2014 Mazda 3 S Touring - Four Seasons Wrap-Up
The worst-kept secret around.
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.
More than a decade ago, the first Mazda3 filled a Protegé-shaped hole and set itself apart by being somewhat sporty in a segment devoid of sportiness. The second Mazda3 came out a few years later and set it further away from the norm, thanks to its clownish grin and fluidic styling. This third-generation car pushes even more, swapping quirkiness for sexiness. Staff and passersby alike couldn't ignore the hatchback's handsome, modern styling. The S Touring model we ordered for our Four Seasons test came with gloss-black grille trim, xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, and 18-inch aluminum wheels. "No one would be embarrassed driving this car," says road test editor Chris Nelson, who ferried the Mazda to his parents' home near Chicago on its first adventure. "My dad sure wasn't. He took it every morning just to run errands."
Hail to the hatch: We loved the usability of our five-door, and it looks better than the sedan, too.
While the car's exterior grabbed attention, the interior didn't. Some were quick to call it dull, but the combination of its clean design and generous equipment list made up for a lack of spice. The S Touring trim is not fully loaded, but we were satisfied with the heated leatherette front seats, the navigation system, and three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching. We could have done without the cheap-looking, pop-up head-up display though.
Black-tie affair: Our car's dark interior was a bit grim but impressed us with its high-quality materials.
The more posh exterior and upgraded cabin digs are welcome, but it's still superior driving dynamics that set the new Mazda3 ahead of the pack. As associate Web editor Jake Holmes notes, "The Mazda3 is incredibly satisfying to drive at all times, far more so than we expect from cars in this segment. At this price point you don't often see such a lively and responsive engine, quick-shifting transmission, sporty steering feel, and taut chassis combined so seamlessly. I can see myself owning this car for many years without getting bored."
Before we had much time to enjoy the Mazda's stellar dynamics on dry roads, one of the worst winters on record tore through Michigan. We called Tire Rack and coughed up $895.82 to purchase, mount, and balance a set of Pirelli Sottozero Serie II winter tires. The investment proved well worth it, as the Mazda3 maintained its composed ride and tight steering in wicked ice and snow. We did notice, however, that the winter tires exacerbated one of the Mazda3's pitfalls—interior noise. "Particularly on the highway, tire and wind noise are bothersome and drown out the audio system," associate Web editor Joey Capparella said.
We had plenty of time to evaluate the Mazda's highway behavior when it, and nine other All-Stars winners, went on our 2014 All-Stars victory lap from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to New Orleans and back. It wasn't the most polished car we took on the trip, but the 2014 Mazda3 held its own against much sexier, much pricier steel. "You'd think that this $26,000 mainstream hatch would be overshadowed by All-Stars like the Audi RS7, Cadillac CTS Vsport, and Porsche Cayman S, but it wasn't," Capparella reflected.
During the trip to the Big Easy, we had to deal with one of the few problems that the 2014 Mazda3 had during its year in our care. The otherwise-intuitive infotainment system went on the fritz, suddenly losing all Bluetooth, audio, and navigation functionality after start-up. The problem had first cropped earlier, at around 4,000 miles during a road trip to Philadelphia, necessitating a dealer visit to perform a quick and painless software update. When it hit the second time, in New Orleans, we were able to fix the bug temporarily by disconnecting and reconnecting the battery before a second software update fixed the problem for good. Another issue we had in New Orleans came in the form of a bubble on the passenger-side rear tire, which we were forced to replace with a mismatched Cooper Zeon ZPT tire ($199.18).
No big deal. By the time we'd returned to Michigan, the roads had thawed, and the 2014 Mazda3 went back onto its stock all-season tires. That's also when we decided to see if the car's fuel efficiency measured up to its great driving dynamics. Comparing our car to a similarly equipped 2014 Honda Civic, the Mazda3 and its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission proved to be damn near as efficient as the Civic and its smaller 1.8-liter inline-four with a continuously variable transmission. On a 200-mile combined loop, the Mazda3 averaged 37.3 mpg to the Civic's 37.7 mpg. Observed mpg over the course of our 12-month test came out to 30.9 mpg, matching the EPA's combined rating of 31 mpg. With that kind of efficiency, it's worth it to pony up for the added power of the larger engine compared with the standard 155-hp, 2.0-liter engine in the i model, which returns 33 mpg combined.
Senior editor David Zenlea said it best: "Like everyone else, I continue to be impressed by this car's dynamic capabilities. A compact car with an automatic transmission is typically the most boring form of transportation on the market, as bland and forgettable as instant oatmeal. Not this one."
