Written by James Hamel
Overview (Overall Grade After 8 Categories: A)
In the 1980's singer Tina Turner released a song called "The Best" where she proclaims to the world, in that way only she really know how, that her love truly is the best on this planet. Period, end of statement and no further discussion meaning don't question Ms. Turner. Now, this song and its sentiment came rushing to the forefront of our minds just moments after embarking on our first drive in a 2014 Mazda3 iGrandTouring with the six-speed manual transmission.
Sure, we test cars all the time costing 3 to 4 to 5 times as much as a Mazda3 costs but does that really make them better cars? Will they make you a happier person, can they literally bring a smile to your face so honest and true that no disappointment on Earth could bring you down? Or are they just overcomplicated techno-barges more about expressing the size of one's personal ego and wallet than in how much you enjoy driving. The 2014 Mazda3 will always make you enjoy driving. Plus, it is economical, affordable to buy, proven to be reliable, class leadingly safe, strikingly handsome and features the first truly upscale and minimalist compact car interior.
It is, in short, our pick for the best compact car for 2014 and let's just say that it won by a country mile. If we were in the market for a new car, we would buy a Mazda3. Most specifically a 2014 Mazda3 iGrand Touring with the 2.0 liter 155 horsepower/150 lb. feet of torque engine mated to the six-speed manual gearbox in the five-door hatch body style. Preferably in red, Mazda. Our test vehicle was the sedan variant of our aforementioned dream Mazda3 and even came in the automaker's lusciously sinful Soul Red Metallic exterior color. All in our fully loaded Mazda came to an amazingly reasonable $22,745.
But you can, of course, go further when specifying your Mazda3 or buy one that is less expensive with none of the gadgets our tester came with. The sedan version can be had for as little as $16,945 with the five-door starting at a few grand more thanks to more standard features. If the 2.0 liter 4-cylinder doesn't sound powerful enough to you then do remember there is always the 2.5 liter 184 horsepower 4-cylinder available as standard on all models designated as "s" instead of "i."
Choosing this motor does, however, force you to choose the six-speed automatic and in sGrand Touring trim prices can reach all the way to nearly $30,000. Admittedly, for that price you get every whiz bang gadget you could imagine as well as the best leather ever to grace a compact car. Yes, ever. Even Mazda's vinyl is better than most other brand's real cowhide.
What We Loved about the 2014 Mazda3
What We Didn't Love about the 2014 Mazda3
- The style of the exterior lines and the minimalist approach to the interior controls and layout
- The six-speed manual transmission is Miata-like in how easy to use and enjoyable it is
- Even when pushing the 2.0 liter 4-cylinder hard we managed to average over 40 miles per gallon
- We wish the 2.5 liter engine could be had with a manual gearbox
- Ordering every option can push the price a little too high so show restraint
- We can't say anything else bad about this car, sorry
Exterior View (10 out of 10)
We admit that we have an irrational preference for the cute and pert little rear end on the hatchback version of the 2014 Mazda3. Although we did not test that model, we found ourselves warming to the lines of the sedan version over the course of the week. While it might not be our choice personally with our own money, it certainly out styles the frumpy and dumpy looking 2014 Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza and even the Dodge Dart which frankly tries way too hard. Especially in that orange color so many people buy them in. Seriously, do they know what owning an orange car will do to their resale value if they try to sell it? No matter, we even prefer the Mazda3 sedan to the rather stylish 2014 Honda Civic and 2014 Kia Forte. Our dog co-road tester Roxy agreed as she not only loved the 3's back seat but also stood vigilant guard in case anyone ever tried to steal it.
Interior Comfort, Quality and Overall Ease of Use (10 out of 10)
Minimalism is not just a design ethos but it is also one of the most difficult to achieve attributes any new car interior today can strive to embody. A minimalist interior should be free of unnecessary clutter on the dashboard, the controls should be easy to understand and manipulate all giving the driver and passenger's a truly soothing space with which to get on with the business of either driving or riding along in a zen-like state of calm. It can even make the interior a much easier place to keep looking clean even if you cram all of the cargo cubbies and consoles (like the ones that are plentiful in the Mazda3) crammed with junk.
