2014 Mazda MAZDA3

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2014 mazda mazda3 Reviews and News

2014 Mazda 3 And 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Front View In Motion 2
Welcome to Day 5 of the Automobile Magazine Compact Sedan Comparison Review.
When you look at the cars that Americans drive, you see an awful lot of compact sedans. There is always talk about large, snappy sedans, but simple, small sedans deliver the real-world utility that real people need. That’s why the list of the top-ten bestselling cars in the United States includes the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla every year, not the Bentley Flying Spur. Sales of compact sedans are especially strong these days because they are more spacious, more luxuriously trimmed, dramatically safer, and far more fuel-efficient than ever before, even while pricing has hardly increased.
Over the past week, we’ve compared eight of the best compact sedans plying U.S. highways today. We’ve driven all of them at the same time on the same roads, we’ve made our notes and organized our facts, and we’ve argued about the results. And now we’ve sorted them out and separated the best from the rest.
These compact sedans are the Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta.
You can read about the mission we set for ourselves on Day 1, then a driving report for each on either Day 2 or Day 3, in which we selected our semi-finalists. The tournament got tougher on Day 4 as we argued about the merits of the four cars that made it that far. And now at last, on Day 5, we present the final match between the 2014 Mazda 3 and the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta.
Today the process involves less driving and a more arguing. It’s not just about which compact sedans excel in this category -- because they all do. Instead, it’s about finding the right car with the right combination of features and driving enjoyment -- the car that meets our personal expectations. After all, this is Automobile Magazine.

Mazda 3 vs. Volkswagen Jetta

8 Compact Sedan   Day Five   Mazda 3 Vs Volkswagen Jetta   Front 1

2014 Mazda 3i Touring

PRICE AS TESTED: $23,235 The Mazda 3 presents a lively, sporting personality that sets it apart from its competition, and this all-new version also now offers a more spacious cabin, a calm, supple ride on the highway, and impressive fuel economy. Just as important, it is available with a range of active safety features that you might expect only from more expensive sedans.

The Building Blocks

Completely redesigned for 2014, the Mazda 3 features conventional technology employed in an unconventional way. A package with lots of high-strength steel has been stretched over a wheelbase of 106.3 inches, and the sedan measures 180.3 inches in overall length, is 70.7 inches wide, and stands 57.3 inches high. The car incorporates an independent rear suspension, an important contributor to a calm and comfortable ride on the highway.
There’s 96.3 cubic feet of passenger volume within, including 42.2 inches of front seat legroom and 35.8 inches of rear-seat legroom. You can pack 12.4 cubic feet of cargo into the trunk, and all trim levels except for the base model feature a 60/40-split folding rear seat to expand cargo capacity.
This front-wheel-drive Mazda 3i is powered by a 2.0-liter inline-four engine that makes 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission helps the 2848-pound Mazda 3i Touring get 30 mpg city/41 mpg highway/34 mpg combined.

What We Said

The 2014 Mazda 3 lives up to the “zoom zoom” corporate brand identity in the way it delivers the opportunity for thrills on the long way to lunch across the back roads of Michigan. We had some reservations about the 2.0-liter engine because it has to work harder to deliver its power than the 2.5-liter engine available in higher trim levels of the car. However, the 2.0-liter four is pretty delightful, perhaps because the quick-shifting automatic transmission helped energize it. Plus, its 41 mpg rating is very impressive. Great steering -- a consequence of clever steering geometry to compensate for the relatively uncommunicative electric-assist steering linkage -- is another of the Mazda 3’s positive attributes.
On top of all this, the Mazda 3 delivers a surprisingly comfortable ride. A new, more supple suspension calibration plays a factor here, and the cabin is surprisingly quiet thanks to improved acoustic insulation and a very quiet engine. The Mazda 3 also feels more spacious than its dimensions might suggest. The rear-seat legroom seems unimpressive when you look at it on paper, yet no one complained about it.
When you look the 2014 Mazda 3’s list of convenience features, you realize that compact sedans now can be equipped with the same things as mid-size sedans. The small, dash-mounted display screen with a rotary knob on the center console is a nice feature (even though we complained about the software logic), and the system has the ability to adapt to the evolution of apps, much like the connectivity systems in a few the other cars in this test. We were even more impressed by the range of active-safety features with which this car can be equipped, including blind-spot monitoring, forward obstruction warning with city-speed brake intervention, lane-departure warning, radar-operated cruise control, and even automatic high-beam control.
8 Compact Sedan   Day Five   Mazda 3 Vs Volkswagen Jetta   Front 2

2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE (with connectivity and sunroof)

PRICE AS TESTED: $23,985 Although the entry-level model was emphasized when the current-generation Jetta was introduced as a 2011 model, the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE reminds us that the refinement of the mid-size VW Passat sedan can be had in a smaller size at a more affordable price. Moreover, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers excellent power without sacrificing much fuel efficiency.

The Building Blocks

The 2014 Jetta might have been designed to be an affordable American-style car, but it seems very European in the company of these other compact sedans. It sits on a wheelbase of 104.4 inches, and it is 182.2 inches in overall length, 70.0 inches wide, and 57.2 inches high. For 2014, every Jetta model now features independent rear suspension, which improves the ride quality on the highway. Much like all the sedans in this comparison, the Jetta is surprisingly spacious, affording 94.1 cubic feet of passenger volume with 41.2 inches of front legroom and 38.1 inches of rear legroom. The large trunk has 15.5 cubic feet of capacity, and a 60/40-split folding rear seat increases utility.
This front-wheel-drive Jetta SE is powered by a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. With its automatic transmission, the SE achieves 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway/29 mpg combined.

