2014 Mazda3: First Drive

Mazda3duo

Just reaching dealers now, the redesigned 2014 Mazda3 is far from perfect — it remains a bit cramped, and our drive through the mountain roads northeast of San Diego in both sedan and hatchback body styles suggests little advancement in ride quality — but the redesign gives compact-car shoppers an alluring choice outside and in, with a satisfying mix of efficiency and performance.

Mazda3sedan

Styling Hits

The third-generation Mazda3 is lower and wider than its predecessor, and it loses the 2013 model's grille. Perhaps the worst aspect of the last Mazda3, it smiled at you, creepy clown lips and all on the MazdaSpeed edition. Many onlookers frowned. And Derek Jenkins, Mazda's North American design chief, was one of them. "I'll be honest, it wasn't my favorite," he told reporters on Sept. 18.

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Jenkins arrived at the Japanese automaker after that car's development, so blame the last guy. Jenkins' handiwork appears on this new 3. Mazda says it moved the A-pillars 3.9 inches backward versus the outgoing car, and the results give the hatchback a cab-rearward, sort of tennis-shoe profile. The sedan wears them better, with short overhangs and a menacing face — but on both cars, a front license plate will all but ruin the look. The tail could use more of what the front received; it's a spitting image of the Hyundai Elantra sedan.

Mazda3int

But this is a svelte car — especially inside, where an optional dash-mounted, tablet-like 7-inch screen steals the show. Dubbed Mazda Connect, the system has various apps you work through the touch-screen or a knob controller which has flanking shortcut keys and a handy, Audi-like volume knob. The optional SD-card navigation system boasts crisp graphics, fast map rendering and swipe-to-move map scrolling. You can also scroll or zoom the map with the knob. It would make a compelling smartphone alternative but for Mazda's insistence on locking out all map scrolling — with the touch-screen or control knob — while the car is moving. Bah.

Mazda3screen

Materials have improved over the previous Mazda3, with convincing faux-metal details and piano blacks down the console. Rich-looking, padded surfaces line the upper doors where hard, coarse graining once sat. Cheap headliner and budget rear door trim revert to the compact-car norm, but the Mazda3 competes — and wins — in many other tactile areas.

Drivetrains

Our 2.0-liter Mazda3 i Touring proved capable with two adults aboard, with smooth revving and a decent plateau of usable power. Mazda's SkyActiv direct-injected four-cylinder makes the same 155 horsepower and 150 pounds-feet of torque as before, but thanks to revised exhaust routing and a higher compression ratio, Mazda says the torque curve is a bit broader. Our tester's six-speed automatic has its ups and downs; it kicks down smoothly at higher speeds but suffers long, widely spaced low gears. First gear is a lengthy wind-out, and 2nd dumps revs to begin the ascension all over again.

Mazda3gauges

Lifted from the Mazda6 and CX-5, the 184-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder mates to the same long gearing transmission, but its extra 35 pounds-feet of torque makes the journey up the tach more enjoyable. The extra thrust comes in handy at all speeds, but there isn't a vast difference between the two. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder can also come with a six-speed manual, but Vehicle Line Manager Dave Matthew promised a manual will come on the 2.5-liter engine eventually. We only drove the automatic. Mazda ditched last year's electro-hydraulic power steering for a fully electric setup this year, and the results are mixed. Steering inputs come with a light touch, and the wheel avoids feeling buoyant or over-boosted at low speeds. At higher speeds, however, I wanted the car to settle in better; it requires periodic corrections to stay on course.

Both our testers' tires hugged the road, though the conditions (dry, with temperatures in the 80s) favored traction, both for the Mazda3 and every competing model Mazda furnished. Understeer arrives progressively in the Mazda3, though not to any greater degree with the 2.5-liter engine. The car attacks corners with little body roll and progressive steering feedback, but some may wish for quicker turn-in precision. The nose reacts a tad slowly to initial steering inputs; the 2014 Toyota Corolla is sleepier still, but the Ford Focus and Honda Civic both respond sooner.

Over the drive route's few rough patches, the Mazda3 appeared to ride no differently than its firm predecessor. Tuned for the same ride across both drivetrains, the suspension cushions bumps well enough. But it settles into a steady rhythm of mild disruption over undulating pavement — despite Mazda increasing this generation's wheelbase by 2.4 inches, which should aid isolation. The Mazda3 rides a lot like the Civic; the Focus isolates better, and my memory tells me the Chevrolet Cruze — absent from Mazda's competitive set — does, too.

Still, Mazda gets high marks for noise control. Gone is the car's pervasive road and wind roar; with 16-inch wheels, the Mazda3 impressed me even at 70 mph. The 18s kick up more road noise.