The 2014 Mazda3 iGrandTouring we tested achieved this minimalist feel and then some as unlike in other vehicles that attempt to simplify, it didn't move important functions to a difficult to reach submenu on its center mounted screen which is a cinch to use thanks to a BMW i-Drive like center controller. This knob controlled the navigation system, Bluetooth phone, the 9-Speaker Bose Audio system and its iPod functionality as well as other easy to figure out infotainment options.
Build quality was impeccable and as we said before the "leatherette" in the iGrandTouring model felt convincingly like cowhide to us and there is a smart use of both soft touch and scratch proof plastics about the cabin. It is upmarket feeling yet understated and the back seat for this class is positively enormous and shockingly comfortable on long drives. Trunk space is decent in the sedan at 12.4 cubic feet whereas the hatchback version offers 20.2 cubic feet growing to over 47 cubic feet with the back seats folded.
Technology (10 out of 10)
We have already gone into quite a bit of the tech features available with the 2014 Mazda3 already and talk about its very advanced arsenal of safety technology in that section which is coming up. Mainly with this Mazda we were impressed with how well integrated and easy to use all of the technology was for anyone to access. There is an SMS program that will read you text messages you get while driving, our iGrandTouring model came with Pandora, Stitcher and Aha radio apps as well as HD radio and XM/Sirius. And frankly, with the center mounted control knob moving from function to function being the picture of simplicity we can't think of a better reason to give this little Mazda a top score. Lastly, this iTouring sedan came with all of this technology and stickered for less than $23,000. More on that later.
Fuel Economy (10 out of 10)
This simply never happens to us. We realize other auto reviewers manage terrific mileages with the dark art of hypermiling but especially when we are driving a car like the 2014 Mazda3 which practically begs to be driven like you just stole it we never get close to EPA fuel economy figures. Often times, we are so off that we have a bit of a reputation for being able to get the worst fuel economy ever from certain models.
But that was not the case for our Mazda3 as it was EPA rated at 29 city/41 highway and we averaged 40.3 miles per gallon over a week. The Mazda3 only runs on regular unleaded with a tank size of 13.2 gallons so we think it makes an incredibly smart choice for your next new commuter especially if the thought of a diesel or hybrid car horrifies you. Kudos Mazda, SkyActiv Technology must actually be more than a marketing term because it turned the 3 into a fuel efficient miracle worker.
Predicted Reliability and Initial Quality Ratings (8 out of 10)
Mazdas generally have a reputation for being unfailingly reliable and both powertrains used in the 2014 Mazda3 are proven entities as far as being solidly engineered and built. But despite a number of other Mazda products winning top category awards, the 2014 Mazda3 only got an average overall rating from J.D. Power and Associates with most of the complaints centering on the "quality and design of features and accessories." Not sure what the heck that even means but owners also gave the Mazda3 top scores for performance, design, comfort, style and its powertrains. No matter, we are sure Mazda has ironed out any teething problems by now.
Safety (10 out of 10)
The 2014 Mazda3, along with the Honda Civic, are the only two current compact cars to achieve the highest IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) crash test safety rating of "Top Safety Pick Plus" This means it got top marks in side impact, frontal off-set impact, whiplash protection, roof strength and also in the new and very tough impact test which is meant to recreate the effects of hitting something like a light pole or tree which can circumvent some automotive crumple zone designs. In fact, that kind of crash kills more American drivers each year than any other. The Mazda3 also scored high for available features like Blind Spot Warning Assist, lane departure warning, a low speed automatic braking system, rear cross traffic alert and a forward obstruction warning system as well as even Radar Cruise Control. Big car features, small car.