What We Said

We’ve been driving this generation of the Volkswagen Jetta for some time now, so we were surprised that the slightly revised 2014 car seems so much improved. Along with the Chevrolet Cruze and, to some extent, the Dodge Dart, the Jetta delivers a large-car experience. It’s as if this Jetta has captured the spirit of the mid-size Volkswagen Passat in a slightly smaller bottle. It surges along the road effortlessly, whether driving on back roads or the freeway. And the highway ride always proves supple, although the body rolls and pitches slightly because the suspension calibration is soft.
It’s possible that we were seduced by the power of VW’s E888 turbocharged engine, as it delivers 180 lb-ft of torque -- more than enough to keep this 3071-pound car sailing along pretty effortlessly. It kind of sounds like a diesel as it rasps for a second when you accelerate, and it performs a bit like a diesel as well because the smooth but slow-shifting transmission keeps the rpms low to enhance fuel economy. The EPA mileage doesn’t come close to that achieved by other powertrains in this comparison, but we told ourselves that it isn’t much worse, either.
The refinement of the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE appeals to us. There is something about the action of the switches on the dash, the poise of the car as it responds to steering inputs, and the unique flexibility of the engine’s power band that strikes us. We also like sitting a little more upright, and the seats themselves are first rate. We might joke about this car’s resemblance to a taxi, but sometimes a mix of comfort and utility is just what you want in a compact sedan.

Winner: 2014 Mazda 3

More car, fewer compromises

Whether we’re driving a $200,000 luxury sedan or a $20,000 compact car, we can’t help but hope to magically find ourselves behind the wheel of a BMW 3 Series. We’re totally in the Goldilocks mode, looking for something that drives sporty but not too much so. It has to be compact but not small. It has to be affordable but not cheap. It’s not only a miracle that the 2014 Mazda 3 delivers the BMW-style personality that we prefer but also a revelation that any compact sedan meets this lofty standard at all.
We’ve always enjoyed the lively personality of the Mazda 3, and apparently a lot of other people do as well, since it is Mazda’s best-selling car. The big surprise comes in the grown-up way that the Mazda 3 now goes about its business. The car feels poised on its supple suspension, and while there’s still some road noise, the cabin is quiet. More important, the seats are comfortable and the there are lots of entertainment and connectivity options. A cabin surrounded with high-strength steel and a package equipped with the latest developments in active safety made us feel safe. In fact, each of the cars in this comparison seemed far more like a mid-size sedan than the crummy compact sedans of the past that we can’t help but remember.

What we’ve learned

Times are still tough these days, and while more people are in the market for a new car, no one wants to spend more than they have to. As a result, a car that has a price tag in the neighborhood of $20,000 has special appeal. Like most of you, we’re accustomed to thinking about the compromises we’ll have to make at this price point. You know, breathless little engines, interior designs seemingly meant for being hosed out on the driveway, and the general style and comfort of a Cozy Coupe from Little Tikes.
The big news here is the way in which all of these cars offer spaciousness and sophistication, along with powertrains that make 40-mpg fuel economy a likely experience. We have simple, practical, everyday cars like the Honda Civic, Kia Forte, and Toyota Corolla that deliver friction-free daily utility. We have comfortable cars like the Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, and Volkswagen Jetta that deliver quiet composure on the freeway like a large car. And we have spirited cars like the Ford Focus and Mazda 3 that help you enjoy the drive wherever you go.
There was a time when “compact sedan” was just a politically correct way to say “cheap sedan.” Such cars were thought to be only slightly better than something from the rental car counter. Today, the 2014 Mazda 3 proves that modern compact sedans incorporate nearly all the performance and features of mid-size cars, and it makes you wonder if larger sedans are really necessary for most people, especially as sport-utilities take over their role in everyday life.
It’s much harder to build a great car for $20,000 that it is to build a great one for $200,000. The funny thing is, you might actually get a better car for real life when you spend $20,000 instead of $200,000.
8 Compact Sedan   Day Four   4 Car Group Image 1
We’ve reached the fourth day of Automobile Magazine’s 2014 Compact Sedan Comparison, and it hasn’t been easy.
As we explained on Day 1, if you can’t build a great car for $200,000, probably you should just quit trying. It’s actually much harder to build a good $20,000 car with a spacious cabin, everyday comfort and convenience, and thrifty performance without forcing people to turn their wallets inside out to find the last dollar.
These days, the average compact sedan must be as roomy as a Honda Accord from the last decade, deliver an array of features that any high-style Bentley would be happy to offer, and let you sail past the gas pumps besides. We’ve gathered eight of the best compact sedans on the market, and we’re sorting them out by driving all of them at the same time on the same roads. We’ve made our notes, organized our facts, and argued about the results. We hope to find the best compact sedan in America as a result.
On Day 4, we give you some of the arguing, as we present here the notes from the discussion that ensued as we went about choosing the finalists for Day 5.
On Day 2, we started the tournament with these match-ups:
  • Mazda 3 prevailed over the Dodge Dart
  • Kia Forte edged out the Ford Focus
On Day 3, the tournament continued with these results:
  • Volkswagen Jetta moved past the Chevrolet Cruze
  • Honda Civic left behind the Toyota Corolla
As the tournament continues, the competition involves less driving and a lot more arguing, as the comments below indicate. It’s not just about whether these compact sedans excel -- because they all do -- but instead it’s about finding the right combination of virtues that meets our expectations.
As the tournament continues, here are the Final Four match-ups:
  • Kia Forte vs. Mazda 3
  • Honda Civic vs. Volkswagen Jetta
2014 Mazda 3 And 2014 Kia Rio Front Three Quarters View

