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Three's the Charm

2014 Mazda3

It was 10 years ago that the Mazda3 made its debut, and now the third generation of the sporty compact car from the Hiroshima-based manufacturer is available in North America. The first 2014 models were imported from Japan, but since last January are being produced in Mazda’s newly opened assembly plant in Salamanca, Mexico.

The first thing I noticed about the new car as I pulled into the lot of Northtown Mazda, was the absence of the “smiley-faced grille” which, unhappily I thought, adorned the face of the previous models. The 2014 model shares in the company’s KODO (“Soul of Motion”) design language, also seen on the smaller Mazda2 and the Mazda CX-5 crossover. In layman’s language, it’s the series of side swoops and angles, along with the much better-looking face, that make up the shape of the car. Parked all in a row there’s definitely a family resemblance.

The Mazda3 comes in two body styles: a four-door sedan, and a five-door hatchback. The 3i Touring hatch is the subject of this week’s review. Both are a bit larger than the previous car, but are still compact in size. Climbing into the front or the rear seat was simple enough, and there was plenty of room once I got in there, for both my head and my legs. The back seat is set up for three, but as usual in a car this size they’d better not all be “average”-sized American adults. The rear seat folds almost flat in 60/40 style, and with it down there’s a good amount of cargo space. The sloping of the rear roof towards the hatch cuts down a bit on the usable space, though.

There are two powerplants available for 2014: a 2.0-liter, 155-horsepower DOHC four on the 3i Sport, 3i Touring, and 3i Grand Touring models, which all come standard with a six-speed manual transmission (six-speed automatic optional); and a 2.5-liter 184-horsepower DOHC four on the 3s Touring and 3s Grand Touring models, connected to a six-speed automatic with sport mode. The smaller engine is EPA-rated 29/40 miles per gallon city/highway with the manual, while the larger engine is rated at 27/37 with the automatic.

As Northtown sales consultant Mike Colangelo pointed out, all Mazda3s come standard with push-button start and, due to its shape, a more usable front center armrest. Some other things you’ll find handy on each trim level: driver’s seat height adjuster, tilt and telescopic steering column, dual 12V power outlets, and a nifty-looking audio system which is mounted atop the dash. Other goodies standard on the 3i Touring test car: a couple of really comfortable front seats trimmed in premium cloth (although I must admit that the interior was a bit too black for my tastes; luckily, depending on your exterior color choice, there is a two-toned interior available); also leather-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching — ditto the parking brake handle and shift knob; blind spot monitoring; heated outside mirrors; and advanced keyless entry.

Although bigger than last year’s model, the Mazda3 continues to be a nimble handler. The steering gives you a good sense of the road, and the car corners confidently. For a compact it was relatively quiet inside, and all of the controls—including conventional HVAC knobs and buttons, were within easy reach. Outward vision is a bit hampered by the shapes of the windows, but still better than many other cars.

Pricing? The test car had a sticker, including destination, of $22,605. The base hatchback starts at $18,945 while the four-door sedan starts at just $16,945. Top of the line 3s Grand Touring starts at $26,495 and could be theoretically optioned up to around $30,000.

Nice car. It puts a smile on your face, where it belongs.

More info at mazdausa.com.

Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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