2017 Mazda3 5-Door Grand Touring Test Drive And Review: My Next Mazda? – Forbes

Posted: Sunday, January 01, 2017

Full disclosure: I own two Mazda vehicles. One is a 2012 Mazda3 5-door that my wife drives to work every day; and the other is a 2014 CX-5 crossover vehicle. That puts me in a weird position to review the 2017 Mazda3. I’m at once very familiar with the platform, and also a little bit on the defensive – why did I buy not one but two vehicles of the same brand? Can I be objective about the new Mazda3?

Our first Mazda convinced me to buy my second Mazda. It’s fun to drive, delightfully uncomplicated and dead reliable. The only issue that we’ve had over four-and-a-half years of ownership (we bought the car new in June 2012) has been flat tires – we’ve had three, which I must blame on the deplorable state of Los Angeles’ roadways rather than any fault with the vehicle. This year, when it came time to buy a vehicle to replace my beloved Toyota 4Runner, Moose, I settled on the CX-5 as a more space-efficient and fuel-efficient alternative. Confident in my experience with the Mazda3, I bought a used 2014 CX-5 with very low miles from the same dealer where I had purchased our Mazda3. If this story sounds like a flashback, it’s because this is the way brand and dealer loyalty used to work in the pre-internet age.

2017_mazda3_10_revAll of this is just preamble to the real story, the review of the 2017 Mazda3 5-Door Grand Touring, which carries a base price of $23,895 ($28,030 as tested).

The new Mazda3 continues the line of the third generation of the vehicle (2014 – present), with some significant tweaks and upgrades. On the exterior, the 3 gets a new front fascia with a bigger, more defined open mouth grille and fog lamp surrounds. The 5-door also gets a new rear fascia design that better integrates with the overall look of the vehicle. Back-to-back with our second-generation 3, the 2017 looks sportier and more aggressive, and a little more grown up.

2017_mazda3_25Inside, it’s all new. Mazda has found harmony between its interior and exterior designs, so that stepping into the 3 feels like a natural transition. They’ve eliminated the mechanical handbrake, replacing it with an electronic parking brake that takes up much less space in the center console. The simple controls are all right where they should be, with a control/navigation screen at the top of the center stack, close to the driver’s line of vision with the road. My Grand Touring trim level test vehicle had attractive perforated leather seats that fit nicely with the interior design. A standard head-up unit is a welcome surprise. Rather than projecting an image in space in front of the driver, a trapezoid of plexiglass becomes the small see-through screen that conveys information while driving. It lies flat when the ignition is off; then flips up to stand vertically when the 3 gets fired up. The driver can select which information shows up on the screen, including speed, rpm and navigation commands. It’s an elegant, low-tech application that sharpens the driving experience.

2017_mazda3_29Mazda3’s second row is big enough for adults, with comfortable outboard seats and a flat perch for the center position. The 5-door shines for utility. 20.2 cubic feet of luggage space is available behind the second row, opening up to 47.1 cubic feet of cargo space by flopping the second row flat. With the blurry lines between crossover vehicles and hatchbacks, it’s only Mazda3’s low slung attitude that keeps it on the car side of the fence.

Mazda rests its corporate reputation on driving. The company points proudly at its penetration into grassroots racing in the US, claiming that more Mazda vehicles are competing on racetracks every week than any other brand. Much of that is thanks to the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster, a car that is born to drive on the track. Mazda takes the lessons learned from the track and applies them to their entire lineup, to the benefit of both.

2017_mazda3_33The Mazda3’s transmission stands as a prime example. Though the Mazda3’s layout is front-engine/front-wheel drive, as opposed to MX-5’s front-midship-engine/rear-wheel drive, both vehicles are available with a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmissions. My test vehicle came with a manual transmission – Mazda says that about 15 percent of customers choose a manual with their 3, a figure that is much higher than the industry average, which is probably below 5 percent. The slick transmission and buttery clutch forge a direct partnership between left foot and right hand, and shifting is fun and easy. You can thrash the 3 up into the rev ranges, or short shift and keep the revs low, and the engine and transmission remain happy either way. It’s a great setup.

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