2014 Kia Forte Vs. 2014 Mazda 3

2014 Kia Forte EX

  • “I want to mention something that is not this car’s ‘forte,’ ” jokes associate editor David Zenlea, “but I can’t think of one off of the top of my head. Maybe this is a good mark for the Kia.”
  • “How about its steering?” responds another editor. “Three modes that adjust steering effort? Basically Kia is admitting that it has no idea what’s best for the buyer.”
  • The Forte, the cheapest car of the bunch, has standard power-folding mirrors, automatic headlights, LED running lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, satellite radio, and a rearview camera. Oh, and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. And it needs all of those things to keep buyers from being scared off by the Korean badge on the hood.
  • Drive the Kia Forte if you eat protein bars for two of your three square meals, wear Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses wherever you go, and listen to one of those EDM songs (or is it just one long song?).
  • “The previous Forte was abysmal to drive, uncomfortable, and felt like it might fall apart at any given moment,” says associate web editor Jake Holmes. “This one, I never noticed the ride, and that’s a really good thing.”
  • The infotainment system is simple to operate and looks modern.
  • You get the feeling that Kia is really trying. Some of the Forte works, some of it doesn’t, but you can see the effort behind it. Note the sliding covers over the USB ports in center console. We’ve seen that only in a small batch of other cars. It’s a sign that the Koreans are minding the details.

2014 Mazda 3i Touring

  • “I’m not sure the Mazda 3 has a better interior than the Kia Forte, but it feels more expensive,” says West Coast editor Michael Jordan. “You’d only expect to see climate control knobs this nice in a $40,000 car.”
  • The styling is striking—the front end’s big, wide, gaping mouth is very dramatic, which is novel for this segment—but the Mazda needs to focus a bit more on better forward and rearward visibility.
  • Associate editor Greg Migliore notes that the Mazda 3 weighs less than 2900 pounds, which is a reminder that Mazda “does it their way.” Deputy editor Joe DeMatio responds, “Can you sing that?”
  • The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is quiet and smooth yet spins up quickly, and what’s best is that it gets more than 40 mpg on the highway.
  • Drive the Mazda 3 if you eat at Chipotle every week, wear shirts from Blipshift, and already listen to all of the bands scheduled for the music festivals this summer.
  • Why is there a touchscreen when there’s also a command knob for the infotainment system on the on the center console? Because the software for the control knob sucks: it’s not possible to perform simple tasks like spinning the knob to change the song selection. We hope Mazda sorts this system faster than BMW did with iDrive.
  • This is a compact car you get into and feel like you’ve been there before. It’s a balanced and sensible package for an enthusiast.

Winner: 2014 Mazda 3i Touring.

The Kia Forte is much improved, but it still can’t beat the formidable Mazda 3. The Mazda 3 moves into the final round.
2014 Honda Civic And 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Front Three Quarters View

2013 Honda Civic vs. 2014 Volkswagen Jetta

2013 Honda Civic

  • Zenlea says, “If a non-car person asked me what to buy, I’d say the Civic. I’d always say the Civic. It would never give them any problems. It’s easy to drive, it’s efficient, and it’s easy to see out of. That’s what most people want.”
  • Holmes chimes in: “Driving the Civic is like having oatmeal every day for breakfast. You’re not really happy you’re having oatmeal every day, but you’re not really upset about it, either.”
  • The split dashboard is still the weakest point of this car. It absolutely needs to change, and we can’t imagine why it hasn’t already.
  • It seems that Honda is using the same cloth for its seats that it used in the early 1990s. “But the seat under that cloth is fantastic,” says DeMatio.
  • Drive the Honda Civic if you eat kale, wear gently used Toms, and listen to that new artist that no one’s heard of yet (and probably never will).
  • If you post a Civic for sale on Craigslist, you will sell it in eight minutes. People will be banging on your front door, cash in hand. Even if it’s based on twenty-year-old logic, it shows that people still perceive the Civic to be king of the compact segment.
  • The Civic shows that once you get it right, stick with it and people will keep coming back.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta

  • “I’m blown away by how good this car is,” says DeMatio.
  • “This turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder is much better than the five-cylinder engine,” adds Zenlea.
  • That said, the Jetta’s lingering reputation for indifferent reliability makes us a bit worried that the new engine is being made in Mexico at an assembly plant that was just a dirt field a year ago.
  • Drive the Volkswagen Jetta if you eat granola, wear jeans that are snug but don’t reveal too much, and listen to NPR (rock is alright sometimes, but never too loud).
  • The Jetta requires a buyer who recognizes that there are decades of German automotive engineering behind the badge. This sounds like a cliché, but the German-engineered refinement of the Jetta puts it in a different class of sophistication than all of the other cars in this comparison.
  • Volkswagen’s leatherette is better than some leather.
  • “For me, this whole exercise comes down to the Volkswagen Jetta and the Mazda 3,” says deputy editor DeMatio.

Winner: 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE

The Honda Civic doesn’t feel as modern as the Volkswagen Jetta, and the Jetta moves into the final round.
Check back tomorrow for Day 5 of Automobile Magazine’s 2014 Compact Sedan Comparison Review as the 2014 Mazda 3 faces the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta to determine the best compact sedan in America.
8 Compact Sedan   Day Two   4 Car Group Image 1
Welcome to Day 2 of Automobile Magazine’s 2014 Compact Sedan Comparison Review, our test of the affordable, multipurpose small sedans that are ubiquitous on American roads.
As we noted in our Day 1 introduction, we gathered eight four-door compact sedans and drove all of them at the same time on the same roads. We made our notes and organized our facts. And then we argued about the results.
The way we see it, these are the best compact sedans in America right now. We tried to ensure that our test vehicles represent a useful level of features -- nicely equipped, as they say -- yet don’t cost too much. Given the practical realities of acquiring so many test vehicles at the same time, they aren’t all priced exactly the same, but we did our best.
The assembled group includes: the Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta. To make our comparisons as direct as possible, we organized a scheme where we matched the vehicles in brackets, like you would see in an athletic tournament (think March Madness). The losers will be knocked out one by one until the winner presents itself.
Today, on Day 2, we present an accounting of four vehicles, and two contenders will be eliminated. Tomorrow, on Day 3, we do the same, matching four vehicles and reducing the field to two. On Day 4, we’ll present excerpts from the test notebooks on our final four contestants and will select our two finalists. On Friday, Day 5, the two finalists will go head to head and we will declare the winner.
We start the tournament with these match-ups:
  • Dodge Dart vs. Mazda 3
  • Ford Focus vs. Kia Forte
2014 Dodge Dart And 2014 Mazda 3 Front View

