Model: 2013 Mazda3 Grand Touring
Exterior color: Graphite
Interior color: Black
Engine: 2.0 liter, four-cylinder
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 40 miles per gallon highway, 28 mpg city
Dealer: Edd Kirby's Adventure Mazda
Price (as tested): $24,445
During my first mile driving the 2013 Mazda3 Grand Touring the thought hit me: "Man, this car feels like a BMW 1 series."
After that, observations came in a burst: "... But it costs about $10,000 less, gets 40 miles per gallon highway and carves up the road like a Bowie knife."
"It's one of the hottest little cars out there," sums up Joe Kirby, of the Edd Kirby's Adventure Mazda dealership.
There's something about the Mazda3 that belies its compact size and modest price. I think it's the fact that we are conditioned to slide into a compact car with lowered expectations. But when you take the wheel of the Mazda3 -- as I did last week in a test car from Edd Kirby's Adventure Mazda here -- the car envelops you. It just fits.
It's an intangible sensation that comes from hundreds of ergonomic decisions made with great care: the silky smoothness of the seat-belt harness, the way the door-pulls cradle your fingers, the prescient six-speed transmission that seems to know there's a hill ahead, the bolstered leather seats that provide just the right support on our mountain roads.
And then you factor in hybrid-like fuel economy and a free -- yes, free -- navigation system, and you think: What's not to like, here.
STYLING AND FEATURES
The exterior styling of the Mazda3 will not blow you away -- this may be partly because the new Mazda6 is stone-cold gorgeous. Still, it has a sporty front facia, a coupe-like roofline and sculpted ground effects.
It also has features you'd associate with cars costing thousands more, such as a blind-spot monitoring system embedded in the side mirrors and hands-free electric door locks.
The interior has clean lines and upscale materials -- I keep getting drawn back to BMW comparisons. The speedometer and tachometer reside in plain, vanilla analog dials that peek through the steering wheel at the correct angle. The radio and AC are controlled by easy-to-reach dials. The seats are firm and supportive, and leather surfaces are standard in the Grand Touring trim.
Our test car came in graphite exterior paint with black interior panels and seats.
Other nice touches on our fully-loaded test car included an eight-way power driver's seat, a 265-watt Bose sound system, Bluetooth for hand's-free telephone calls, a moonroof and the aforementioned touch-screen navigation system.
The Mazda3 line was upgraded last year to showcase the car company's SkyActive technology. Using smart engineering and light-weight materials, Mazda is in the process of improving all of its cars' fuel economy and driveability. The fact that the Mazda3's peppy little 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine can deliver 155 horsepower AND 40 mpg highway is remarkable.
On a test drive around the base of Lookout Mountain, the Mazda3 tracked like a go-cart. The suspension and steering are so intuitive that it almost feels like the car is responding to your body as you lean through turns. The key is a six-speed automatic transmission with a computer brain that knows precisely when to shift for optimum fun and fuel economy. Most small cars are benchmarked to emphasize one or the other quality, not both.
Mazda says it was able to improve the car's agility by shedding 200 pounds through use of light-weight materials and increasing body rigidity by 30 percent. Mazda is in the vanguard of these improvements, but all carmakers will soon be trying to hit similar marks to meet new, higher government fuel economy requirements.
Our 2013 Mazda3 Grand Touring with SkyActive technology stickers for $24,445. Less well-equipped models of the Mazda3 start at less than $20,000.
No matter what your price point, these are high-content cars for the money. Add an irresistible fun factor and no compact buyer should trade cars without at least taking a Mazda3 for a spin.