2014 Mazda3 first drive
Redesigned Mazda3 hits sporty sweet spot
Photo: Steve Mertl
To understand how successful Mazda needs the 2014 Mazda3 to be in Canada, consider these two facts: Compact passenger cars are the single largest segment of the Canadian car market — more than 23 per cent of total sales — and one out of every two Mazdas sold in this country is a 3.
The Mazda3 debuted a decade ago, replacing the Protege, but the segment has become much more crowded since then.
There are the perennial players such as Toyota Corolla (new this year) and Matrix, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and Volkswagen Golf/Jetta, to which you can add Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and Subaru’s recently redesigned Impreza. And don’t forget the resurgent Detroit Three offerings, the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus and rebooted Dodge Dart.
The ground has also shifted as many buyers are stepping out of cars into compact SUVs, where Mazda’s CX-5 plays. That makes competition for a shrinking buyer base even tighter.
The Mazda3 has fared well so far in this free-for-all, sitting in third place for much of its life. The aging second-generation model still was No. 4 in overall passenger car sales, behind Civic, Elantra and Corolla for the first half of 2013, though sales slipped almost four per cent from last year. So a lot is riding on the Hiroshima automaker’s new compact entry.
Judging from a day spent with the 2014 Mazda3 just ahead of its introduction, the company has a car that remains in the thick of the fight and maybe could even climb a couple of rungs.
Grins are all on the inside
The new 3 has several things going for it. The styling, incorporating Mazda’s Kodo (soul of motion) design language seen in the CX-5 and Mazda6 sedan, eschews surface bling for emotionally evocative curves and creases.
Both the four-door sedan and five-door hatchback (dubbed Sport) are recognizably Mazda3s but look more upmarket. The previous model’s leering grille is gone, replaced by a still large but less creepy face. New paints were formulated to enhance the car’s look, including Soul Red (a $300 option), which uses a unique tinted clear-coat to make the colour pop.
The use of compact LED lighting technology for both the front and rear lighting arrays gave designers freedom to sculpt the ends of the car so they didn’t look pasted on, says Ken Sayward, manager of Mazda’s California design studio.
The Mazda3‘s swoopy shape isn’t just meant to be pretty. Aerodynamics were top of mind, with air flow over the new body as well as underneath managed to maximize slipperiness. The sedan achieves a Cd of .255 when equipped with optional active grille shutters in the nose that close at speed, while the hatchback manages .275.
Interestingly, 90 per cent of the work was done old-school by designers working on clay models, with computers enlisted only near the end, says Sayward.
More upmarket features
Photo: Steve Mertl
As you’d expect, Mazda touts increases in interior space, but the real news inside is in the electronics, with features the company says are not normally offered in this price class.
They include a head-up display giving the driver speed and route information if the car is equipped with a navigation system, optional electronic driver aids such blind-spot and cross-traffic warnings and an autonomous emergency-braking system. It works at up to 30 km/h to stop the car automatically if a person or object is detected and the driver hasn’t reacted to a warning alert.
The other notable innovation is the approach to infotainment systems, such as navigation, communications and music. The Mazda3 uses a seven-inch touch screen mounted on top of the dash instead of lower in the console to keep it higher in the driver’s eye line. But drivers are encouraged to use a console-mounted “Commander” control knob, like those found on luxury marques, as well as voice commands functions, to try to minimize distraction. The audio system also gives access to streaming audio apps such as Stitcher and Aha Radio.