2013 Dodge Dart vs. 2014 Mazda 3

2013 Dodge Dart GT Limited

2013 Dodge Dart GT Front Three Quarters View

The Dodge Dart GT was easily the most polarizing car in our field of compact competitors. People liked it; people hated it. The Dart was controversy on wheels, and we had a field day obsessing over what it all means. At the end of the day -- quite literally, since we drove these cars from Egg McMuffin time into the early evening -- we reached the conclusion that the Dart misses the mark in the compact-sedan segment.
Early in our deliberations, deputy editor Joe DeMatio called this car “the antithesis of the Honda Civic,” spelling trouble for the front-wheel-drive Dodge. We’ve long held the belief that compact cars should measure on the small side and have airy interiors with good visibility. That’s not the Dart, which has thick A-pillars and overstuffed seats, and it seems like there’s less room inside than its impressive 97.2 cubic feet of passenger volume and 42.2 inches of rear-seat legroom promise. Just a few years ago, this Dodge could have passed as a mid-size sedan, but now road test editor Christopher Nelson says, “I don’t think it fits and plays in this segment very well.”

Lots of stuff to like

There are still a lot of things about the Dodge Dart GT that we like quite a bit. Even the most vocal critics praised the brash, curvaceous styling. We also rated the Dart as one of the better values in the compact segment, since you get a lot of features for your dollar. Our Limited model came standard with LED-type ambient interior lighting, an 8.4-inch touchscreen interface for its entertainment and connectivity electronics, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. It had plenty of options, too, including seats upholstered in nappa leather, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, satellite radio, a sport suspension, 18-inch wheels, and black-chrome headlight bezels. Even the most fanatic supporters of minimalist compacts had to admit that the Dart is one of the nicest-equipped cars in this comparison.
In selecting the Dart GT model, we got a car with Dodge’s conventional six-speed automatic transmission instead of the clumsy-shifting dual-clutch automatic. Most of us liked the Dart’s powertrain. When you lay into the throttle, the peppy Tigershark four-cylinder comes to life with a growl; none of the other cars make much more than a grunt or a rasp when prodded. Associate editor David Zenlea noted that this engine is easily the best-sounding powerplant among our eight compact sedans.
Meanwhile, all of our options and upgrades did add up. The as-tested price of this 2013 Dodge Dart GT is $25,520, which is steep for many compact-car customers. Sticker shock could be a problem for the Dodge. Associate web editor Jake Holmes notes, “Pretty often there’s a Jeep showroom right next to the Dodge dealership. You can get two different Jeeps for the same price as this Dart GT, and they’re crossovers with all-wheel drive.”

One small step for quality

As DeMatio points out, the Dart is an easy car to overlook simply because it’s been so long since anything from Chrysler proved very competitive in this class. The Dodge Neon and Dodge Caliber both represented good ideas -- one a small car with personality that really set the stage for the Volkswagen New Beetle, the other a miniaturized crossover utility vehicle -- but both underachieved in the marketplace. “A whole generation has never been exposed to a decent small car from the Pentastar,” DeMatio says.
The Dart promises to change all that. While it’s not our favorite compact, it’s much better than simply decent and, most significant, it is the first vehicle that really leverages the full strength of the Fiat-Chrysler alliance. The Dart combines a Fiat four-cylinder engine, an Alfa Romeo package, and Dodge’s smart, muscular styling. It is assembled in Illinois (although only 57 percent of the parts are actually from the United States and Canada).
All this makes the Dodge Dart a truly international car designed and built with expertise from around the world. The Dart is not that far from becoming an impact player, and we expect Fiat and Chrysler to leave no stone unturned in their vast industrial empire to make this compact sedan better.
—Greg Migliore

2014 Mazda 3 i Touring

2014 Mazda 3 I Touring Rear Three Quarters View

The 2014 Mazda 3 wins style points in our comparison test, but it gets nicked for its lack of attention to detail. While most of our staff like the Mazda’s looks, chassis, and powertrain, several issues arose as we delved into the intricacies of the all-new front-wheel-drive compact from Mazda.
The devil is in the details, as the saying goes, and we found several little devils lurking in the Mazda 3. While we were keen on the rotary controller for the electronic screen on the dashboard, it was confusing to actually operate and scroll through the various infotainment screens. “I like the knob, but the software is not that simple,” associate web editor Jake Holmes lamented.
We also found plenty of little “yes, but…” annoyances. Deputy editor Joe DeMatio quibbled with the shift lever, which had an unusual manual mode. “Hate the up for downshift, down for upshift,” he said. Meanwhile, Molly Jean, senior editor of JeanKnowsCars.com, took issue with the driver’s seat, saying that “it seemed cheap and wasn’t that comfortable.”

Quit whining and drive

As car enthusiasts, our heads are turned by shapely sheetmetal. The 3 borrows its well-tailored look from its larger sibling, the Mazda 6. The gentle curves enclose some 96.3 cubic feet of passenger volume. Molly Jean, our fashion expert, said the 3 was the “best-looking car in the bunch.” Road test editor Christopher Nelson called its front end “striking” and “dramatic.”
Aesthetics aside, the Mazda 3 is an excellent expression of the brand’s familiar, satisfying, and sporting DNA. The new chassis with a long, 106.3-inch wheelbase is tight and handles well through corners. The electric-assist steering responds properly and even athletically, and the car as a whole has an eagerness others in this segment can’t match. Equally important is an overall improvement in ride quality; this car feels supple and composed on the road, like a fine European sedan.

