The Drive – Between San Francisco Bay Area and Morro Bay
The wonderfulness does not end just yet. Those are just facts or could be all hypes. How does it really drive? We are glad to report that the reminiscent of BK, the driver’s car theme, does not get diluted and has been fully transferred with refinements as described.
During our 600-mile trip with two adult occupants and weekend getaway belongings filled the 11.8 cubic feet trunk. Our observed average fuel consumption was at impressive 35 mpg with worst and best at 32 and 38 mpg, respectively, which far exceeded EPA’s 24 city/33 freeway and 27 mpg combined rating.
The engine operates smoothly and revs willingly to the 6,500 rpm redline. The engine note might not make it to the Grammy Award nomination but it is appropriate and on the sporty side. The accelerator connected to the drive-by-wire throttle is among the best. The pedal weighted ideally with linear throttle mapping.
The transmission matches the character of the engine like the aerialists catching each other in mid-air in those circus exhibitions. In manual mode, gear changes are impressively quick and on-demand. There is no fuss about what you want to do; shifting is per your will. Downshifts are surprisingly smooth even without the downshift rev-match function.
The Mazda Active Adaptive Shift senses for rapid accelerator input and allows for partial throttle downshifts without the need of planting the pedal to the floor. In the Mazda 3, the term “kickdown” is a term of the past. Tuning is performance oriented, during hard braking, it automatically downshifts to provide engine braking and in anticipation for the needed re-acceleration when exiting a corner.
With this ultra responsive 5-speed AT, acceleration is adequate and never really feel underpowered in the real world. On paper it takes the 3i 10 seconds to reach 60 mph from a dead stop and quarter mile at leisurely 17.2 seconds at 80.9mph – blame on the PZEV statuette and the 2932Ibs curb weight bogging it down. It could take some revs to pass slow moving vehicles on an incline but fortunately vibration and harshness from the powertrain were never obnoxious, yet it provides a good communication between the driver and the machine.
The brake feel is also one of the best in the class. The pedal is firm and nicely calibrated for both light and aggressive braking. ABS and TCS involvement is minimal and non-intrusive. Threshold braking is easy to modulate and trustworthy. Braking distance is well within expectation and fade-free.
Like the pedals, it does not take any time to become one with the steering. The electric-assisted steering is properly calibrated and does not have the artificially dull and overboosted feel. The feedback from the relatively small in diameter steering wheel provides clear indication from the front tires. Steering is direct, free of torque steer and weighted perfectly regardless speed.
The cruise control, Bluetooth and audio control mounted on the face of the spoke are never obstructive to the fundamental principle of the steering wheel and do not take a second guess to use.
Driving position is easy to find, thanks to the tilt and telescopic steering wheel. Shifter is strategically positioned close to the steering wheel with the emergency brake lever located nearby. Front seats provide good lateral support from the non-slippery upholstery material. The only complaint is that they are shy of tight support for long trips.
We find the upper instrument cluster being a necessity as the 3 can carve through corners much quicker than one can imagine. The weakest link is the all-season touring tires that lack of ultimate grip and can’t sustain higher temperature before it loses its composure.
Suspension tuning indicated extensive research and development. Tuning is supportive. Body roll is nicely controlled. Harshness from the BK has been tamed.
The engine is situated far ahead of the front axle. This large overhang, which increases the polar moment of inertia, is the receipt for heavy understeer and reluctance to turn as the natural habit inherited. With 60% of the curb weight relying on the front tires, understeer is surprisingly minimal during our spirited driving. Like the BK, the rear is willing to rotate which offsets the understeering. Under extreme cornering with stability control turned off, the rear can take the lead in turning but it can be easily corrected by a flick of opposite lock or a jab on the throttle.
The Standard AM/FM/CD/MP3-compatible sound system with 6 speakers and auxiliary-audio input jack has deep and distortion-free bass, clear mid and dynamic high sound. It is hard to imagine how good the optional Bose system can get.
The available equipments are unheard of in this class: rain-sensing wipers, self-leveling adaptive Bi-Xenon HID headlight, Bose Centerpoint 5.1 channel surround sound with 10 speakers and noise cancelling technology, 8-way power drive seat with 3 position memory, dual zone automatic climate control, and heated front seat with 5 temperature adjustments, just to name a few highlights.
One might question exactly how perfect an economic car can get. It has to conserve resources to keep cost down and profit high, right? Is it impossible for it to be perfect all around? Does that mean reliability will suffer? How did Mazda do it? I still love my Corolla…
For one, Mazda 3 costs slightly more compared to majority of its competitors. But the fact is that the cost-cutting happens behind the scene and not on the vehicle itself such as common parts are shared with its Ford family cousins, more efficient painting and assembly methods.
Reliability, rest assured! It is as good as any other mainstream compact in this group if not better – consider Mazda does not have a recall each and every week. The reply to “I still love my Corolla” comment has been deleted from this review to avoid animosity.
Handling & Ride Characteristics
Brake Performance & Feel
Comfort & Workmanship
Features & Technologies
Will I buy one factor
My recommendation factor
Combine with good brakes, communicative chassis, natural accelerator and willing powertrain, driving the Mazda 3 is a very satisfying experience and one can easily be able to drive the car at its 9/10th with full confidence and control. Precision driving usually does not get associated with the cars in the economy class; the Mazda 3 has got to be one of the very few choices. It proves that you do not need a sports car to have the driving fulfillment.
The 3 is no longer comparable to Civics and Corollas; the 1st gen has proven its supremacy. The new competition could very well be the all-new Kia Forte. Despite the slightly higher price, the Mazda 3 is worth every penny of your money. You get exactly what you pay for, if not more.
The funny looking front fascia might take some time before it can grow on you. The traditionalists will certainly stay away and stick to their Model Ts. For those who got the 3, they are the ones wanted to be inimitable.