Review: Blue skies ahead for Mazda3
Review: Blue skies ahead for Mazda3
Over the years, I've had the privilege of test-driving cars that go 0-60 mph in the 3-second range, others that could tow a sequoia and several more whose cost is that of a nice home.
Yet as is often the case, some of the cars I respect the most are those that aren't particularly fast, powerful or pricey. But in a pragmatic respect, what they do so well is even better: They let you have your cake and eat it, too.
One of the latest to do that for me in the automotive sense is the Mazda3 with Mazda's all-new SKYACTIV engine. Here, that cake-and-eating-it-too part is an enjoyable driving experience and an engine that offers both pizazz and eyebrow-raising fuel economy.
The Mazda3 has long been one of my most recommended compact cars. Available as a sedan, hatchback or – in Mazdaspeed3 form – a tarmac-burner, the car offers good looks, a comfortable ride and – at least not when in Mazdaspeed3 form – good fuel economy.
When I tested the latest-generation Mazda3 sedan when it was revamped for model year 2010, I was impressed with the car's zippy engine, solid ride and fuel economy, which then was EPA highway rated at up to 33 mpg. All for a price starting well under $20,000. Heck, the biggest issue I found to gripe about then was the car's polarizing "grin" front fascia.
Well the new vehicle's tweaked front end still resembles a grin, and the whole thing gave me even more to smile about in this 2012 version of the car.
While the exterior and interior remain mostly familiar, it's the all new, so-important-it's-capitalized SKYACTIV engine that is the big news about this car and makes it the best Mazda3 yet.
This "is not just an engine," Jim O'Sullivan, president and CEO of Irvine-based Mazda North American Operations, said upon this car's recent introduction. "It is a new generation of advanced vehicle performance and efficiency."
The new motor makes a healthy 155 horsepower to give this car zip, yet it has also been finessed to get the most out of the gasoline that feeds it. By using multi-hole fuel injectors for optimal combustion and a newly shaped piston cavity, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder has helped this car attain the magic "40 mpg" number, in this case for highway. City mpg is rated by the EPA at 28 mpg.
Those numbers are 21 percent and 17 percent better, respectively, than the previous 2.0-liter engine. That other engine, by, the way is still available in base models of the Mazda3, which start at just under $16,000. For those wanting slightly more power, the 167-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder can also still be had. As tested, my manufacturer-lent Touring test model arrived with a budget-friendly price tag of $21,495.
Getting back to the fuel economy that Mazda touts, I was pleased as punch to average nearly 35 mpg over a week of driving, 34.6 to be exact.
Those numbers are commendable to be sure, but even more so are the driving dynamics I enjoyed while obtaining them. In the smaller Nissan Versa, for example, I averaged a very good 38.3 mpg, but that car was about as flavorful as cottage cheese. In the revamped and very well thought-out Hyundai Elantra, which is also rated at up to 40 mpg highway, I averaged 31.3 mpg. Even the latest Honda Civic I drove didn't match that, returning an observed 32.7 mpg with a less-powerful engine.
And none of those could match the driving satisfaction I had in the Mazda3. As one who owned and drove a Mazda Miata for a decade, I can attest that Mazdas do have a certain spunk, that "zoom-zoom" that Mazda calls it in marketing campaigns.
No, this car won't burn rubber, but its rev-happy engine was more than willing to bring the car to freeway speeds relatively quickly, smoothly ticking its six-speed automatic transmission. (A six-speed manual is also available.) At speed, this car felt solid and planted, though wind noise was apparent.
Inside, the front seat is relatively roomy and the controls are very well laid out. No fumbling here when it comes to turning on the stereo or increasing the fan speed. But the Mazda3's low cost also comes at a cost regarding interior materials, which are quite plastic-y. The rear seat, meanwhile, can be tight for taller passengers.
Mazda chose its best-selling Mazda3 to be its first car to feature the SKYACTIV engine, but I'm glad it's not the last. Coming soon is the new CX-5 compact crossover, also with the engine.
This technology is exciting because it has the potential of giving us the most out of a gallon while still delivering a fun ride. Just like the Mazda3 itself.
Special note: This is my last car column for the Register. Thank you for reading. I hope you have enjoyed my work as much as I have enjoyed creating it.
This week’s ride: 2012 Mazda3 4-door Touring
Type: Five-passenger, front-wheel-drive sedan
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Total power: 155 horsepower, 148 lb.-ft torque
Fuel economy rating: 17 mpg city/23 highway
Base price, with destination: $15,995
Price as equipped: $21,495
The good: Fuel economy, value, zippy engine, layout
The bad: Plastic-y interior, wind noise, rear seat can be tight
Guess where: Do you know where in Orange County this photo of the Mazda3 was taken? Guess in the comments area below. Last week’s photo of the Lincoln MKX was at the Irvine Spectrum Center.