40 mpg is the new standard

Our test car had a 155-hp, Skyactiv 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. DeMatio noted the seamless power delivery, and West Coast editor Michael Jordan was impressed with the quietness. Neither comes at a cost to efficiency. The EPA rates the Mazda 3 with this powertrain at 30 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway, which reminds us that 40 highway mpg is now the standard of measure in the compact sedan class.
As it turns out, the 2014 Mazda 3 sets a new standard in more than just sportiness and fuel economy. As much as we were occasionally vexed by some of the details, we appreciate how the 3 incorporates an array of comfort and convenience features, not to mention the sort of active-safety technology not often found at this end of the price scale.
As Nelson says, “When I got into it, I felt as if I had been here before. The steering is nicely weighted, the seats hold me well, and the car has a lively personality, even though it’s a lot more refined than ever before. This is a really balanced package for a car enthusiast. The Mazda 3 is the most fun car to drive.”
If that’s your priority for a selecting a compact sedan, then don’t sweat the details.
—Greg Migliore

Winner: 2014 Mazda 3

2014 Ford Focus And 2014 Kia Forte Front View

2014 Ford Focus vs. 2014 Kia Forte

2014 Ford Focus SE

2014 Ford Focus SE Front Three Quarters View

How quickly things change. We named the Ford Focus one of our 2013 Automobile Magazine All-Stars, but as soon as we laid eyes on this 2014 Ford Focus SE, the barrage of complaints began. In fact, laying eyes on the car was the catalyst for annoyance.
Despite the clean geometry of its shape, we aren’t very excited by this plainly trimmed, three-box sedan. The most interesting elements of this car are a spoiler on the trunk and 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, and even these are part of an optional appearance package. For us, the Focus hatchback looks considerably sharper and even offers more cargo room, although we acknowledge that a large part of the marketplace is still stuck in the ’70s and thinks a hatchback configuration is about as tasty as Marmite.
Nor did the Focus cabin win much applause, as it is far more cramped than the front-wheel-drive sedan’s exterior dimensions suggest -- kind of like the Tardis, only in reverse. The dash’s featureless expanse of hard plastic is too high for drivers to see the Focus's hood; the tall beltline will preclude small children from playing I Spy; and the back seat offers 38.0 inches of legroom, which feels more appropriate for a Ford Fiesta.

Wait, didn’t Ford invent connectivity in small cars?

Focus’s complex infotainment system was the object of much criticism. Editors likened the smattering of tiny plastic switches on the center stack to an old Motorola Razr flip phone, and that’s not meant to be a compliment. Above the maze of buttons, a tiny color screen squeezes so much information into so few pixels that we squinted to read it. "Ford has hung its hat on in-car connectivity, and you get this mess?" deputy editor Joe DeMatio wondered aloud.
Upgrading to MyFord Touch replaces those tiny buttons with a larger color screen, but we're not big fans of the Ford’s touch-type interface, either. Our Focus test car also lacked a backup camera and push-button start despite being the third most expensive of the eight cars in this test.

Getting it together on the road

Communicative steering and a taut chassis swing things back in the Ford's favor. The Focus is one of the most enjoyable of these cars to drive on twisty rural roads, as the chassis clings to the pavement through the bends with a handling balance that is decidedly European.
This precision doesn't come at the expense of ride comfort, as the Focus suspension smothers most road imperfections before they reach the cabin. The effort level required by the steering and brakes is on the firmer side, yet there’s lots of feedback to the driver, which makes the Focus more interesting to drive than most of its rivals. Some shoppers might be put off by the sporty bent, but we find it refreshing in a sea of anodyne compacts.
A 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 160 hp smoothly with a plain but not unpleasant sound. Compared with earlier versions of the Ford Focus, the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission in our 2014 tester shifted with significantly more smoothness and responsiveness, without hunting, lurching, or hesitation. While we nonconformists still prefer the Focus's excellent five-speed manual transmission, the improved dual clutch is no longer a deal breaker. This Focus SE’s powertrain is EPA rated at 28 mpg city/40 mpg highway.
The 2014 Ford Focus is not a bad car and is still one of the best-driving entries in its class, but its struggles here demonstrate just how quickly this segment has advanced. Since the Focus launched, rival compacts have debuted simpler in-car technology, roomier cabins, and crisper sheetmetal. What was worthy of an All-Star nod just over a year ago is already starting to feel past its prime.
– Jake Holmes

2014 Kia Forte EX

2014 Kia Forte EX Rear Three Quarters View


Things have changed for Korean cars. We would have hesitated to recommend the original Kia Forte, as its brittle ride, thrashing engines, and plain-jane cabin made it an also-ran compared with the refined Japanese and American entries in this segment. Imagine our delight to find that continual improvement has produced a truly competitive compact sedan in the 2014 Kia Forte.
The 2014 Forte (you can also buy a Forte5 hatchback and a Forte Koup two-door) is totally new, with fresher looks inside and out, new engine choices, and, best of all, proper suspension tuning. The last part proves to be the most important step forward, as the 2014 Kia Forte acquits itself well on all road surfaces. Gone are the harsh impacts that the old Forte produced over cracked pavement. At the same time, the new car is considerably better to hustle around a corner. The taut suspension is responsive, and while the car isn’t exactly eager, it settles into bends without wallowing. "This car has resilient, well-damped ride motions,” says West Coast editor Michael Jordan. “It’s a huge leap forward from the old Forte.”
We were less impressed by the electric-assist power steering, which offers no less than three different levels of effort, not one of which truly appeals. The Forte's steering is too vague and doesn't offer a realistic sense that the leather-wrapped wheel is actually pivoting the 16-inch alloys. "I don't think they quite have the steering that measures up to the rest of the car," says associate editor David Zenlea.

