The 2014 Mazda 3 lineup includes a competitive list of features for the money—especially if you're considering one of the more affordable 'i' SV, Sport, or Touring models. Meanwhile, top-of-the-line Grand Touring models can be loaded up with some technology features that aren't typically found in this kind of affordable small car—and the bottom-line price doesn't add up to as much as you might think.
All models, even the base SV include push-button start, keyless entry, rear-seat heater ducts, tilt/telescopic steering, and power windows, locks, and mirrors. All but the base SV Sedan include a 60/40-split folding back seat (that model instead has a single-piece folding seat). The base SV Sedan also does without Bluetooth hand-free calling, but all other models include it. Lower-level models in the 3 lineup include a four-speaker sound system with an auxiliary input, while ‘i’ Sport models get a CD player.
Sport models step up to some pieces of equipment that many shoppers won't want to go without: a 60/40-split folding rear seat, cruise control, Bluetooth, a CD player, and power mirrors. The Touring models add alloy wheels, heated mirrors, a rear spoiler, keyless entry, a rear-seat armrest, premium sport seats, and some minor leather trim, as well as the Blind Spot Monitoring system with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
Add that Touring Technology Package to the ‘i’ Touring, and you get a long list of items that are all included in the ‘s’ Touring and Grand Touring: dual-zone climate control, an overhead console, illuminated vanity mirrors, and the Mazda Connect system and all those audio, connectivity, and app extras.
Mazda3 'i' Grand Touring models get a long list of upgrades that include vinyl ('leatherette') upholstery, automatic climate control, a power driver's seat, a moonroof, and front heated seats—along with the Mazda Connect infotainment system, with a seven-inch color touch-screen display, the Commander Control, voice commands, navigation, a rearview camera, and SMS functionality plus full integration of Pandora, Stitcher, and Aha streaming audio with your smartphone connection. There’s also upgraded Bose nine-speaker audio, plus satellite radio and HD radio.
Step up to the 3 's' Touring and its larger 2.5-liter engine, and you also get the Active Driving Display (an odd head-up display with its own little screen), steering-wheel paddle-shifters, LED running lamps, halogen fog lamps, bi-xenon headlights, larger 18-inch alloy wheels, and a Sport mode button for automatic-transmission models. It's also worth noting that the Touring is the only way to get the larger engine without the moonroof.
At the top-of-the-lineup 's' Grand Touring level, you get perforated leather upholstery, the moonroof, bi-xenon headlamps with Adaptive Front Lighting, and rain-sensing wipers.
While base-level 'i' models and 'i' Sport trims get steel wheels, we're impressed that all models in the lineup get four-wheel disc brakes. But curiously, base SV models with the automatic transmission include a stripped-down version of the gauge cluster without a rev counter.
Adaptive Front Lighting and rain-sensing wipers are included in the 's' Grand Touring, while if you add the Technology Package you get a long list of additional active-safety features (detailed in the Safety section of this review)—plus the i-ELOOP system and active grille shutters, which together increase fuel-efficiency modestly.
The 2014 Mazda 3 features a completely new Mazda Connect infotainment system that connects via Bluetooth to the user's smartphone. Its software can also be updated, meaning features can be added in future without having to swap out physical hardware. And it uses the Aha system from Harman to handle Internet apps. Text-to-voice technology lets the system read e-mail and SMS messages aloud through the car's audio system, as well as displaying short messages on the touchscreen monitor. Users can select from among pre-set replies and have the system send them. The system will also read updates from Twitter and Facebook, and a Shout audio function lets users choose among responses.
A few words about the infotainment: While in the Mazda6 system has somewhat laggy screens and a poorly designed menu layout, the system in the Mazda3 is worlds better. The display is crisp, colorful, and high in contrast, and it’s quick and responsive, with no lag whatsoever. The layout of the menus is better, too, and you can either navigate through them on the touch screen or use the Command controller to twist down through them or click left or right to move amongst the tabs and screens.
Overall, we'd say that Mazda Connect is right on the mark, and most users are going to like its interface and its redundancy (with multiple ways to do most things). Our biggest complaint with some of the infotainment system is that it doesn't remember where we are… For instance if were listening to music and seeking through stations, a restart (or just answering a call) would lose our place and we'd have to go back in from the home screen. Also, you can't simply use the forward and back buttons on the steering wheel to tune (they appear to be for media only).
The navigation system is clear and straightforward, and we like the ease of point-of-interest (POI) integration. However, when we were moving along, it wouldn’t let us pan over to an alternate destination while we were using the map view—a function that you have in nearly every other system.