The 2014 Mazda3 may be unforgettable after a drive, but the real challenge is getting the masses behind the wheel. Just north of 100,000 buyers bought a Mazda3 in 2014, which is still barely a shadow of the Honda Civic's 2014 sales of 325,981. And that's unfortunate, seeing how the Mazda3 is a more compelling vehicle than all of its competitors. "If people still think of Mazda as a budget badge playing second fiddle to the other Japanese brands, they haven't driven one lately," Capparella said.
By now, it should be no secret that Mazda is building some of the best cars regular folk can buy, Mazda3 included. We've long been convinced, and a satisfying year spent with Mazda's humble compact hatch only solidifies the automaker's place in our heart. But until the buying public believes something like the 2014 Mazda3 can be the best in its segment, Mazda will stay the worst-kept secret around—and we'll happily keep riding its waves, waiting for everyone else to show up.
Pros & Cons
+ Fuel-efficient engine
+ Class-leading driving dynamics
+ Attractive design with good build quality
- Stiffer ride than most mainstream compacts
- Buggy infotainment system
- Tiresome wind and road noise
3-yr/36,000-mile roadside assistance
7,642 mi: $72.93
19,386 mi: $88.34
4,502 mi: Software update to fix broken
16,677 mi: Software update to fix broken
1,540 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance replacement for flat Dunlop SP Sport 5000 tire, $216.60
2,963 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance Pirelli Sottozero Serie II winter tires, $895.82
4,502 mi: Mazda all-weather floormats, $103.45
11,937 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance Cooper Zeon ZPT winter tire to replace a bulging tire, $199.18
13,177 mi: Balance and remount Dunlop SP Sport 5000 all-season tires, $100.00
EPA city/highway/combined: 27/37/31 mpg
Observed: 30.9 mpg
Cost Per Mile
(Fuel, service, winter tires) $0.20
($0.50 including depreciation)
*Estimate based on information from Intellichoice
- Our Test Results
- 0â60 mph 7.4 sec
- 60-0 mph 119 ft
- 1/4âmile 15.6 @ 91.0 mph
- Top Speed 130 mph
- Skidpad 0.83 g
- Body style 5-door hatchback
- Accommodation 5-passenger
- Construction Steel unibody
- Base price (with dest. ) $25,890
- As tested $26,185
- Engine 16-valve DOHC I-4
- Displacement 2.5 liters (152 cu in)
- Power 184 hp @ 5700 rpm
- Torque 185 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm
- Transmission 6-speed automatic
- Drive Front-wheel
- EPA Fuel Economy 27/37/31 (city/hwy/combined)
- Steering Electrically assisted
- Lock-to-lock 2.6 turns
- Turning circle 37.1 ft
- Suspension, Front Strut-type, coil springs
- Suspension, Rear Multilink, coil springs
- Brakes F/R Vented discs/discs
- Wheels 18-inch aluminum
- Tires Dunlop SP Sport 5000
- Tire size 215/45R-18 89W
- Headroom F/R 38.6/37.5 in
- Legroom F/R 42.2/35.8 in
- Shoulder room F/R 57.2/54.4 in
- Wheelbase 106.3 in
- Track F/R 61.2/61.4 in
- L x W x H 175.6 x 70.7 x 57.3 in
- Passenger capacity 96.4 cu ft
- Cargo capacity 20.2/47.1 cu ft
- Weight 3002 lb
- Weight dist. F/R N/A
- Fuel capacity 13.2 gal
- Est. fuel range 400 miles
- Fuel grade 87 octane (regular unleaded)
- Xenon headlights
- Halogen fog lights
- LED DRLs
- Gloss black grille
- Rear spoiler
- Bright beltline trim
- 18-inch aluminum wheels
- Heated exterior mirrors
- LED taillights
- Leatherette-trimmed seats
- 6-way power driverâs seat
- Heated front seats
- Automatic dual-zone climate control
- Keyless entry and ignition
- 60/40-split folding rear seats
- Front center armrest
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob, and brake handle
- Head-up display
- 7-inch touchscreen w/center controller
- 9-speaker Bose audio system
- SiriusXM satellite radio w/4-month trial subscription
- Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity
- 2 USB ports
- Pandora, Aha, Stitcher, and HD radio
- Cruise control
- Paddle shifters
- Rearview camera
- Rear cross-path detection
- Blind spot monitoring system
- Door-sill plates $125
- Rear bumper guard $100
- Cargo mat $50