When it comes from Korea, you expect lots of style

From behind the wheel of the 2014 Kia Forte, the view is pleasant thanks to a modest architecture of curves and a selection of plastic materials that implies quality rather than dollar-conscious value. The touchscreen that dominates the center stack has intuitive software for operating the radio or Bluetooth phone, while the small trip computer provides lots of information in a simple format. The cabin is fairly spacious with 96.2 cubic feet of passenger volume, but there’s only 35.9 inches of rear-seat legroom, which is even less than the Focus. However, the Forte’s trunk capacity is 14.9 cubic feet, compared with the 13.2 cubic feet in the bustle behind the Focus, so we suppose some trade-offs are involved here.
The Forte doesn’t feature much in the way of flashy trim, yet it’s looks pretty good when you walk up to it in a parking lot. The swept-back headlights and "tiger nose" grille set the stage for a sedan that is modern and distinctive. LED running lights help the Forte stand out on crowded highways, and this reminds us that such jewelry was restricted to Audis not too long ago. The lone negative is the chrome trim around the windows and on the door handles, which looks cheap and distracts from the Forte’s otherwise smart appearances.

Power meant for cruising rather than play

There’s a 173-hp 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder engine under the hood of the Forte EX. A six-speed automatic transmission is your mandatory companion as well. The car proves plenty quick when the powertrain is provoked, but mostly the engine is demur and tractable in everyday driving.
That said, the fuel economy of the Forte EX lags behind the segment leaders, coming in 24 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. These figures would have made any compact sedan blush with pride just five years ago, but that is no longer the case. The cheaper Forte LX has a 148-hp 1.8-liter engine that makes 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway, but we think the extra 1 mpg doesn't justify giving up 25 hp and several pieces of standard equipment.
As it turns out, the 2014 Kia Forte EX gives you all this for $20,315, making it the lowest-priced car in this test. Standard equipment includes LED running lights, automatic headlights, power-folding mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a touchscreen interface for the audio system, satellite radio, and Bluetooth. On top of this, buyers get a segment-leading 10-year/100,000-mile warranty to help assuage outdated fears that Kia builds only disposable, bargain-basement cars.
We're here to tell you those fears are misguided. The 2014 Kia Forte is a well-rounded, world-class compact sedan that is good enough to compete with the segment leaders. It's so good, in fact, that we prefer it to the 2014 Ford Focus.
– Jake Holmes

Winner: 2014 Kia Forte EX

2014 Automobile Magazine Compact Sedan Comparison   Day One   8 Car Group Image 1
If you can’t build a good car for $200,000, probably you should just quit trying. It’s actually much harder to build a great $20,000 car, one with a spacious cabin, everyday comfort and convenience, plus thrifty performance, all without forcing people to turn their wallets inside out to find the last dollar. Really, it’s much easier to build a Bentley than a simple compact sedan.
These days, the average compact sedan must be as roomy as a Honda Accord from the last decade, deliver an array of features that any high-style Bentley would be happy to offer, and let you sail past the gas pumps. You can get a stripped-down compact sedan with a washable interior and funky steel wheels if you want, but you can also slide into a compact sedan equipped with voice-activated features, an array of active safety measures, and a chassis agile enough to make the drive to the store feel like a trip to France.
In fact, compact sedans are getting so uniformly good that it’s harder than ever to pick out the best. Nevertheless, Automobile Magazine’s comparison review of the best compact sedans in America will lead you to the final answer. Although some blood was spilled in the process, we have begun our compact sedan comparison by selecting eight cars that are making news in the marketplace right now: Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta.
Over the next five days, we’ll compare and contrast these cars in our own, unique bracket-style format and then present the winner.

Compact sedans, Automobile Magazine-style

Our comparison begins with a broad selection of compact sedans, which we define as five-passenger, four-door vehicles priced within hailing distance of $20,000. Such cars are meant to be driven to work, pick up kids from school, run errands, and occasionally make cross-country trips on the open road. They are multipurpose vehicles in a convenient size and are affordably priced. For some households, it is a second vehicle, but for many it is the only car at the curb.
These eight finalists represent the best aspects of the category, whether that means packaging efficiency, simple drivability, or electronic connectivity. By choosing one winner, we hope not only to define the current state of the compact sedan in America but also the character that people who read Automobile Magazine want in a practical, everyday compact car.
Just as you’d expect, we’ve picked models with thrifty engines, a useful array of convenience and safety features, and a spark of personality.

Compact sedans, bracket-style

We can’t pretend to be the average buyer, because, well, that would be impossible. Just like you, we are who we are. If you want complete objectivity unconfused by education, enthusiasm, experience, and just plain good taste, well, good luck to you.
We’ve again based our comparisons on bracket-style, head-to-head matchups, just as we did with our comparison of mid-size sedans. We’re not going to dumb down the process into some kind of SAT test, where like geeks we carefully add up the points scored in a thousand little categories of performance. When you do that, you reward broad-based mediocrity, not excellence. And at Automobile Magazine, we’re all about excellence.
We think the question of choice is personal and powerful, and a one-to-one confrontation between vehicles reveals character in a way that giant test groups do not.

Driving around pointlessly

Every car usually has a place to go, but when it comes to compact sedans, the destinations vary from the big old superstore to the nearest freeway on-ramp. So we didn’t overthink our route selection and simply headed to Kalamazoo, Michigan, from our editorial office in Ann Arbor. We took the back way there, running through fallow cornfields on the two-lane roads of America and then hammered home on the concrete slabs of Interstate 94.
As we’ve done in the past, we made our lunch stop at one of the local brew pubs for which Kalamazoo is known these days, and once again we picked Bell’s Brewery Eccentric Café. Naturally, no actual brew for us (rats!), but we did enjoy a selection of the usual organic stuff that you find in a college town, much of which involved bread, cheese, and potatoes. Ah, well, Kalamazoo is not exactly the Paris of western Michigan.

