Happily answering the call to visit some college friends who currently live in Iowa City, I got the chance to take the new 2014 Mazda 3 on its first long-distance road trip since joining our Four Seasons fleet. Eager to see if the sporty little 184-hp hatch could keep me entertained for seven hours on the highway, I set off from Ann Arbor with high expectations.
The trusty 2014 Mazda 3 didn’t disappoint, but it did surprise me. While staffers here have praised the 2014 Mazda 3 for its agile driving dynamics and nicely-weighted steering feel, the colossally boring nighttime drive due west across Michigan and Illinois instead meant I became much more acquainted with the hatchback’s redesigned interior.
While I tend to agree with copy editor Rusty Blackwell, who finds the dark-colored interior “somewhat drab,” there’s a lot to be said for its refinement and usability. The infotainment system was surprisingly intuitive, with a responsive touchscreen and handy center-console-mounted knob. Volume control and voice activated commands built into the steering wheel made fuddling with the music and Bluetooth-connected phone a total breeze.
Four hours in, I noticed how I was still reasonably comfortable (aside from a slumbering left leg) sitting in the 2014 Mazda 3’s leather seats, and then it hit me Death Star-style -- that’s no leather! Road test editor Chris Nelson had a similar reaction, noting that the interior’s “Very nice leather s…leatherette?! Damn, that’s some nice faux heifer.” The seats are soft and plenty supportive for longer journeys, although the back seat is definitely a little tight for most passengers.
Finally off the highway, I noticed two things. First, poor lighting on rural Iowan roads means stop signs seem to magically appear out of the corn. Second, the 2014 Mazda 3’s front-vented and solid rear disc brakes work very, very well.
After catching up with my friends and turning in for the evening, the next day was full of action for the 2014 Mazda 3. Between shopping for groceries, loading up on junk at a local consignment shop, and taking the little hatch slightly off-road to explore the fascinating Devonian fossil gorge, the Mazda 3 held its own. The 20.2 cubic feet of cargo space proved plenty, and the optional cargo mat helped keep everything nicely in place as we hit a few off-road bumps.
The modern-styled Japanese hatchback looked comically out of place in a town full of big domestic trucks and sedans, so much so that a nice fellow in a Mazda Miata excitedly beeped and pointed at us from across the intersection, ecstatic to meet another Mazda in amidst a sea of Americana. Sticking out like a sore thumb in an unfamiliar place is never ideal, but it was definitely worth a good laugh as we slowly cruised down blustery Iowa City’s narrow streets.
Having confidently conquered its first road trip, the 2014 Mazda 3 is proving to be a welcome addition to our fleet. Its next big obstacle is braving the brutal Michigan winter.