2012 Mazda Mazda3: Quick Drive

January 3, 2012
Anne Proffit photo

Anne Proffit photo

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Car manufacturers can rant all they want about this or that new technology, but until you've had an opportunity to truly try it for yourself, how do you know what's true?

Mazda has been telling us all about its new Skyactiv technology it developed with revised ideas about designing and tuning both engines and transmissions.  They said there was weight reduction involved (hooray) and improved chassis tuning, with the ultimate goal of better performance and mileage, lower emissions and the Mazda-exclusive zoom-zoom fun factor.

The company's upcoming CX-5 crossover SUV will be the first to use full-blown Skyactiv technology, but the refreshed 2012 Mazda3 carries the engine/transmission combination that exemplifies the PZEV-rated Skyactiv designs.

A long drive, from Chicago to Indianapolis and back, with plenty of around-town jaunts in between allowed me to find out just how the new system works.  I'm here to tell you it does and it's a heck of a lot of fun.  Just as you'd expect from Mazda.

While base 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter engines are available without Skyactiv technology, this is the way to go.  The 2.0-liter DOHC in-line four-cylinder has variable valve timing and direct injection that gives it 155 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 148 pound-feet of torque at 4100 rpm.  Redline is 6500 rpm and, at 70 mph the tach shows a nice, low 2150 rpm.  The engine cover is bathed in a blue glow under the posted hood, just to remind the driver that this is a Skyactiv machine.

This front-wheel-drive sedan is coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission with extremely crisp shifts when used in manual mode.  The MacPherson front and multi-link rear all independent suspension works superbly over rutted and clear roads and has front and rear stabilizer bars.  

As with most new cars today the Mazda3 Skyactiv sedan has stability and traction controls, together with ABS all-wheel front vented and solid rear disc brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution.  Power rack and pinion steering with variable assist is spot-on, has no on-center dead spots and perfect for the enthusiast driver, with 2.9 turns lock-to-lock.  The turning circle is a doable 34.2 feet.

The Mazda3 is of an appropriate size for its segment at 180.7 inches long, 69.1 inches side, standing 57.9 inches tall on a 103.9-inch wheelbase.  Curb weight is a lithe 2950 pounds, considering all the goodies Mazda placed on this car.  Mazda mounts 205/55R Bridgestone Turanza tires on articulated swirl twinned five-spoke 16-inch alloy rims that are very handsome to this writer's eye.  

Mileage is an exemplary 28/40 mpg from the large, 14.5-gallon tank.  The Mazda3 uses unleaded regular fuel despite its wonderful 12:1 compression ratio that allows it to retain the fun-to-drive nature expected from all Mazda cars.  I found this mileage accurate during a near-week up and down central America on a kindly broken-in car with over 3000 miles.

The Skyactiv 2012 Mazda3 has the company's Grand Touring equipment that leaves the factory with a list price of $23,095 including fees.  There were only a few options: a $200 interior lighting kit that gave a soothing blue hue around the cabin; $275 for a compass/auto-dimming mirror with Homelink; and the technology package for $1400 with a blind spot monitoring system, bi-xenon headlights with auto leveling, Sirius satellite radio with four months subscription, a perimeter alarm, rain-sensing front wipers, pivoting adaptive front lighting system and automatic headlights.  The price came to $24,970.

Included in the price of this handsome Sky Blue Mica Mazda3 Skyactiv Grand Touring sedan is a tilt and telescoping steering column, leather trimmed seats and door panel inserts, eight-way power drivers seat, very necessary five-position front seat heaters, leather steering wheel and shift knob, a small navigation system in the upper central stack, tilt-and-slide sunroof and one-touch down drivers' window, among other items.  This is an extremely well-equipped car for the money.

Spot on the money is the drivability of the new Mazda3 with Skyactiv technology.  The direct injection engine wastes less fuel and promotes better performance throughout the rev range.  Its usable linear power band is spread throughout the rev range and the little sedan feels more like a sports car than a family grocery getter.  Its drivetrain, suspension and brakes are all absolutely delightful!  Cut-and-thrust driving in Chicago traffic is easily accomplished and fun.

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