Test Drive Notes Library
- Elegant. While small, the Mazda3 does not feel cheap. Everything you touch inside feels good. Everything is padded. There’s a large, well-designed screen. Notably, the cabin is not cluttered. It’s clean, tasteful, and classy. Rather than add 75 buttons to make it look high-tech, Mazda made it look elegant and peaceful. Fit and finish are excellent, outside and inside. It’s notably quiet inside for a small car that’s fairly low to the ground, too. Mazda put a lot of effort into making the 3 feel upscale, and it worked.
- Handling. Just after the Mazda3 arrived, we took it into a curved highway interchange at 65 mph, and we were impressed by the way it just hunkered down and stayed flat throughout the high-speed curve. The suspension is impressive. It feels refined, and absorbs much of the urban roughage we covered in our week-long test. City speed handling is also good. The Mazda, while small, feels weighty and substantial.
- Excellent safety suite. Our tester, like all hatchback versions of the Mazda3, came with the full complement of safety equipment, which Mazda calls "i-ActiveSense." Whatever. Notably, when backing out of a driveway, the rear cross traffic alert featured arrows to tell you from which direction the UPS truck was going to mangle the rear half of your car. The very good head up display also had indicators for the blind spot monitors. We loved this feature, because you didn’t even have to look as far from the road as the side view mirrors to know there’s someone approaching you on one side or the other. Every car maker should copy this.
- Smooth engine and transmission. The 2.5 liter four cylinder engine delivers 186 horsepower. More than enough for a 3,200 pound car. It was smooth and sporty. The transmission worked well, but we occasionally noticed a slight lag in downshift time at certain speeds if we suddenly stepped on it. We saw about 27 mpg overall, which impressed us for a sporty, all wheel drive car.
- Versatile. The all wheel drive option makes it a sportier alternative to, say, a Subaru Impreza for those in the great, frozen north. The hatchback, while not huge, does swallow more cargo than a trunk, and the rear seats (also not capacious), fold down to make room for your equally upscale dog or kids.
- Styling. This is a category that could be in “likes” or “dislikes.” From some angles it looks great. From others, it’s a bit bulbous at the rear. One onlooker said it looks like a turkey baster. That rear-end may turn off some buyers. Or send them running for the sedan version of the Mazda3. But the design is different, fluid, and interesting. It’s also hard to manufacture, and if individuality is important to you, you won’t see another small car quite like it on the road.
Test Drive Notes Library
- Rear visibility. Let’s just come right out and say it. It’s somewhere between awful and nonexistent. Fortunately, electronics are there to help, with a good rear view camera, blind spot monitoring, and the rear cross traffic alert system.
- Rear seat room. Like most small cars, the rear seats will not be your first choice of where to ride. Fortunately, if you’re reading this, you’re thinking of buying the car, so it’s your kids or friends who will be in the back. So, who cares!
- Lip. When loading stuff into the cargo area, you have to lift it over a sizable lip—presumably there for structural strength. It’s not a problem for small, light stuff, but might get in the way of loading an air conditioner or your new pair of inflated pool toys.
- Price. You’ll pay for the “premium” you get in the Mazda3. Our loaded tester rang in at just over $31K. You can get similar-sized vehicles for several thousand less, though they’ll be several thousand dollars less nice, too.
- Infotainment screen. Mazda’s menu structure seemed less intuitive than others we’ve used. And it is only controllable by a rotary knob between the seats. Adding a touch screen option would probably make using it easier. Apple Car Play and Android Auto help.
- Weak AC? We found the air conditioner in our test car struggled a bit to keep up on hot days. It may have just been a problem with our tester, but test drive it on a hot day and blast it for yourself and see.
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