After spending time with several versions of the new 3, in Atlanta and Portland, we can't help but gush about its beautiful shape, its eye-catching sheetmetal, the driver-centric interior, the very impressive feature list, and how Mazda has managed to imbue its powertrains with such responsiveness, while it's simultaneously managed to far surpass the 30-mpg Combined mark for the entire lineup.
The drivers in us say, “Yes, this is how a compact car should be.”
The engine in both of the 3 s Grand Touring models we spent the most time with (a 184-hp 2.5-liter) is responsive, rev-happy, and so torquey that it never misses a beat, and the freshly engineered six-speed automatic includes steering-wheel paddle-shifters and a sport mode that altogether make it feel almost as driver-connected as if it had a manual gearbox. Almost.
Oh, the curves
Dynamically, the new 3 is also superb. It's slightly lighter than the last-generation models, and yet it drives with the somewhat more settled, composed attitude of a serious sport sedan. The bobbing and pitching motions that you'd get in the last-generation versions when the pavement undulates have now been written out of the experience, and the harder you drive and the higher the g-forces you attempt to pull in tight corners and hairpins, the better the steering feels. It's nicely weighted and even includes a little bit of road feedback.
And when you want to drive quickly, you can hit the Sport button for a more aggressive throttle setting and a delayed shifts for the automatic transmission. With it clicked, we also noticed that the stability control has a remarkably loose rein on overzealous driving styles; it’ll even permit a little bit of sliding—all in the name of fun, right?
While we haven't yet driven any of the models at the entry end of the lineup, we're anticipating that a 3 i Touring with a manual gearbox—at around $20k—might just be one of the most fun-to-drive new cars on a very tight budget.
The Mazda 3 is a phenomenal car from the driver’s seat, when the road opens up, and when you happen to have access to mountain or canyon roads up to the challenge.