Mazdabackseats

Seating, Space

The front seats proved firm but comfortable over my daylong drive, with large bolsters that hold you in without pinching your sides. (Or I've lost weight. And I seriously doubt that.) The driver's seat — six-way manual or power, depending on trim — adjusts far enough back for taller drivers; my 6-foot frame had an inch or so of rearward adjustment range to spare. Still, some drivers may want more space for their knees. The Mazda3 feels closer to the Ford Focus, whose high center console confines your right knee. Lower consoles in the Honda Civic and 2014 Toyota Corolla leave more space. Not that Mazda puts the bulk to good use: From the glove compartment to the door pockets and center console, storage areas are small.

Leatherette (vinyl) upholstery goes in uplevel 2.0-liter Mazda3 i trims, with real — and perceptibly richer — leather reserved for the 2.5-liter Mazda3 s. The backseat has enough legroom and headroom. But the bench sits low to the floor, which will leave adults' knees elevated, and a significant center floor hump guarantees discomfort for any fifth passenger. Add it all up, and the Mazda3 sedan's 96.3 cubic feet of cabin volume is near the head of the class (and up 2.2 cubic feet from before) but it doesn't feel that way.

Mazda3cargo
Mazda3trunk

Cargo room is up to 12.4 cubic feet in the sedan from last year's 11.8 cubic feet, but that's still behind the class. And the Mazda3 hatchback's expanded cargo space — now 20.2 cubic feet behind the backseat or 47.1 cubic feet with the seats folded — still trails the Hyundai Elantra GT (23.0/51.0 cubic feet) and Subaru Impreza (22.5/52.4) hatches.

Outright utility may still come up short, but other strengths give the Mazda3 reason to push hard for a seat at the table. The prior generation was far and away Mazda's bestseller, outselling every Mazda car plus the CX-9 SUV and Mazda5 minivan combined through August. Still, its sales volume can't hold a candle to the compact-car segment's five bestsellers: the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Toyota Corolla, listed alphabetically. Those five combined for nearly two-thirds of all non-luxury compact sales, leaving more than half a dozen other nameplates to fight for the remnant.

But four of the five mainstays are approaching middle age, with redesigns dating back to 2011 or 2012, and Mazda hopes more than a few shoppers will notice the redesigned Mazda3's looks — and zero-in on the EPA-estimated combined mileage in the low-to-mid 30s across the line-up.

Cars.com photos by Kelsey Mays

Mazda3front

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Mazda Prices 2014 Mazda3
2014 Mazda3 Hatchback: First Look
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Comments 

Xsolara

Interesting perspective on this car. This is the first sort of negative review on the new Mazda 3 .... I wonder who's review is more accurate

Skankzilla

This would be my #1 choice hands down. Can't wait to see the Mazdaspeed version!

Martin

This is a naturally progressive redesign over the last model. While it looks good, it still looks familiar - in a Mazda kind of way. I still think it's better looking that the 2014 Corolla, which looks really cheap on the outside (and inside too). This is closer to the Dart svelte than the heavily derived Corolla.
The dash is nicely shaped, but really bland, just take away the optional nav screen, and look at the instrument/gauge cluster - it's boring. I wonder how roomy that back seat really is.
I think this is a good review; others tend to be too emotional. A comparison test is surely needed.

Kj

Looking at the front of this car I don't even see a flat enough surface to install a license plate.

Tony

License plate goes right under Mazda logo. Thankfully, here in PA we don't have front plate.

Tony

Let me tell you all the negative about this car and this is same negative for 2013 model - it is not a spacy car. It is driver's car. And this is not bad. Other than that there is nothing wrong with Mazda3. Mazda3 3 has list of advantages over competition. In 5MT variant, it is probably the best of them all. Here author say, " The Mazda3 rides a lot like the Civic" - this is exactly what I felt when test drove 2011 Mazda3 and Civic. They were like twins. Same ride, same interior space, same trunk, same noise. But Mazda3 packaging, interior, access to 5MT and price won me over Civic.

George

Totally needs an 8 speed automatic with the 2.0.
The 2.5 liter engine is pointless once Mazda upgrades the transmission.

Tony

No, it doesn't. SkyActiv is about weight reduction. Adding 2 gears may add another 50lb to a car.

bryanska

ugh, I really want a Mazda after having a Miata for 3 years. But Mazda continues to fail at designing a space-efficient, ergonomic interior. Whether it's the 6 (tall dash), CX5 (tight rear seat) or this 3 (small without reason) I just can't get on board. Why can't they offer a Mazdaspeed 5, or at least one with a big engine?

Mark E. Mark

Nope, the 3 drives a world apart from the Civic (except the Si). The Civic does have a roomier interior with better designed dash..but the steering and acceleration of the 3 blow away the dull as anything Civic..I know I've been shopping this market heavily now for a month and used to own an Si--the regular civics are awful now to drive.

Tony

bryanska,
if you need room, buy a minivan. If you want zoom zoom get Mazda3 and don't complain. Mazda fails nothing. It always has a character.

