If there’s such a thing as a driver’s crossover, this is it.
If there’s such a thing as a driver’s crossover, this is it.
We’re not going to beat around the bush: for the kind of person who willfully chooses to take longer, windier and more scenic routes to get to Point B, the 2014 Mazda3 is the new compact car measuring stick by which others will be judged. That doesn’t, of course, make it the right choice for every buyer.
We’ll spend the next thousand words or so explaining the whys and hows that make our opening statement a fact, but for now, suffice it to say that Mazda has engineered its latest crop of vehicles – namely the CX-5, Mazda6 and its smaller sibling and subject of this test, the Mazda3 – from the ground up. Absolutely everything about the Mazda3 is refined for 2014, from its chassis to its engines and everything in between, and it was done in a completely new and holistic way. Every component, subcomponent and stamping required to bolt and weld together an automobile was rethought to ensure the Mazda3 has what it takes to compete with such established benchmarks as the Honda Civic and Ford Focus.
We spent a day in and around sunny San Diego clutching the keys to Mazda3 variants in both sedan and hatch forms, powered by both 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines, to see how the car stacks up in its hotly contested segment. Since we’ve already driven the hatchback version of the car, albeit in pre-production form, we focused our attention on the Mazda3 sedan, and we spent seat time in each of its competitors throughout the process to ensure our posteriors were accurately calibrated. Read on to see what we found.
The Cure For The Common Corolla
I hate the Toyota Corolla. I’m not talking about the new 2014 model; I can’t yet judge a car I haven’t driven. I’m referring to the current, old-as-dirt sedan. As an appliance, I get why people buy it, but it represents everything that I, as a car enthusiast, dislike. I don’t like looking at it, I don’t like sitting in it, and I really don’t like driving it. There is absolutely no amount of emotion dialed into any part of the Corolla experience and every other vehicle in the segment is a far better choice. But still, somehow, Toyota sells ’em like hotcakes.
Thankfully, there are a lot of people who agree with me. And for folks like us, companies like Mazda exist. This small Japanese automaker places emotion and driver involvement as its top priorities when creating new products, and mostly – especially in recent years – the end results have been great. The new CX-5 crossover is a doll, to say nothing of the rakish and lovely new Mazda6 that launched earlier this year. And let’s not forget the Miata…
It’s a shame, then, that Mazda’s sales numbers have never correlated with how we enthusiasts feel about the products, though a lot of that simply has to do with the company’s weaker advertising efforts, not to mention a less robust dealer network. Mazda continues to build cars that are great to drive above all, and the automaker is slowly but surely getting its refinement issues and infotainment technologies in order. This new 2014 Mazda3 aims to offer the best of the brand’s new Skyactiv powertrain DNA, housed in a package with features and technologies that stand up to every other car in the highly competitive C segment.
It is everything the Corolla is not. And it’s fantastic.
Mazda Makes a Marvelous Mid-Sizer
It’s well known that Mazda is working through some corporate challenges at the moment, but the company’s second-half news has been, in general, far better than the headlines from the first half. Global sales are up 12 percent, the CX-5 has sold 200,000 units worldwide and U.S. dealers are begging for more inventory. There’s also a new factory on the way in Mexico that will assuage the profit-killing exchange-rate woes of building cars in Japan, and the next-generation MX-5 Miata – whenever it arrives – is going to bring an Alfa Romeo roadster with it.
Still, at the moment, it’s probably true that there is more love for Mazda – or perhaps there’s actually more nostalgia – than sales traction.
The company would like its brand new midsize segment competitor to change that.
So in one corner we have the 2014 Mazda6. In the other corner we have the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat and Chevrolet Malibu. That is not an exciting list for a car enthusiast, but arrayed en masse it’s like Neo taking on the endless Agent Smiths in the playground scene in The Matrix: Reloaded – what the other cars lack in individual character they more than make up for in suffocating, sledgehammer numbers. Example: Mazda’s entire export production – that’s every one of its models that it sells in every other landmass besides Japan – in August 2012 was 44,495. That same month there were 36,270 Camrys sold in the United States alone.
The Most Functional Miata Money Can Buy
Now, before you furiously fire off angry comments about the absolute blasphemy of soiling the Miata’s good name in reference to a crossover, hear us out. Mazda has told us over and over again that everything it has learned from the Miata project has directly influenced its new products. Case in point: the Mazda2. It’s the least-powerful offering in its class, but we’ll go on record as saying that it’s the most entertaining B-segment car offered in the United States. The Mazda2’s success is built upon its superb steering, great manual gearbox and well-balanced suspension geometry – you know, just like the Miata.
So how does this philosophy play out on a much larger vehicle like the 2013 Mazda CX-5 – a new entry in an extremely competitive class filled with big names like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape? Does Mazda’s theory of Zoom-Zoom Above All work in a segment that largely values function over fun?
Just days after the its official debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Mazda let us loose in some pre-production CX-5s along the sun-drenched roads of southern California. Here, on the twisty roads through the canyons, it’s easy to see what the CX-5 is all about.