2015 Mazda3

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I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.'15 3 lead

Two “shoes,” actually.

The first – as regards the Mazda3 – is the Sky-D diesel engine that was supposed to have been available last year that’s still not available so far (as of mid-Feb.) this year. Which is frustrating, because it’s so tantalizing. The Sky-G (gas-engined) 3 is capable of more than 40 MPG on the highway.

Imagine what a Sky-D 3 would be capable of.

Maybe this summer?

Same goes for the high-performance Speed3 version of the 3. It’s been on vacation since the 2013 model year (and previous generation 3).

'15 3 interior shot

The rumor – last year – was that the next Speed3 would be turbocharged (as before) and all-wheel-drive. The previous-gen. Speed3 was turbocharged and FWD, which made for lots of fun – but not much traction.

But will there even be a new Speed3?

It doesn’t look like it. At least, not for 2015.

Maybe 2016?

While we wait, there is a consolation prize for those shopping the ’15 Mazda3.

Two, actually.'15 3 HUD

First, the optional 2.5 liter engine can now be paired with a six-speed manual transmission. Last year (2014) this engine came only with an automatic.

It’s no Speed3, but it’s a peppy package, nonetheless.

The base 2.0 engine, meanwhile, continues to be available with either the manual or the automatic.

Second, Mazda has held the line on prices. Well, for the entry-level i SV trim. It lists for the same $16,945 as last year – in your choice of sedan or hatchback wagon bodystyles. No extra charge for going one way or the other.

But the MSRP of the range-topping Gran Touring 3 climbs to $26,595 to start – up from $23,795 last year.

WHAT IT IS'15 3 hatch & sedan

The 3 is – by far – Mazda’s best-selling model. Though parked in the compact sporty sedan/hatchback wagon class, it is larger-than-typical and roomier inside than others in this class, including the just-updated 2015 Ford Focus and the Hyundai Elantra. It’s also available with more engine (the optional 2.5 liter, 184 hp engine) than most and easier on gas than pretty much all of them: 30 city and 41 highway with the base 2.0 “Sky Active-G” engine and nearly the same (39 MPG) with the optionally available 2.5 liter engine.

WHAT’S NEW'15 3 six-speed

The ’15 3 is largely the same as the ’14 – with the exception of the manual transmission now being available with either engine (and the upticked price for the Gran Touring trim).

WHAT’S GOOD

Class-leading MPGs with standard engine.

Class-leading power with optional engine.

Six-speed manual available with either engine now.

Slick-looking iPad-style info screen (and jet fighter-style heads-up display)

Smooth riding and corner-carving.'15 3 Nav picture

Sedan – or hatchback sedan – bodystyles at no extra charge.

More backseat room than competitors.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Too many menus to deal with when negotiating iPad-style screen

Sky-D diesel engine is AWOL.

A bit less front row legroom and trunk/cargo capacity than competitors.

UNDER THE HOOD'14 3 2.0 engine

Mazda offers two drivetrain options in the 3 – with a third possibly on deck for … eventually.

Maybe.

First up – and standard equipment in the lower trims – is a 2.0 liter, 155 hp engine paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or (optionally) a six-speed automatic. This engine features Mazda’s “SkyActiv-G” technology, including very high (14:1) compression – which results in very high fuel efficiency: 30 city, 41 highway.

These numbers are outstanding; tops in the class… out-classing the Ford Focus even when that competitor is equipped with its extra-cost “EcoBoost” three-cylinder engine, which is half the size (1.0 liters) and only makes 123 hp. Even then, the Ford – which costs about $2k more than the Mazda when equipped with the Ecoboost engine – tops out at 29 city, 40 highway. This engine is also sold only with a manual transmission.'15 3 Sky G pic

Another plus is that the high-compression/high-performance SkyActive-G engine is designed to run on regular – not premium – fuel. Given its very high compression ratio, this is pretty amazing.

Also that fuel economy doesn’t drop by a noticeable amount if you stick with the stick.

It does  . . .when you choose the manual transmission in competitor models.

The manual-equipped Hyunda Elantra’s mileage drops to 27 city, 37 highway for the sedan vs. 28 city, 38 for the same car with its optional  automatic.

Either way, the six-speeded, manual-equipped 3 does better.'14 3 exhaust

And performance?

The 2.0/six-speed manual-equipped 3 gets to 60 in 8.1 seconds – much quicker than the base-engined (1.8 liter, 145 hp) Hyundai Elantra (mid 9s).

It’s also quicker than the new Focus, too – which comes standard with a slightly-stronger (on paper) 160 hp, 2.0 liter four. But the Ford is also about 100 pounds heavier than the Mazda – 2,907 pounds vs. 2,799 for the 3. This negates the Ford’s 5 hp power advantage. It needs 8.6 seconds to get to 60. The 2.0-equipped 3 gets there in 8.3 seconds.