Tony

Mark E. Mark,

Civic's dash is better? You're kidding!!!... I hope.
Digital speedometer alone is enough to vomit just by looking at that dash. And roomier interior in 2011 Civic I attribute to large crease between dash and long windshield. But that "room" is not usable. Other than that spot, it is about the same

Anxious to see one in person

The Civic was #1 on my list until I test drove it. The dashboard is dominated by neon blue lights that made me feel like I was in a cheap sci fi movie. Now that 2014 Mazda3 is at the top of my list. Please hurry!!!

John

Can you able to compare with Forte/Cerato 2014?

Tiffany

I'd love to see that 2014 Forte/Cerato comparison too

Dave A

I have been shopping for a new ride, and I made my decision today: I went with the new Mazda 3 S Touring. I didn't care about the moonroof, and the leatherette seemed just as comfortable as the leather. So, I went with the touring over the GT for some cost savings right off the top.

I echo others (wishing the stronger engine could come paired with a manual transmission). But, as far as automatics go, the Mazda is pretty damn good.

I was originally checking out some larger sedans, so excuse my comparing apples and oranges a bit here. In my test drives, I found the CVT drone of the altima and accord annoying. Also, all the 2013 Accord reviews suggested that the interior materials had been greatly improved over the previous generation. All I can say is I would have hated to have experienced them before because I thought the Accord felt the cheapest of all the Japanese economy cars I've driven.

The Mazda interior looks more elegant and feels more substantial than its price tag would have you believe. And it is incredibly fun to drive.

One area that definitely needs to be addressed in the Mazda 3 is the shrinking visibility as is the case with other new cars as well, mainly caused by a raised belt line. The rear window of the hatch seems like a mere slit, like in an armored car. The back passenger windows are small as well. Even the windshield could stand to offer better visibility. It takes some of the fun out of driving a light responsive car if you can barely see the road. Once this problem is addressed, the Mazda 3 will be a clear winner.

eiler

I like it overall though there are a few things I dislike. I think the rear looks kind of boring and I am not keen on the squinty-narrow rear light array. I dislike the lowering. The previous gen was too low as it was and in Kansas there are a lot of steep ramps -- not good for a low car with longish front overhang. Very bad actually. I wish they had console integrated the NAV. I wish the dash had some shelving instead of that rounded surface. I heard the heading got cheaper so I will be checking that when I check out the new car in Sedan form.

SteveK

I want to preface my reply with my CV. I'm not a neophyte driver. I have 2 national karting championships, a 3 year stint as chief instructor at NorCal's most famous driving school and I worked as a test and development driver for a major luxury German brand. So I'm left wondering where you came up with this review because so many things are simply the opposite of reality. I'm just not sure where this review is coming from. As a previous gen 3 owner and current gen Civic owner who just picked up a 2.5 Touring Hatch, to say that it rides like the Civic (in either standard or Si trim)is simply ridiculous. The Mazda is much better damped than the Honda. The steering is the best electric steering I have ever driven including the systems in the new 991 and 981 Porches with a level of sublime feedback you would swear was hydraulic if no one told you any different. A lively steering setup can make a car feel more lively, especially with the caster being run on this car, but to criticize that misses the point of the car! This Civic and Focus have faster initial turn-in? Now I'm wondering if you have even driven any of these cars or if you simply looked at advertising dollars coming in and wrote your review accordingly. It would seem your reviewer's benchmark is a transportation appliance, not something for an enthusiast. About the only complaint with any validity was space, but that's the trade off for a kind of family Miata. The fact you guys missed the mark so dramatically draws any review you have done into scrutiny.

nathan keaton

Owned 09,3.Now own 12,3skyactiv.put a big rear sway and summer tires on these cars and they are awsome.U are right SeveK ,cars.com doesnot understand this car.

kaffekup

Did anyone else notice that now the temperature gauge is gone? As someone who drove a '67 Triumph, I still miss the oil pressure and voltage meters, and now this. It just points to the dumbing-down of cars over the years...

Wayne

How do you update the Navigation MAPS for this new model. It's no longer TOMTOM so is Mazda updating the maps during maintenance visits? I know of no site to download updates to the SD card.

Dan

I have the Mazda3 iTouring model with the Technology Package. I love the car, but the infotainment system acts up CONSTANTLY. The music and voice-guided navigation works fine, but then the screen freezes and the controls no longer work except for simply scrolling (no pressing).

Jerry leeds

I guess i am among the few that prefer the 2012 styling over the 2014, yes, even the smile. I have a '12 hatch sky with 6 speed manual.Really like the handling & the great gear box. Would really like gauges.

Jack C.

I don't think the styling flows well at all. It looks like a hodgepodge of competing elements. Too "swoopy" without a general synergy of lines. I think the best looking versions were the earliest models before the smiley grilles. Very clean and simple but not cheap looking.

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