A Zooming David
Mazdas are synonymous with zoom. Though this verb was a marketing declaration, it still correctly describes the zippy acceleration and sporty handling offered by models like the 2017 Mazda3. Offered in either four-door sedan or five-door hatchback body styles, the updated 2017 3 has taken the approach of not altering a winning formula of sharp looks, solid build quality, impressive engines and great value.
Fuel efficiency is a big deal in the price-sensitive compact class, and the Mazda 3 acquits itself well. The base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with an automatic transmission earns an EPA estimated 28-mpg city/38-mpg highway/31-mpg combined. The manual transmission pays a city and highway fuel economy penalty of one mpg.
For those who want more zoom, the 2.5-liter four has an EPA rating of 27 city/36 highway/30 combinded with the automatic, while the manual shifter registers 25 city/34 highway/29 combined.
Mazda3’s model range consists of three trims:
- Sport, $18,720 including destination charges;
- Touring, $21,320; and
- Grand Touring, $24,020.
Automatic transmission models add $1,050.
Mild 2017 Refresh
An all-new 2013 Mazda3 with flowing curves, sculpted surfaces and shrink-wrapped body volumes replaced the bluff and ungainly looks of the second-generation car. For the 2017 refresh, however, those expecting any sweeping exterior shift will be disappointed as nothing stands out as new unless you know specifically what to look for. Updates to the exterior include a new front grille, the integration of LED headlights, altered fog lights and redesigned bumper.
Underneath the bodywork, there are no engine changes for the 2017 Mazda3. Mazda’s range of high-compression SkyActiv engines have gained praise for their strong performance for displacement, overall reliability and fuel efficiency. The base engine is a direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which has 155 horsepower and 150 pounds-feet of torque—enough zoom to quickly get up to speed.
For an even livelier ride, the Touring 2.5 and Grand Touring trims use a 2.5-liter four, boosting output to 184 horsepower and 185 pounds-feet of torque. As before, either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission is available regardless of engine choice, something that can’t be said about many of the 3’s rivals, which limit manual-transmission availability to the basement models.
As for the 3’s mechanicals, the most significant addition is Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, which helps improve handling and reduces driver fatigue. The system eliminates a small amount of engine torque while turning to load the outside front tire, increasing cornering force. Full power comes back on after the steering wheel straightens, effectively transferring weight to the rear of the vehicle and adding stability.
Inside the 2017 Mazda3, updates are a bit more noteworthy. A new steering wheel similar to that in Mazda’s CX-9 crossover can be heated. An electric parking brake now frees up center-console storage space and nicer materials grace the door panels and seats The optional head-up display is now full color rather than monochromatic.
Drivers of all shapes and sizes should have no problem getting comfortable behind the steering wheel of the 3. There’s a good range of adjustment on the seat, and the steering wheel moves in and out as well as up and down. Lumbar adjustment is standard on the driver’s seat, even on entry-level editions, while a centrally mounted armrest can be used by both front occupants.
The driver stares down the barrel of a trio of instrument cowls: a clear, classic speedometer flanked by digital screens showing engine speed and a fuel gauge. There are dense, soft-touch plastics on most of the dashboard, and smart enough finishes and flourishes of chrome in the right places. All of the major controls are within easy reach and the touchscreen can also be operated via a dial positioned between the front seats. All of the major controls are within easy reach and the parts of the cabin you routinely touch—heater controls, door handles, gearlever and steering wheel–feel solid and well-finished.
Rear passenger space isn’t anything to complain about, but won’t win any accolades either. The Mazda3 is a compact car, so hauling three adults in the back seats for long distances isn’t recommended. However, the rear seat is split 60/40 and it folds to a pretty flat position, making it easy to slide in longer loads. Behind the seats there’s a respectable 12.2 cubic feet of cargo space, enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries.
Mazda3 Model Lineup
The Mazda3 Sport comes standard with a rearview camera, push-button start, two USB ports, Bluetooth phone and audio, a six-speaker sound system, HD Radio and a voice-controlled Mazda Connect infotainment system with a seven-inch touch screen.
Stepping up to the Mazda3 Touring brings standard dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats and leatherette upholstery. Also standard are pre-collision braking and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
The top-of-the-line Mazda3 Grand Touring model comes standard with leather seats and a head-up display. Adaptive headlights, a heated steering wheel with paddle shifters and navigation can be added for $1,600. For $1,100, a safety package adds lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and traffic sign recognition.
2017 Mazda3 on the Road
I found the 2017 Mazda3 to be an honest, old-fashioned, quiet kind of driver’s car with a clean, coherent, uncorrupted agility about it. There were no tricks in its armory; it didn’t manipulate my perception of its handling with darting directness, sudden changes in the rate of response or excess control weight. It had a taut, but progressive body control and medium, well-balanced grip levels, and was unerringly consistent in its replies to my inputs.
I was able to familiarize myself with it in an instant, knowing immediately where its limits were, and guided it from corner to corner instinctively, smoothly and precisely—and quickly, if I wanted to. Out on the streets and highways, the little sedan went wherever I pointed it without complaint, with a communicative chassis and decent power, which was further enhanced by the Sport Mode that holds gears longer. The stability control system stayed in the background until needed, and the accelerator pedal and steering remained consistent and communicative.
On handling alone, the Mazda3 absolutely deserves consideration alongside a Ford Focus or a Volkswagen Golf—but it doesn’t quite have the suppleness and rough-road composure of the Ford or Volkswagen. It was, however, zesty and energetic to the end.
In the past, exceeding the Mazda3’s EPA’s fuel economy numbers were always easy, a trait that continues for the 2017 model. After a week with the 3, I handed the keys back to Mazda with an additional 282 miles on the odometer and a fuel economy readout of 32.2 mpg—not the best in the segment, but close.
In the Marketplace
Honda’s Civic and the Mazda3 are pretty evenly matched. If you want a comfortable cruiser with excellent fuel economy, go with the Civic. For sportier handling and a lower price, the Mazda3 is the way to go. With better handling than a Toyota Corolla and sleeker styling than a VW Golf, the 2017 Mazda3 covers a lot of different bases. On the flip side, the Corolla and Nissan Sentra have more interior room, the Civic gets better gas mileage, while the VW GTI offers more power. Need better traction in winter? The Subaru Impreza comes with standard all-wheel drive. The Focus offers an electric version as does the Golf.
If all you need is roomy front seating and a low sticker price, there are lots of appliances competing for your checkbook. The 2017 Mazda3 is a premium tool much like David’s well-aimed sling. It’s a direct hit that takes on the Goliaths in design, dynamics, and features.
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