Another 3 plus is that the automatic version is nearly as quick (about 8.2 seconds to 60) as the manual version. The automatic-equipped Focus 2.0 is about half a second slower to 60 (8.8 seconds) than the manual version (about 8.3 seconds).

'14 3 engine 2

If more scoot is wanted, Mazda offers an underhood upgrade to 2.5 liters and 184 hp – the same engine you’ll find under the hood of the Mazda6. This is also more engine than you’ll find in the competition – excepting the special high-performance version of the Ford Focus (the Focus ST). The regular Focus maxxes out at 160 hp; the Hyundai Elantra at 173 hp (with its optional 2.0 engine in lieu of the standard 1.8 liter, 145 hp engine).

This version of the 3 still gets exceptionally good gas mileage, too: 28 city, 39 highway. This is only slightly less than the base 2.0 engine delivers – and better than the 160 hp-engined Ford Focus delivers.

Ditto that with regard to the optional-engined Elantra – which rates just 24 city, 34 highway.

Fifth plus?'14 3 i-Loop

You can order the 2.5 engine with Mazda’s “i-ELOOP” max-effort fuel economy package that includes a regenerative braking system similar to that used in hybrid cars to generate (and store) electricity to power accessories such as the headlights, taking some of the load off the engine/charging system. This in turn bumps the already-outstanding (class-best) mileage of the 2.5 liter engine by up to 10 percent, according to Mazda – putting the highway number into the 40s.

Which beats the new Ford Focus equipped with its optional “Ecoboost” turbo three – an engine three times smaller than the Mazda’s.

 ON THE ROAD'15 3 road 1

Unlike several of its rivals, the 3 is a good performer with its standard engine.

The  2.0 engine and six-speed (either way, manual or automatic) combo is lively enough to make upgrading to the larger/stronger 2.5 engine an indulgence.

Not a nececessity

That it’s also the class leader when it comes to fuel efficiency really seals the deal. Typically, when you buy the “small” engine, you do so because it’s easiest on gas. You accept sluggish performance as the cost of doing business. Better performance is usually available in the form of an optional engine. But it’ll cost you.

Up front – and at the pump.'15 3 road 2

Along comes Mazda with a car that imposes no such compromises. It outruns its rivals when you floor the gas pedal – but it doesn’t use as much gas as they do when you do floor it.

And then there’s that optional 2.5 liter engine.

More performance – with almost-no-at-the-pump-penalty.

Tightness is another 3 superlative. Literally. The car’s turning circle is more than a foot tighter than that of the Ford Focus (34.8 vs. 36 feet) and that’s a big difference, just like the difference in back seat real estate (more about that follows below). The Hyundai Elantra’s turning circle is the same 34.8 feet, but it is hobbled by a weak base engine – and not-so-hot fuel economy. '14 3 gauge cluster

I’m a big fan of Mazda’s suspension tuning – which is as close to “BMW” as any FWD-based car you can buy. The ride quality is compliant, but expertly damped. The car leavens out the road, adapting to dips and bumps with an admirable absence of bounce. Some cars achieve flat cornering by cinching the works down – but the downside is a stiff and bumpy ride that gets old fast in a daily driver. The 3 corners adroitly, but rides supple – and that’s the ticket in an everyday. Like the great gas mileage – and power/performance.

Have your cake – and eat it, too.

AT THE CURB'14 3 curb 1

The new 3 looks more substantial than its predecessor – and its competitors.

Because it is.

At 180.3 inches long overall, the 3 is longer than the Elantra (179.1 inches) and Focus (178.5 inches). The 3’s also got two inches more wheelbase than the Ford: 106.3 inches vs. 104.3 inches.

But where the dimensions markedly differ is inside.'14 3 curb 3

The 3’s got mid-sized car back seat legroom (35.8 inches) vs. the compact car- accommodations in the Ford (33.2 inches) and Hyundai (33.1 inches). This is a difference you’ll notice immediately – and one that matters if you have long legs or a tall family. Shoulder room is also more-than-par: 54.4inches in the back seats (as contrasted with the Ford Focus’ 53.7inches).

Trunk space in the sedan’s no great shakes – 12.4 cubes – but if you need more cargo room, the hatchback’s got you covered: 20.2 cubes with the back seats upright; 47.1 cubs when they’re folded down. This is less than in the Focus (13.2 cubes for the sedan) and the Elantra GT hatchback (51 cubes) but it’s not a glaring deficit – especially in view of the 3’s other charms.

