WASHINGTON - It used to be that if you wanted a compact car, you had to give up luxury and fun.
But the new 2014 Mazda 3 is looking to change that.
It's been redesigned for 2014 and is available as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback. There are three trim levels, two different engines and a choice of manual or automatic transmission. Starting price: $19,000.
Today, we will concentrate on the fully loaded five-door Mazda 3 Grand Touring model that tops off at $29,000. Right away you notice the new upscale body. It has the same front end as the Mazda 6, and that's a very good thing.
The new Mazda 3 has really nice lines and looks sporty, which is really needed in the compact car market. The outside is appealing and the interior is great. The two-tone heated leather seats are comfortable for long trips and they keep you in place on twisty back roads.
A nice leather-wrapped steering wheel enhances the sporty vibe. The materials used throughout are soft to the touch, and the navigation is easy to use. The NAV and audio system is controlled by a dial and control wheel; I preferred it over the usual touch screen.
The back seats are good for adults with enough leg room and headroom. There is also ample space in the trunk. This is where a hatchback really shines.
Driving the new Mazda 3 with the larger 2.5-liter SKYACTIV four-cylinder engine is a hoot. The 185hp engine and a willing automatic transmission turn the Mazda into a fun- to-drive sporty car, rather than just a compact five-door. The ride is also very good; it's never jarring and soaks up most bumps very well. Still, watch out for big craters out there.
The top-of-the-line Mazda 3 Grand Touring also has some neat safety features such as blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert and a forward collision and mitigation system. The Mazda gets an estimated 28mpg city and 38mpg highway, but I could only muster 29mpg in 165 miles of mostly city driving.
During the few miles I did on the highway, it quickly went up to 37mpg. Also, it was a little noisy inside, but my test car had snow tires. A Mazda 3 on normal tires would be much better.
As an owner of one of the competitors to the Mazda 3, I left very impressed with what an upscale compact car Mazda has built. I should've waited a year to buy it.
It's fun to drive and powerful enough that you can easily merge into the traffic flow, yet it provides luxury you don't always find in the compact class.
Whether it's a sedan or a roomy five-door hatchback, the new 2014 Mazda 3 is ready to turn heads.
Editor's Note: Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by STI ,FMI or Event Solutions for the purpose of this review.
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