2014 Mazda 3 Sedan

2014 Mazda 3 Review

The under-the-radar life continues for the little commuter that could.

By: Tim Healey

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: October 30th, 2013

Mazda's 3 has always been a hit with the sensible enthusiast - i.e. the car guy or gal with a heavy foot and a priority placed on sharp handling who can only afford one car, thus necessitating a commuter that can come alive on weekends. These folks need practicality, too - maybe there's a kid or dog or some groceries that need to be hauled? Enter the 3, in hatchback and sedan form. Gearheads, rejoice: a proper manual transmission is available.

We spent a week with the sedan, and found ourselves quite smitten. Normally we're loathe to give up the keys to fun sports cars and opulent luxo rides - it's rare that an affordable commuter leaves us feeling sadness as it drives away.

  • On the Road

    Our test car came with the base engine, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that puts out a paltry 155 horsepower. This is the one performance area where the car suffers, since it can feel underpowered at times. It helps to get the stick into the right gear, which means plenty of shifting is required. Fortunately the clutch strikes a nice balance between having some feel and not being too heavy, while the shifter is a pleasure to row, with just-right throws and precision gates. It looks good, too.

    One way to get more guts is to opt for the larger 2.5-liter four-pot that makes 184 ponies, but in so doing you'll have to sacrifice the manual transmission, at least for now. As for us, we'll suffer if it means we can shift for ourselves.

    Where the 3 perks up is in the corners. It's flingable, with accurate steering that's well-weighted. Push it past the limit with traction control switched off and there's some tire squeal as the front end pushes in a fit of predictable and easily savable understeer. The back end can rotate if you work hard enough, but few will ever push the 3 to that point. Mazda loves its "zoom-zoom" tagline, and the 3 fits the spirit of its lineup mates, the Miata sports car and the 6 mid-size sedan. Commuting is 10 percent less dreadful in this thing.

  • Exterior

    The previous 3 had a look that was somewhat distinctive from the larger 6. Not so with the new car. Its design is so derivative of the 6 that only its smaller stature sets it apart. Not that this is a bad thing; the 6 is a handsome beast and the 3 apes that curvy, flowing look. Neither car is a head-turner, but both are easy enough on the eyes. We dig the svelte lines.

  • Interior

    Just like on the outside, the 3 follows the 6's lead. The heating and audio controls are similar, which is a good thing since the 6 looks like a million bucks inside. That "look expensive, feel expensive, be cheap" mantra carries over here - everything looks or feels like it belongs in a car three times the price.

    There's only one piece that gives the interior a black mark - the navigation/infotainment screen. It rights atop the center stack, sticking out like a sore thumb - it doesn't retract, detach, or disappear. It ruins the aesthetic, but it is easy to use and the screen itself is very readable.

    Other minor beefs include a driver's seat that could get stiff on longer drives, a Pandora app that required too many attention-diverting looks away from the road to activate, and a not-so-user friendly manual tuning function for the satellite radio.

    Finally, we liked the 3's trunk space, but found its opening a bit too narrow.

  • Final Thoughts

    Mazda kept the frisky spirit of the 3 alive while classing up its looks and its interior duds, and for that, we're thankful. Commuter cars that are joy to drive both in traffic and on empty two-lanes are all too rare - most cars either favor practicality and/or luxury over fun, or fun over function. It's nice to slip behind the wheel of something that strikes a solid balance. On top of that, the 3 doesn't punish at the pump.

    It also feels bigger and more expensive than it is - key to impressing the non-car-loving in-laws or clients.

    The 3 always did blend practicality and fun at an affordable price. But redesigns always worry loyalists - will the company screw it up? Mazda knows that from experience - the second-generation 6 was a letdown over the first. Thankfully, the "zoom-zoom" disciples got this one right. Fret not, compact-car fans, the 3 remains true to the formula.

  • Specs, Features, Prices

    Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder

    Transmission: Six-speed manual

    Drive Wheels: Front-wheel-drive

    Fuel Economy: 29 mpg city/41 mpg highway

    Base Price: $16,945

    Available Features: Satellite radio, navigation, Pandora, blind-spot monitoring, dual-zone climate control, USB port, Bluetooth, rearview camera, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, push-button start.

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