Performance (9 out of 10)
Admittedly, the 2.0 liter 155 horsepower/150 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder we tested in our 2014 Mazda3 iGrandTouring is the smaller of two available engines but it is also the only one available with one of the finest six-speed manual transmissions this side of heaven. We absolutely loved how every aspect of the driving experience felt perfectly calibrated from the oily slick precision of the shifter, to the sharp and precise steering feel all the way through to the way this car corners better than any compact car has a right to. Suffice it to say, if you have a family (or more than one friend) and had your heart set on a Miata, the 2014 Mazda3 iGrand Touring can "Zoom-Zoom" its way into your heart.
Braking feel was also another high point with decent stopping distances and an easy to modulate pedal making it very easy for any driver to feel like a hero. But when you aren't on your favorite twisty road cresting apexes like a champ and are just stuck on the freeway commuting from work you will notice that the 2014 Mazda3 is nicely insulated from too much wind or any engine noise as it settles to near silent mode at steady speeds with only some slight road noise audible. Well, we usually just turned up the Bose Audio system or took another deliciously sinful trip to the Mazda3's wailing redline which was like music to our ears.
Since the Mazda3 with "SkyActiv Technology" is so lightweight the 2.0 liter 155 horsepower base engine is wholly adequate for drivers who must option for the 6-speed automatic gearbox. But if you want to get onto freeways with confidence and verve as well as have the sportiest driving experience possible, we would recommend you then save up a little more of your hard earned for the "s" version which comes with the larger and more potent 2.5 liter 185 horsepower 4-cylinder from the Mazda6. Either way, you can't lose with the Mazda3 especially if you are the lucky one driving it.
Pricing and Value for Money (9 out of 10)
The 2014 Mazda3i sedan starts at just a little over $16,945 whereas the hatch starts at $18,945 due to the fact that it does not come in the value leader iSV trim which offers the basics like A/C, power everything, a stereo and not much more. Moving up the line there is iSport, iTouring and iGrandTouring which was the trim level our tester arrived with and it included dual zone climate control, power moonroof, 16-inch alloy wheels, push-button start, keyless entry, 9-speaker Bose audio, USB/i-Pod integration, Bluetooth, navigation, a back-up camera, blind spot assist, power driver's seat, heated front seats, halogen headlamps and more for $22,745. That's an amazing price for an amazingly fun car to drive.
If you decide that the 2.0 liter 155 horsepower engine isn't powerful enough for you, well we assume that means you chose the automatic version so for those buyers Mazda offers an ‘s' model that comes with the 2.5 liter 184 horsepower 4-cylinder used in the larger Mazda6 family sedan. All Mazda3 s models come with a six-speed automatic transmission and in sGrandTouring form this compact starts at just under $26,000 (it also gains full leather seating) and that price can go to near $30,000 if you get the optional technology package which adds radar cruise control, lane departure warning, front impact warning, a regenerative braking system as well as a low speed safety function which can hit the brakes and cinch your seat belts if it detects you may hit the car ahead of you. But for that much maybe you should just get a Mazda6. It's good too.
"The Final Numbers" and the Competition (76 points out of 80: 95%)
Let's make this clear so no one misunderstands—the 2014 Mazda3 is without question the best car in the compact class and we have road tested the current Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Volkswagen Jetta, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru Impreza and Dodge Dart each for at least one week. Sure, some of those competitors are also excellent cars but it is always the 2014 Mazda3 which sticks in our minds as the one that makes us want to belt out a perfect Operetta at the Vienna Opera House each time we drive it even though we are terrible at singing even Katy Perry songs on a Karaoke machine.
Now, we don't like to be rude or anything but if you are in the market for an affordable, riotously fun to drive, roomy, fuel efficient, stylish, ultra-safe and well-equipped compact car then you would have to be an idiot to not test drive the 2014 Mazda3 to compare it with your other possible model choices. Sure, we don't begrudge whichever car you choose to buy much like we don't begrudge a person choose if they like Opera or Katy Perry because you can find positives in both. However, we just think it's obvious one is better than the other and no we aren't answering if we prefer Opera or Katy Perry. That's a one way ticket to hate emails.