artful design justice, know this new Mazda3 – especially in hatchback form and finished in Mazda’s Polymetal Gray Mica (exclusive to the Mazda3 hatch) – is breathtakingly beautiful, one of the best executions of sheetmetal we’ve recently seen on a compact platform. From its thoughtfully considered front fascia to its dynamically sculpted side surfaces, Mazda’s design team went all in to create a shape as appropriate to a gallery as it is to a garage. If only as a static display, I wish I owned one.
Inside, Mazda’s upmarket aspirations are made clearly evident. The red leather – again, exclusive to the hatchback – on our Premium trim is appropriate to a car some $10K dearer than the test Mazda3’s $30K window sticker, and does a credible job of creating a visual continuum you could live with for 72 payments. The leather covers a seat shape that supplies the appropriate – and wished for – balance between ‘supportive’ and ‘accessible’, although America’s larger demographic may wish to look elsewhere. The dash is informative, while Mazda’s infotainment isn’t the most confusing in the marketplace, but then, neither is it the most intuitive.
Despite what seems to be a low roofline, the Mazda3 easily accommodates four reasonably sized adults, and even with the rear seat up you’ll find enough room for a young family of four to get out of town. And if you’re confronted by truly bulky loads, the rear seats fold, expanding almost exponentially the shopping you can accomplish on just one run.
Notably, in terms of the Mazda3’s ride and handling, you’ll look forward to more than one run. The steering feels both well connected and properly weighted, while the suspension provides that nice balance of comfort, composure and compliance often missing from the hotter hatches. In point of fact, this is a small car that punches well above its weight in on-the-road comfort, one that we wouldn’t hesitate to take on a multi-day, cross-country drive. It’s only around town where we have (some) reservations.
Under the hood is Mazda’s Skyactiv-G engine, connected to a Skyactiv-Drive 6-speed automatic. With 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, we didn’t expect to be overwhelmed, but were left after a week of driving almost underwhelmed. In brief, the drivetrain seems wheezy. Thankfully, it isn’t as sleep-inducing as Mazda’s CX-3, but with 2.5 liters of naturally aspirated four I was planning to have some ‘zoom’, if not – to be sure – its hyphenate. Even when hitting the ‘Sport’ mode I was left wondering where roughly 25 horsepower went, ‘cuz this feels closer to 160 than 186.
Again, this isn’t as apparent from 60 to 80 as it is from rest to, say, 40. And the Mazda3’s available all-wheel drive admittedly adds weight. But with Hyundai offering a 1.6 liter turbocharged four in everything from Elantra to Kona to Veloster, it would behoove Mazda’s product planners to drive a few of the Korean carmakers offerings. Forget – for the moment – VW’s GTI or Ford’s Focus ST; let’s just try to keep up with the Koreans.
At the end of the week, I was genuinely smitten by the Mazda3’s shape, while wishing there was a tad (an additional 30 horsepower?) more substance. If, after a demo drive, you’re satisfied with it in traffic, you’ll undoubtedly be happy when the Mazda3 hatchback is parked in your garage. Or your gallery.