2012 Mazda Mazda3 Skyactiv: First Drive Page 3

October 14, 2011
EPA ratings for the Skyactiv Mazda3 models are 28 mpg city, 40 highway. Manual-transmission models are at 27/39, and hatchbacks lose 1 mpg on the highway due to their slightly higher aerodynamic drag. As Mazda points out, they've done this without using dramatically taller gear ratios, low-rolling-resistance tires, or skimping on noise insulation or sheetmetal. The 3 also still comes with a compact spare tire, at a time when some automakers (such as Hyundai, with the Elantra) have omitted them from the standard-equipment list.

Is their 40 mpg like others' 40 mpg?

Which, with the driving experience, builds to the pretty strong argument Mazda makes: That their 40 mpg isn't like others' 40 mpg. Mazda thinks that real-world driving figures with the SkyActiv engine will be closer to the EPA ratings than those of other models that claim 40 mpg or more on the highway.

The test cars we drove, up Angeles Crest Highway, averaged nearly 30 mpg in some very aggressive driving, and a climb in altitude. On the way back down into L.A. we saw 41+ mpg at speeds of 75 to 80.

The Mazda3 is the first vehicle in its class to adopt a Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) system, which helps you when changing lanes in congested traffic—especially if you have other people in the car and have partially obscured fields of vision.

Mazda has one of the more complex model lineups in the business, and it gets somewhat more potentially confusing for 2012. Before there were Mazda3i models (2.0-liter) and Mazda3s models (2.5-liter), with much of the lineup available as sedan or hatchback. Base i SV and i Sport models get the old 2.0-liter, while the i Touring and i Grand Touring comes with the whole Skyactiv kit. Meanwhile, Mazda3s Touring and s Grand Touring models have the older-generation, 167-hp, 2.5-liter four. To compensate, Mazda has whittled down pricing on the 's' models a bit for 2012. It's also made the five-door hatch a more consistent $500 walk up from sedans, in all trims.

The base Mazda3 i SV sedan starts at just $15,200; it's the entry model, but includes air conditioning, a CD player, and quite a bit more than a base Civic, for example. Grand Touring models are still the way to go if you want navigation and leather. They're also what you need to step up to in order to get the Tech Package, which now includes blind-spot monitoring. Add that, and you can potentially load a Mazda3 into the $26k range. The standalone options list is otherwise quite slim but includes Sirius satellite radio, an interior lighting kit, and fog lamps; i Touring models can be optioned up with a moonroof and Bose audio. Overall, Mazda expects the 2012 Mazda3 i Touring model to be the most popular in the lineup, totaling $19,245 with the manual transmission (including destination) and just over $20k with the automatic.

What we've seen of Mazda's Skyactiv core components is really promising. With the 2012 Mazda3, the automaker has kept its more exciting, communicative driving feel while only getting better for refinement and comfort.

Will Mazda also meet its promise that their 40 mpg is better than others’ 40 mpg? That can only be determined with a week or so of real-world driving, and we hope to bring you that soon.

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