The map of the road ahead

Just like any road trip, it will take a while before this comparison test reaches its destination.
We begin the trip today by selecting the vehicles for our comparison: Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta.
For Day 2 and Day 3 of Automobile Magazine’s compact sedan comparison, there will be head-to-head matchups, with four vehicles involved each day. On Day 4, we’ll sum up some of what we’ve learned in our testing with excerpts from our big book of notes. On Day 5, we’ll stage the final head-to-head comparison and determine the winner.
If you want to compare our winner to a $205,825 Bentley Flying Spur, well, that’s up to you.
2014 Mazda3 Front Three Quarter Turn 02
Hollywood, California -- For the longest time, reasonably priced cars have been all about the size and shape of the package. It's as if a small car were some kind of cardboard shipping box that you dressed up with paint and crepe paper and then wore over your shoulders with a couple of straps like something from the class play.
So it's a bit of a surprise that Mazda has managed to make its reasonably priced 2014 Mazda 3 better to drive. Such a thing should not be possible. Once you introduce the factor of "reasonably priced," there's not much wiggle room for engineers, product planners, and designers to do anything special.
Yet, as we're zipping down Hollywood Boulevard in the shadow of the glamorous W Hotel and feeling rather glamorous ourselves in this pretty dramatic-looking Mazda 3, we can already tell that something special is going on.
Leaving behind the bright lights
Since we're headed toward the stretch of road in the San Gabriel Mountains where Mazda R&D does its ride-and-handling testing, we're going to have an opportunity to find out just how special this all-new car really is. Mazda has set out to make the 2014 Mazda 3 a driver's car, although maybe not in the way you expect. The mission here is to improve the interface between human and machine in a way that minimizes distractions and improves the experience of driving itself, which relates to safety as well as satisfaction.
New styling pulls the Mazda 3's A-pillars 3.9 inches farther rearward, providing not just a wider, more panoramic view through the windshield but also a sense of greater interior spaciousness. Moreover, the outside mirrors are mounted on the doors instead of the A-pillars to deliver a better view of the traffic behind the car, from where yet another BMW driver, in his little bubble of high-speed entitlement, is bound to emerge at any second.
Even the driving position itself is better, squared up to the front of the vehicle instead of being slightly twisted to the middle, which is typical. Your head is up and your focus is on the surrounding driving environment, which is much better than sitting in a hole facing a big wall of electronics.
Meanwhile, a head-up display projects the car's speed on a transparent plastic panel in the driver's line of sight. The screen for the electronics interface pops up from the dash at just the right distance to enhance visibility, while the information is expressed in a format determined by human factor studies to speed recognition (or so the Mazda engineers assert). The interface's rotary control on the center console also has been designed to be easy to operate without forcing you to look down.
It all means that your eyes spend more time on the road and less time inside the cockpit, even when you're toying with the wide range of connectivity features, from navigation to the voice that reads your email.
Bless this reasonably priced box
It may be the company's "reasonably priced box," but Mazda has nothing for which to apologize with the 2014 Mazda 3. Just as the Mazda 3 was a decade ago, before it went on to sell 3.5 million examples worldwide, the new Mazda 3 presents itself as a premium sort of expression, incorporating high style and a rich, fully equipped transportation experience.
Built on the platform architecture introduced by the Mazda CX-5 crossover utility and the Mazda 6 sedan, the new Mazda 3's 106.3-inch wheelbase is 2.4 inches longer than before, a dimension that fosters straight-line stability and a composed ride. Despite the longer wheelbase, the new Mazda 3 is actually 1.8 inches shorter than before as well as 0.6 inch lower. Plus it's 1.6 inches wider. It all adds up to 96.3 cubic feet of interior volume in the Mazda 3 sedan (the choice of 70 percent of buyers) and 96.4 cubic feet in the four-door hatchback.
Zoom-Zoom DNA is still in place
Of course, this is still a Mazda, and that zoom-zoom thing remains part of the corporate DNA within the 2014 Mazda 3. When you lean into the supportive backrest of the new, slimly tailored driver seat and lead the car into the sweeping bends of Big Tujunga Canyon Road, the all-new Mazda 3 feels, well, all-new.
Just like the larger Mazda 6 sedan, the front-wheel-drive Mazda 3 has the same steering geometry as a rear-wheel-drive car. The electric-assist power steering system delivers just enough steering effort to make the deliberate, predictable response from the front tires enjoyable on the open road and increases assist at low speeds for friendly maneuverability. Once you add a long wheelbase, available 215/45R-18 tires, and a resilient, carefully damped suspension setup, the new Mazda 3 drives more like a sport sedan than a reasonably priced car.
Even the engine and transmission choices play along. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder delivers 184 hp at 5700 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 3250 rpm, and the 2.0-liter four-cylinder makes 155 hp at 6000 rpm and 150 lb-ft at 4000 rpm. Both engines prefer midrange rpm and effortlessly carry the car along, notably when you choose the high-efficiency six-speed automatic over the six-speed manual transmission. The Mazda 3 isn't quick to the quarter-mile, but it is fast over a hundred miles, if you get our meaning. Plus, a 40-mpg EPA highway rating is possible if you pick the right model configuration.
Safety first, not last
Just as the Mazda 3 introduced premium comfort and convenience features to the category of reasonably priced cars a decade ago, the new 2014 Mazda 3 introduces the opportunity for such a car to have a complete suite of active safety features. The array includes automatic high-beam control, blind-spot monitoring, forward-obstruction monitoring, lane-departure monitoring, radar-operated cruise control, and low-speed active braking. Mazda reckons that making driving safer is part of making driving more fun.
All this adds up to a car that has a far more sophisticated approach to the driving experience than you usually find in this market segment. It's too soon to be making final judgments about the 2014 Mazda 3, however. We'll know more once we've taken an example on the road to Hell, Michigan, not just Angeles Crest Highway. But so far, we're excited that the Mazda 3 has been unexpectedly transformed from a pretty good little car into a pretty great little car.

