2014 Mazda3, grand deft auto: Motoramic Drives
I staggered into the third-tier country club, in the desert 70 miles outside of downtown San Diego, with a dazed smile on my face. All the surrounding car hacks bore the same look. We’d just driven for three hours, and now we were emerging from the dream.
“How was your drive?” asked a car-company rep.
Usually, when they ask stuff like this, you mumble some nonsense about “torsional rigidity” and then make haste for the buffet. But this time was different.
“It was...great,” I said, with disbelief, because there was no other word.
I mention disbelief because I was driving the 2014 Mazda3.
Not the MX-5, or a souped-up vintage Miata, but the 3, for most of its life a generic backbencher in the unglamorous compact segment. The 2013 Mazda3 model, and all previous iterations, were OK, but just that.
But as I wound this new one through the roads near the U.S.-Mexico border, I kept thinking: “this could be the car of the year.” It won’t be, probably. But, when you consider how much it costs and what it does for that price, it’s going to have to be heavily considered. Mazda has made the best compact car in recent memory.
First, let’s talk about design. Mazda is basing all vehicle models these days of its 2010 Shinari concept car, which loosely translates as “resistance to being bent.” In practice, that gives you a perfectly proportioned vehicle, with a longer front hood and overall weight positioned toward the back wheels. It worked in the Mazda6, but the nature of that car’s segment meant that it looked similar to the competition. But for the 3, which is up against a vast sea of econoboxes, it really comes into play with beautiful flowing lines that are perfectly integrated into the whole, particularly on the hatchback edition. The worst feature of the old Mazda3, the smirking grille, has been replaced by a more upright five-point look, making it more vertical.
“We wanted the car to be more aggressive,” the designer told me, “but we didn’t want it to be over-the-top aggressive. Sexy but a little bit more masculine.”
Normally, such statements from designers should be taken with a polite nod and quickly forgotten. But in this case, it’s true. The interior works even better, with a smooth-looking, driver-oriented cockpit unheard of in the economy segment. Everything sits right on the driver’s centerline, symmetrical across the dash, and not busy. The front seats are slick-looking, really comfortable, and lined with a variety of pleasant-feeling materials. Nothing feels forced or pretentious. It’s just an incredibly stylish car, inside and out.