After two weeks of driving two unique 2016 Mazda3’s (“i” Sport and “i” Grand Touring models), I was able to experience a well-built, compact car from Mazda. The Mazda3 comes in a 4-door sedan or a 5-door hatchback. Even though there are many good compact sedans and hatchbacks on the market, the Mazda3 feels like a much more substantial vehicle than others. And the build-quality is not even the most satisfying aspect of the Mazda3. This car is fun to drive. Period.
Mazda dropped the tired marketing line of “Zoom-Zoom” several years ago but they have not forgotten how to make an efficient, affordable car fun to drive. For me, having a smaller car hold the road with a steady track, in addition to a solid engine/transmission combination and platform, means the driver can be confident in throwing this car into the corners.
The Mazda3 i, i Touring, and i Grand Touring are not sports cars and these don’t need to be. The Mazdaspeed version is probably right around the corner but one can enjoy driving the Mazda3 i Sport starting at just $17,845. This six-speed manual is crisp and precise, making quick work of the gears. The feel of the shifter was a short-throw for the driver’s arm but it is easy to use and fun to move around. Yet, the horsepower-to-weight ratio means you don’t have to shift all the time.
In fact, I could drive up long uphill grades across California’s high deserts without downshifting out of 6th gear, even with the smaller engine. Curb weights for my manual transmission, i Sport was 2,869 pounds and my Mazda3 s Grand Touring was just over 2,930 pounds with the automatic.
There are two engines to choose from including a 2.0L-liter DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine and a 2.5-liter engine with the same credentials. The variable valve timing gives this proven four-cylinder in-line block good power off the line and also mid-range power for passing. Mazda calls their light-weight powertrains “Skyactiv-G (for gas) technology.” This means weight-savings come from very refined and tightly engineered medal. There is always a risk in durability when an automotive company shaves off too much medal but Mazda’s are holding up fairly well.
The 2.0-liter engine (155 hp) with the manual transmission offered me 38.9 mpg after 500+ miles. The EPA rating is 29 city and 41 highway but I was able to achieve good mileage without babying the car in a mix of city and highway driving. The 2.5 liter (184 hp) is found in the Mazda3 “s” models. It gets just one mile-per-gallon less at 40 mpg on the open road and offers more pulling power. I found either engine is a good match with the automatic 6-speed transmission. However, Mazda is one of the only manufacturers that offers their larger engine (2.5 liters) and a six-speed manual combination. Either engine can do the job and move this compact car down the road with excellent real-world fuel efficiency.
To highlight the mid-range model, the 2016 Mazda i Grand Touring 4-door sedan comes well equipped at $22,545 with automatic on/off headlights, a power sliding-glass moonroof, side mirrors with turn signals and heated glass, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and some leather trim on the steering wheel, parking brake handle, and shift knob with red stitching. It also comes with a Bose® 9 speaker surround sound system that pumps out some impressive sound. The 6-way power adjustable driver's seat with manual lumbar adjustment makes it easy to get comfortable on longer trips.
The Sport “i” also includes some nice features with a climate control with pollen filter, auto-dimming rearview mirror, variable heated front seats, and leatherette-trimmed sport seats. Not every base model gets things like keyless remote entry, auto power windows, push button starter, tilt & telescopic steering column, 60/40 split fold-down rear seat, and a cruise control.
Even better is Mazda’s effort to design a quieter interior. All the models get Mazda’s “CONNECT” infotainment system that mounts in the center of the dash and is a large 7-inch full color touch screen display. There is a control dial and short-cut buttons between the front seats that is fairly easy to use but I would prefer some knobs on the dash below the screen you are controlling. After all, this is all supposed to keep your hands and eyes up on the action in front of the car. Come on! How about putting a volume knob in front of the driver and passenger?
The sloping lines of the Mazda3 are deceiving because the interior is larger than it looks from the exterior. Mazda’s sculpted flowing design, first displayed on the Mazda concept cars and then on the Mazda6, gives the Mazda3 a sportier character. Compared to a Toyota Corolla or even the newest Honda Civic, the Mazda3 stands apart. Both the 4-door sedan and the 5-door hatch have decent headroom, shoulder room, and legroom for all 4.5 passengers. The 12.4 cubic inch trunk is very functional as well.
The old saying about driving a slower car fast is more fun than driving a faster car slowly is true. The 2016 Mazda3 makes this even more true because it is a pleasure to drive at any speed.