2014 Mazda3 i Grand Touring competes with hybrids

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2014 Mazda3 i Grand TouringEntry Price: $16,945

Price as Tested: $24,785

Greg’s view

This week, we’re driving the all-new 2014 Mazda3i Grand Touring sedan, featuring “Skyactiv” technology, a 2.1-inch longer wheelbase and a much heralded 41-MPG highway EPA credit. For years, Mazda has been asserting its fun to drive cars in “Zoom Zoom” style commercials and the 2014 “3” is a prime example Mazda’s consumer friendly marketing and continuing product development.

Although there is much good to report concerning the 2014 “3,“ the Mazda “Skyactiv” system deserves a bit more acclaim. Responsible for delivering 30 city and 41 highway the EPA numbers from a larger vehicle than last year, the 155-horse 4-cylinder engine has steadily increased it fuel efficiency since 2012, when the same basic engine produced 28 city and 40 EPA. This comes about thanks to Mazda engineers utilizing lighter components in addition to a smaller fuel tank, (13.2 gallons versus last year’s 14.5 gal.) to arrive at these numbers

Explaining “Skyactiv” further, Mazda engineers completed a re-designed of its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and, just as important, mated the accompanying mechanicals and drive gear to produce ultra economy and performance. Mazda utilizes a lightweight rotating assembly (crank, rods, pistons), high 13 to 1 compression ratio (for added horsepower), automatic ignition timing (to prevent detonation), individual tube exhaust headers (for better performance and mileage) and an enhanced 6-speed automatic (that is geared for both get up and go and fuel economy). If you choose and “s” (Sport) version “3” instead of the “i,,” a larger 2.5-liter 4-cylinder puts out 184 horses for more “zoom zoom,” and is almost as efficient at 28 city and 39 highway EPA numbers.

Skyactiv, by the way, is now standard across the entire Mazda3 line. Last year, the entry level Mazda3 did not include this technology as the 2013 Mazda 3i SV came powered by a less tech savvy 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produced 148 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual was standard while a five-speed automatic was optional. This 2013 base model cost $16,700 and delivered 25 and 33 EPA numbers, far from today’s 3 series fuel mileage. However, the new 2014 Skyactiv models start at just $16,945 and deliver 30 and 41 numbers from a now standard 6-speed overdrive automatic transmission.

In comparison, there is no comparison. The 2014 is a much better deal, hands down, than a leftover 2013.

Outwardly, Mazda3 also revamps its looks with a smooth aerodynamic design, impressive fascia and upgraded rear tweak. Drivers will enjoy better handling thanks to grip delivered by standard 16-inch tires on alloy wheels and a fully independent suspension. The “3” Grand Touring is well mannered on the highway, yet when turns become twisty Mazda is up to the task thanks to input learned from its participation in the major road racing series across America. The sport-tuned suspension is more firm than most while large ABS anti lock brakes, traction and stability control and front and rear stabilizers augment the experience.

Mazda3 Grand Touring’s cabin is amenity rich, as our tester comes loaded with standard items like one-touch power sunroof, leatherette sport seating, dual-zone climate control, six-way power driver seat, heated front seats, great sounding 9-speaker Bose audio system and much more. All expected safety items are in place, including the rear cross traffic alert and rear view camera.

Only two small options, a cargo mat and scuff plates, added $195 to the final price. Delivery cost $795 to arrive at the final $24,785.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 106.3 inches, 2,982 curb weight, 13.2 gallon fuel tank, 12.4 cu. ft. of trunk space and 6.1-inch ground clearance.

Mazda’s new 2014 “3” Grand Touring receives a “thumbs-up” from this scribe, as it over delivers in fuel mileage while dishing up acceptable, albeit not awe inspiring, acceleration. For readers who demand more acceleration (like me) ask your dealer about the 184-horse sport version and then drive both of them for comparison.

Likes: Outstanding fuel mileage, Skyactiv technology, exterior, brakes, suspension.

Dislikes: Not an acceleration standout, road noise.

Tim’s view

Judging by my father’s last paragraph of his review, it seems the apple doesn’t far from the tree. Mazda3’s lack of horsepower is not my cup of tea, but to say the car brings nothing to the table would be grossly unfair.

Mazda has become well known for offering underpowered vehicles that deliver extremely impressive fuel economy numbers. I often wonder what happened to the days of the Geo Prism, where a car with no hybrid assistance, running solely on internal combustion, could garner up to 60 mpg on the highway. It seems Mazda is working to bring a solution to that question.

There are a slew of vehicles on the market with new hybrid technology that are struggling to capture a meager 30mpg on the highway, and it’s very disappointing. Mazda3 takes a no nonsense approach to how it delivers fuel economy, without the worries of electronic batteries and the complexity of hybrid technology.

For the speed demon in me, Mazda3 does offer some characteristics I personally can appreciate. It’s evident Mazda engineers put a large amount of time into how this car handles under load. The car glides over bumpy roads and offers the comfort expected in a vehicle bearing the grand touring name without sacrificing responsiveness when being pushed.

After taking a spirited ride through some well-known back roads, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “If only this car had 100 more horsepower.” Thankfully for us, that’s an option.

Mazdaspeed3 is a hatchback derived from Mazda3 that features a 263 horsepower turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder engine with a whopping 280 ft-lbs of torque. Mazda3’s higher output cousin will drop fuel economy numbers down to about 25 mpg highway and 18 mpg city.

So it looks like we can all have our cake and eat it too. Mazda has a winner in the Mazda3 line thanks to simplicity and a wide range of options. Consumers in the market for a vehicle with a small price tag and respectable fuel mileage should give Mazda3 a look.

Greg Zyla

Greg Zyla