You can buy any number of expensive sports sedans with fancy three-pointed stars, spinning propellers, intertwined rings, or centuries-old crests. Most of them drive divinely, making your morning commute and weekend romps absolute joy. But keep this on the down-low: You don’t have to buy one of those expensive rides to get your kicks on Route 66, Highway 1, or Main Street. You could just buy the Mazda3 Grand Touring.
Styling could just as easily been executed in Turin as Hiroshima. The body is tightly drawn over its 18” wheels with creases flowing towards the rear. Up front, is a big chrome-lined grille that fits neatly between peering LED headlights and running lights. The hatchback body is practical, but also lends more of that European aesthetic. Every line and curve are elegantly executed.
The interior is a driver’s paradise with a thick heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, large tachometer, and click-click leather-wrapped gearshift. Deeply-bolstered heated leather-wrapped front seats keep drivers in place. Rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button staring, and one-touch moonroof add convenient luxury. Everything looks and feels upscale.
Infotainment is controlled through a console joywheel and dashtop 7” screen – very similar to high-end European cars. I think the head-up display, which reflects off of a plastic tab above the gauges, is completely stupid. Fortunately, the Bose 9-speaker audio system makes up for it. You’ll also appreciate Bluetooth calling/audio streaming and SMS text messaging.
Mazda steps up with an array of safety gear, too. Our car had blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and a rearview camera. Matching the best sport sedans, it also has radar adaptive cruise control to keep a safe distance on the highway, but also to enable the crash mitigation and city brake support systems. Lane departure warning and lane keep assist keep it between the ditches.
It’s nearly impossible to get a manual transmission in a luxed-out sport sedan, but Mazda has your back with an available six-speed manual that clicks through gears like it was stolen from a Miata. It connects to a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that spools out 184 horsepower that has no prayer of outrunning muscle cars, but runs proudly against other compact cars. An efficient 25/34-MPG city/highway pave the way to low-cost ownership.
Mazda3 engineers probably did not create the Miata’s chassis, but they clearly commune with those who did. In the Maada3, it’s tight for carving up backroads, but is also compliant over rough pavement. No compact car balances performance and comfort better. Steering is nicely weighted and precisely tuned to tell drivers exactly what’s happening underneath. It’s all proof that you don’t need a sports car to have fun nor a luxury car to ride serenely.
Mazda has been called the “Japanese Alfa Romeo” and that’s an apt description. They’re both practical, beautifully styled, and enjoyable to drive. If you’re looking for a compact five-door, do not overlook the Mazda3. An as-tested price of $28,880 puts it against the Chevy Cruze, Subaru Impreza, Ford Focus, and Volkswagen Golf hatchbacks.
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2017 Mazda3 Hatchback
Five-passenger, FWD Hatchback
Powertrain: 184hp 2.5-liter I4, 6-speed manual trans
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 18”/18” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Utility/Style
Fuel economy: 25/34 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Hofu, Japan
Base/as-tested price: $19,095/28,880