Photos really do not do this car justice. It’s a designer’s car. It’s an engineer’s car. And, most importantly, it is a driver’s car. And, if you’re just a happy grandma looking for an efficient way to get your groceries home or a middle-age man surviving the daily commute, it’s also your car. I made it about to the end of my street before I said to myself, “I really love this car!” After many more miles over all kinds of roads, I simply added more reallys to that statement. Yeah, all that over a compact Japanese hatchback.
It all starts with the car’s exterior style, an exemplification of Mazda’s KODO design philosophy that includes flowing curves juxtaposed with sharp creases. Crisp lines extend from the black mesh grille to define the hood. Chrome trim around the windows and complex curves of the distinguishing C-pillar add beauty, but so do the sculpted surfaces of the doors. Adaptive LED headlamps and round taillamps are neatly tucked into the facias. I could stare into the deep Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint for days. Black 18” alloy wheels set it to pavement.
As we visit the interior, keep in mind this is a Mazda and not an Audi or Alfa. Drink in the oxblood red leather seats with comfy cushions and deep bolsters. Seemingly every surface is soft-touch or stitched: The dash, doors, and console especially. Further exemplary styling shows in how dual-zone climate controls fit in a thin panel under the dash that also integrates passenger air vents. Driver vents hide in padding near the steering wheel. Door handles blend into chrome strips. Even grilles for the 12-speaker Bose audio system are works of art.
The fact Mazda designers accomplished such artistic expression while integrating all of the latest infotainment gear is an impressive feat. Our car has a reconfigurable digital instrument display, head-up display, and infotainment controlled via console joywheel and widescreen on the dashtop. Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay enabled quick connections. Not all Bose systems are created equal, but this is the real deal – one of the best audio systems I’ve experienced in any car and considerably beyond anything in the Mazda3’s segment. You get all this in a car that can swallow a bicycle though its hatch like a crossover when seats are folded.
In black and white, there’s nothing special about the powertrain and chassis – yet, they work well together. The engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder delivering 186 horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission. In a bid to keep up with Subaru, all-wheel-drive is available. A Sport mode makes the throttle more sensitive and holds shifts longer to keep revs up when clipping corners and aiming for the next apex. Fuel economy with AWD rates 24/32-MPG city/highway.
If you were hoping to race supercars, think again, but that’s plenty of power for a compact car and it is so smooth that you almost think there is a turbo attached. As with the engine, the suspension is simple but effective. A torsion beam rear suspension replaces the previous fully independent arrangement, but you’d have to read the specs to tell. Steering is crisp and the wheels goes where told without complaint, rumbling over rough roads with a minimum of ugly reaching the passengers. It’s a car you’ll want to drive through the country with the sunroof open on a sunny day – or a snowy day, because it’s ready for that too.
Mazda did not have to make the car beautiful, but it did. It did not have to make the car fun to drive, but it did. It didn’t have to give the car a luxurious interior with crisp Bose audio, head-up display, and safety tech, but it did. It didn’t have to make the car efficient, but it did. It could have left off all-wheel-drive, but it didn’t. Mazda did not have to launch an exceptional compact hatchback into a world dominated by crossovers, but I’m glad they did. A base price of $23,600, or about $30,000 as tested, is more than reasonable.
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