2014 Mazda 3

Base Price Range: $16,700 - $24,850 (est.)
Engines: 2.0-liter I-4, 155 hp, 150 lb-ft; 2.5-liter I-4, 184 hp, 185 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, six-speed manual
Drive: Front-wheel
On Sale: September
2014 Mazda 3 Four Seasons Introduction Profile
2014 Mazda 3

New For 2014

The 2014 Mazda 3 is an all-new car.

Vehicle Summary

The compact Mazda 3 is the most popular car from the company from Hiroshima, Japan. When the previous-generation Mazda 3 came on the market, it set a new standard for drivability among small cars from Japan. Perhaps more important, the Mazda 3 also led the compact segment in adapting to buyers who wanted a higher level of standard and optional equipment than had been previously available in the segment. This was a radical step at a time when most carmakers were more interested in building cheap, bare-bones transportation. As a result, the Mazda 3 has become a top choice of people who value fuel efficiency and reliability yet also prefer sophisticated convenience and comfort features as well as spirited performance.


The 2014 Mazda 3 has been completely re-engineered for the new model year. The front-wheel-drive car's personality has been enhanced with an even greater degree of driving goodness and added safety features that are usually hard to find at this price point.

Available as a four-door sedan (particularly handsome) and a five-door hatchback (particularly useful), the 2014 Mazda 3 has a stout shell built from a high proportion of high-strength steel. More important might be the car's long wheelbase, which delivers an impressively composed, resilient ride on the highway and predictable, European-style handling when you take the long way home.

There's a choice between two engines, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 155 hp and a smooth-running, 2.5-liter four that makes 184 hp. A six-speed manual transmission is available for either engine, yet the six-speed automatic is a compelling choice, as special Mazda engineering has combined the smooth shifting and ability to creep in traffic that you expect from a traditional automatic with the responsive shifting and good fuel efficiency that comes from the latest dual-clutch automatics. With the automatic in place, the 2.0-liter engine delivers as much as 30 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. The 2.5-liter four gets as much as 28/37 mpg.

The 2014 Mazda 3 comes in three trim levels and can be outfitted with enough options that it becomes a less expensive and more fuel-efficient alternative to mid-size sedans. Among these options are a range of safety-oriented technologies, such as adaptive, distance-controlled cruise control; obstruction warning with brake assist; and a rear-view camera plus parking sensors.

You'll like:

  • Two-lane handling agility
  • Four-lane ride quality
  • Convenience and safety features

You won't like:

  • Road noise
  • Nav system is best for directions, not maps
  • Looks of envy from Toyota Corolla owners

Key Competitors

  • Ford Focus
  • Honda Civic
  • Kia Forte
  • Toyota Corolla
2014 Mazda 3 S Touring Front Three Quarter In Motion
For years, Mazda has been a bit of a “locals only” secret spot where you’d find the in-crowd hitting its four-wheeled waves, leaving mainstream consumers to surf the popular swells of sheetmetal from Toyota and Honda. But word is getting out. From the CX-5 crossover to the Mazda6 midsize sedan, Mazda is slowly gaining popular appeal, and the most important car in Mazda’s move away from being a badly kept secret is the compact Mazda3.
2014 Toyota Corolla S Front Three Quarters In Motion
The Toyota Corolla retook the number-one sales spot from the Honda Civic this past month, selling 30,883 units to the Civic's 30,038. The Hyundai Elantra again came in third place, with sales of 22,213, but improved its performance from last month.

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2014 Mazda MAZDA3 Specifications

Quick Glance:
2.0L I4Engine
Fuel economy City:
29 MPG
Fuel economy Highway:
41 MPG
155 hp @ 6000rpm
150 ft lb of torque @ 4000rpm
  • Air Conditioning
  • Power Windows
  • Power Locks
  • Power Seats (optional)
  • Steering Wheel Tilt
  • Cruise Control (optional)
  • Sunroof (optional)
  • ABS
  • Stabilizer Front
  • Stabilizer RearABS
  • Electronic Traction Control
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • Locking Differential (optional)
  • Limited Slip Differential (optional)
  • Airbag Driver
  • Airbag Passenger
  • Airbag Side Front
  • Airbag Side Rear (optional)
  • Radio
  • CD Player (optional)
  • CD Changer (optional)
  • DVD (optional)
  • Navigation (optional)
36,000 miles / 36 months
60,000 miles / 60 months
Unlimited miles / 60 months
36,000 miles / 36 months
Recall Date
Mazda North America Operations (Mazda) is recalling certain model year 2014 Mazda3 vehicles manufactured June 12, 2013, through December 18, 2013, and model year 2014-2015 Mazda6 vehicles manufactured May 20, 2013, through December 4, 2013, and both equipped with a 2.5L engine and a regenerative engine braking system. When driving the affected vehicles in heavy rain or in deep puddles, the alternator belt may slip causing the Power Control module (PCM) to incorrectly assume failure of the charging system.
Once the PCM assumes that the charging system has failed, the vehicle will stop charging and could result in poor acceleration, loss of steering assist and windshield wiper operation, and a possible engine stall, increasing the risk of a crash.
Mazda will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the PCM with updated software, free of charge. The recall began on May 19, 2014. Owners may contact Mazda at 1-800-222-5500. Mazda's number for this recall is 7314D.
Potential Units Affected
Mazda North American Operations

IIHS Front Small Overlap
NHTSA Rating Front Driver
Not Rated
NHTSA Rating Front Passenger
Not Rated
NHTSA Rating Front Side
Not Rated
NHTSA Rating Rear Side
Not Rated
NHTSA Rating Overall
Not Rated
NHTSA Rating Rollover
Not Rated
IIHS Front Moderate Overlap
IIHS Overall Side Crash
IIHS Best Pick
IIHS Rear Crash
IIHS Roof Strength

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