SEATTLE, July 17, 2015 — It’s been great to see Mazda resist adopting continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) as most of the Japanese automakers have done. It speaks volumes to Mazda’s commitment to building cars that are for “drivers” and not for folks who are amnestied to the driving experience.
The 2015 Mazda 3 is easily one of the funnest to drive vehicles we’ve tested in its price point. Equipped with a standard 6-speed manual transmission, the “3” has some notable and unique characteristics.
There is a 6-speed automatic transmission available as well with a manual shift mode, but let’s be honest, the manual is way more fun to drive.
Mazda powers this S Grand Touring model with a 2.5-liter, double overhead cam, 4-cylinder engine which develops 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. Mated to the manual transmission, it makes for a spirited driving experience, the likes of which is hard to find in this car’s class.
With this powertrain configuration, the “3” earns an EPA rating of 25mpg around town and up to 37mpg on the highway — an economical car for sure.
The car is wrapped in 18-inch wheels with P215/45 tires that do a great job of providing enough grip, even in inclement weather. For stopping power there are disc brakes all the way around which help the car come to a screeching halt in nearly no-time at all.
Mazda’s design team has done a brilliant job on the interior, making things look “jazzed-up”. The two-tone color scheme looks sporty and refined at the same time. There’s something simplistically great about the color scheme here. Of course it has a lot of plastic surfaces, but they don’t come off as too cheesy the way we we’ve seen in competitive vehicles.
While there’s a six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, the passenger gets to sit in the “struggle-zone” with manual-only adjustments. There’s dual-zone climate control, auto-wipers, variable heated front seats, leather-trimmed shift-knob and steering wheel.
We’re really at a point now where it doesn’t make much sense to include a navigation system in cars unless it’s easy-to-use and looks stellar as well; most people simply use their smartphone for navigation. Audi took this challenge head-on by using Google Earth’s mapping, but so far we haven’t seen that in more affordable cars from other auto makers. Unfortunately that’s the case here as well; Mazda’s maps look old-school, and their system is not the most intuitive.
Audio quality via the Bose sound system is very good, but far from the likes of Kia’s Infinity system. We used to have a joke about audio systems: “No highs? No lows? Oh, it must be Bose.” That certainly is the case here. The overall fidelity and dynamic response of the audio doesn’t have bass that goes too low nor clear highs.
The most unique feature of the car is its pop-up active driving display. This little piece of translucent plastic pops-up from a horizontal resting position every time the car is started. The claimed benefit to this design over the method of displaying it on the car’s windshield is that you can wear polarized sunglasses and still read the display. We feel it’s a bit gimmicky and worry a bit about how long before someone inadvertently breaks it off from the top-dash position it’s in.
Rear leg-room is actually pretty good, there’s easily enough room for taller teenagers and adults. The 60/40 fold-down rear seat also features an arm-rest that comes down with integrated cup-holders.
With the minor issues aside, what we’re left with is a compact sedan that competes with the Honda Civic and Nissan Altima. Its greatest strengths are its snazzy looks, good handling and lack of a CVT option. These things combine into a better driving experience that many people these days feel is a lost art.
While the “3” starts just below $17k, the s Grand Touring edition has a sticker price of $26,335. And in this price, you’re only $3k away from an Audi A3 – something to ponder. Nonetheless, you should test drive a “3” and find out for yourself how fun it is to drive while still getting great fuel economy to boot!