Which include a beautiful bod.'14 3 interior wide shot

The 3 looks like a two-thirds scale Mazda6 – and the 6 is arguably the best-looking car in its class. The 3 uses the same “soul of motion” themes to the same good effect: Long nose – relative to the rest of the car (a WWII-era Focke-Wulf 190D comes to mind; this model was fitted with a Benz V-12 in lieu of the usual radial engine in regular 190s). Voluptuous metal flows forward like a tidal surge over the front wheels. Upward swooshing side scallops are pressed into the door panels; the back door glass tapers to a point like eyes squinting in a slipstream.

This car look like a million bucks. Or at least, it looks like a lot more than its not-quite-$17k-to-start MSRP.'14 3 mouse

The week I had the 3, I also had a new BMW 3 Series. Nice car. It damn well should be for almost $50k.

The 3 I tested stickered out for less than half the price – but did not look half the price when parked beside the BMW.

But it’s more than just looks.

My test car had leather seats – with heaters. Not included in the $49k BMW. Plus a slick-looking iPad-style LCD display with HD satellite radio and GPS and a heads-up display (HUD). The BMW didn’t have satellite radio – or GPS.

They cost extra.

My test car had boasted heated outside mirrors, keyless ignition, a premium Bose surround-sound audio rig with nine speakers and the aforesaid satellite and Internet HD radio, the aforesaid seat heaters (three stage sea heaters) and the slick-looking 7-inch multicolor touchscreen LCD display with 3D and 2D GPS.

And it stickered for just under $26k.'14 3 LCD 2

You could almost buy two Mazd3s for the price of one BMW3.

Another thing: The diesel-powered BMW averaged about 36.4 MPG, according to the car’s computer. The gas-engined Mazda3 was averaging 33.1 – a real-wold difference of maybe 3-4 MPG. .

How can you not feel affection for a car that is almost as economical with a gas engine as a much more expensive car is with a diesel?

That comes with more amenities – for literally half the money?

That looks like a million bucks – but doesn’t cost even $49,000 bucks?

THE REST

The ’14 3 was supposed to have been released with Mazda’s Sky-D 2.2 liter diesel engine as an available option, but it’s a no-go so far.

That is, for us.'14 3 skyD 1

In the UK and other European markets, Mazda will sell you a new 3 with diesel power right now. It’s available with a six-speed manual transmission, too. How’s about zero to 60 in just over 8 seconds –  about as quick as the 3 with the gas 2.0 engine.

And 45-plus MPG.

But not for us.

Not for now.

Why? Because Uncle.

Mazda hasn’t been able to get the Sky-D engine “50 state” emissions certified. Not because it’s a dirty engine. The U.S. has a different emissions rigmarole than the European emissions rigmarole – and making a car compliant with both rigmaroles can be a hassle – and an expense. The good news is Mazda’s working on it – and we will reportedly see the Sky-D engine eventually.

'14 3 HUD

In the meanwhile, the 3 does offer several things right now that you won’t find in competitors – including automated braking (Smart City Brake Support) which applies the brakes if you don’t. I’m not a big fan of idiot-proofing – and let’s face it, that’s what this is. But it’s the inexorable wave of the future and Mazda’s among the first to offer this technology in an entry-level car. The 3 can also be equipped with a Heads-up Display (HUD), Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control and a Blind Spot/Cross Traffic Warning system.

The iPad-style LCD info screen above the center stack is handsome (and very Mercedes) but the input procedure could use some fine-tuning. For instance, if you prefer a scroll-through menu for satellite radio stations.

'14 3 last

THE BOTTOM LINE

Luca Brasi from The Godfather needed a gun to make an offer you couldn’t refuse.

Mazda dealers won’t need to do much more than hold open the door for you.

Now about that diesel engine….

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12 COMMENTS

  1. You keep blaming “Uncle” but it’s California, under the auspices of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that imposes such strict diesel regulations.

    It’s expensive enough that most manufacturers will never bother to bring their diesel engines here.

  2. Y’all likely have a lot more anarcho-wisdom to learn from those un-enslaved cats and that un-cloverized lady, than vice versa. Surviving and thriving outside the matrix in a kind of feline zion. You don’t see them paying taxes and shared responsibility payments.

    Wake up and smell the stench of marxist ozone smoke billowing from your misfiring synapses. You’re ideas and notions of how things should be are certainly not more important than a single person and her property. Probably not even as important as a single cat and its subordinate right to live and let live.

    As misguided as those cats truly are. You dingbats sound far worse even. Make a silencer for a sniper rifle and kill them all. Confiscate every remaining private resource in Floyd County and allocate it to the cats. I don’t care one way or the other, but I do care about first principles and right thinking. I’d like you to benefit from all the great things you discuss in a non-domain dependent way. Don’t be a clover crapping up nature’s highways for heaven’s sake.

