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).
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.
While we wait, there is a consolation prize for those shopping the ’15 Mazda3.
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.
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.
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).
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)
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.
Mazda offers two drivetrain options in the 3 – with a third possibly on deck for … eventually.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ’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.
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.
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.
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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