Anne Proffit photo
The interior of the Mazda3 is pretty straight-forward with black and white gauges (no temp gauge, just a light) that have a blue rim. The red glow at night is very calming. The navigation and trip computer info buttons are on the right side of the multi-function steering wheel that has audio and phone on the left side and a bulky cruise control system with controls on both lower left and right. While the cruise works very nicely and is quite modern in function, the plethora of buttons to work it seem a bit too old-fashioned and appear to come from a parts bin.
The seats are very comfortable for two front occupants and the rear seating area is quite good for the segment, with its pull-down armrest with cup holders and 60/40 fold to enable added cargo capacity. The trunk swallows 11.8 cubic feet of cargo and has an under-floor temporary spare, not something you see much anymore. There are cup holders in all four doors.
A movable armrest covers the center storage with its removable tray, a 12-volt and an auxiliary plug. There is also a 12-volt plug at the base of the center stack. The Bose premium audio system has 10 speakers and 265 watts output; there is a single CD player in-dash and the volume control on this audio system is adjustable for speed sensitivity.
My sole quibbles with the Mazda3 came when temps plummeted into the teens; I found the engine often took more than 10 minutes to warm up sufficiently before the blue light disappeared on the dash; the defroster took a long time to release ice from the windshield and the seat heaters had to be turned to their maximum initially for any reaction to the deep freeze. Back home in California that would be a "so what" deal; for those in ice-encrusted eastern or midwestern climes, rapid response to frigid temps is necessary.
In an arena where 40-mpg is the new little black dress, Mazda's wizards have managed to hit a home run without resorting to little engineering tricks like low rolling resistance tires or a transmission that finds sixth gear at woefully inadequate moments. No, this is still quite a driver's car, peppy and happy and efficient to the max, whether it's over the road or slogging around town.
The new direct injection engine and complementary automatic transmission work in concert with Mazda's already existing strength of sporty handling. With its competitive fuel economy and exceptionally fun nature, the 2012 Mazda3 sedan with Skyactiv technology is hard to beat. Even in the frozen tundra of the American midwest.
By Anne Proffit