    How much property does this woman control. How long has she been on this land. What is her story. Get to know her. As she really is. Not how you think she should be. Is she wealthier and more powerful than you. She can be an ally and a resource for you. Then meet a dozen more of her generation in your surroundings. Adjust your speed to her pace accordingly. Stay in your lane and don’t try to jump up in front of her and then slow her down like a clover would.
    You’re head of the freshman class in driving. Maybe you’re ready to advance into the sophomore class and work your way up again.

    Does she know things your generation has not been taught. Why do you think it is that farmers and hill people going back generations don’t intrude and destabilize natural systems unless absolutely necessary. They certainly don’t muddle into problem areas and cause even further damage by using prussian top down authoritarian practices on nature. Be a laissez faire jedi. Not a PETA weimar storm trooper.

    Doesn’t feral mean free. But lacking in required natural skills. A state of proto-wildness. What would a feral cat need to do to evolve and find a niche outside the human dominion oppression grid. How did they live in the past. How do they live in the wild elsewhere. How might they live in the future. If you’re sterilizing cats today. Where will you be in five years. Where does this clover idiocy end, it’s infuriating. What a dystopic nightmare you advocate with your actions and whims. A world that only reproduces on command. Disgusting. If only Scholz’s star had come a few AUs closer to earth 70,000 years ago, homo sapiens polis might not have been able to over-civilize this world into a polis-state the way they’ve already done.

    Perhaps this is unintelligible and there’s no stopping the army insect mound urbanization and sterilization of the world. If so, then, TBH I hope those cats and crones out-compete you and your euro-poor ilk and keep sacred those copper hills from you urban neo-eunichs and your inane anti-life ideopathies. May your numbers decrease until you all fade away and are gone and forgotten.

  3. I have a 2013 Mazda3 (hatchback) and like it a lot, if you leave aside the fact that it’s not a Mustang. It does everything I bought it for, which was to save money (over the upkeep on a V8 Toureg) and be reasonably fun to drive. It’s comfortable and convenient whether I’m running errands in town or spending hours droning down the interstate. I’m not crazy about the pushbutton start fad, but at least it doesn’t have one of those annoying giant interactive LED screens, like someone taped an iPad up there.

    I’m not sure if this is a bug or a feature, but I find that from a standing start if you just put your foot down nothing much happens for oh, half an hour or so, but if you hold the brake with your left foot, give it 800-1000 rpm, and then release the brake the response is more satisfactory. Do I need to have the shop adjust the idle? Except for that there’s never an issue with getting power when I want it.

    • Hi Paula,

      You’ve got the previous-gen. 3 and I’m not sure whether it has “drive by wire” (electronic, no cable) throttle control. It probably does. Idle adjustment is a bit more complicated with drive by wire (i.e., it’s not just a matter of turning a screw).

      Is your car manual or automatic?

        • I won’t!

          PS on cats: We just managed to find a good home for another stray we took in (huge feral cat colony in our vicinity on the property of an old lady who will not even discuss allowing us to catch/spay-neuter/give shots to these poor critters … very frustrating…

          • Hey, at least you were able to make a difference for one of them. Can you lure the cats on to your own property and get them into a TNR program that way? Then your jerk neighbor could suck it. Rhetorical question: why is she opposed to homes and medical care for the cats? I know: because they’re so much happier when they contract feline leukemia.

            You probaby already know how to attract the cats with those feral shelters, but if not, they’re easy to make. Once they’re hanging out on your property you can tell the neighbor to pack salt.

  4. Great review Eric. If I were in the market for a new car in this segment, I’d take the Mazda 3. It’s priced the best and it is Japanese, rather than Korean. That would put my mind more at ease over the long term, although Mazda is more in line with Nissan in reliability than Toyota/Honda.

    This would be a fun little car……..as I’m sure you would know first hand. Not that any of us would drive faster than the PSL.

  5. Why were there no comparisons to the VW Golf? Especially since the VW Golf has the Diesel engine you are hoping to see in the Mazda 3. The Golf seems like a direct competitor, at least to the hatchback version of the Mazda 3. It would’ve been nice to see a direct space/performance to the Golf.

    • Hi Ethan,

      I probably ought to have; esp. referencing the diesel Golf (one of my favorites).

      So, why didn’t I?

      Honestly, I have no good answer. Your point is well-taken. The Golf may not be as swoopy looking but it’s a lot of fun to drive and it’s very cost-competitive, too. I especially applaud VW for keeping the price of the TDI version within reason.

      Hat tip, sir!

      • Some friends had a Golf for many years. They’d drive down rough dirt roads and small, uneven pavement quite a bit and still get 50mpg(and that’s at Texas PSL’s or well beyond). They were young slim adults with a small family, it looked like a good fit. And that old Golf couldn’t tell the difference between green and red diesel….and neither can the new ones although a color sensor is probably just around the corner. A Golf TDI is at the top of my FWD list……which is way down the list from my RWD list and 4WD and AWD.

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