First Drive: 2014 Mazda3 mazda first drives
First Drive: 2014 Mazda3 mazda first drives
First Drive: 2014 Mazda3 mazda first drives
2014 Mazda3, Mazda3 Sport GT & Mazda3 GS. Click image to enlarge

First published October 1, 2013

Review and photos by Simon Hill

The Mazda3 is an incredibly important car for Mazda, representing some 35 percent of the company’s global sales, 40 percent of its U.S. sales and over 50 percent of its sales here in Canada. Originally introduced for the 2004 model year to replace the 323/Protege, the first-generation Mazda3 punched well above its weight class thanks to its clean styling, lively performance, crisp handling, and a well-fitted interior with available features that were above and beyond most compact competitors.

All this allowed the Mazda3 to secure a solid top-three place in the Canadian compact segment, often battling Honda’s Civic for the top spot, and well ahead of players like the Nissan Sentra or Volkswagen Golf and Jetta – an impressive feat for a relatively small player like Mazda. But times change, and despite the introduction of a second-generation version for the 2010 model year the Mazda3 was starting to become dated, allowing its competitors to catch up. In 2011 Hyundai’s Elantra slipped ahead into second place, and in 2012 the Toyota Corolla made its move, snatching third place from the Mazda3 and leaving it in fourth place with 39,295 units sold over the year.

A redesign was clearly due, and with so much at stake it was critical for Mazda to get the new Mazda3 right. Using its recently adopted Skyactiv approach, Mazda started off with clean slate. The idea of Skyactiv, says Mazda R&D group manager Ruben Archilla, is to allow “simultaneous development of engines, transmissions, bodies and chassis to eliminate legacy compromises.” In truth, the Mazda3′s Skyactiv bits and pieces weren’t developed exactly simultaneously because the new Skyactiv 2.0L engine and its matching six-speed manual and automatic transmissions were developed a little earlier and made available last year on the second-generation 2013 Mazda3.

For 2014 Mazda has unveiled the third-generation car, and to introduce it to Canada the company invited an argument of automotive journalists (isn’t that what a group of journalists is called?) to Vancouver for a day-long tour of the region’s highways and byways, Mazda3 style.

First Drive: 2014 Mazda3 mazda first drives First Drive: 2014 Mazda3 mazda first drives First Drive: 2014 Mazda3 mazda first drives
2014 Mazda3. Click image to enlarge

Looking at the specs it seems the Mazda3′s redesign should indeed help it keep punching above its weight class, because Mazda has both trimmed the new car’s weight and given it more punch. Depending on the model the new car tips the scales between 25 and 45 kg less than the previous generation. The new Skyactiv 2.5L engine develops 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque (17 more horsepower than the outgoing 2.5), while the Skyactiv 2.0L develops 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque (five more horsepower and 15 lb-ft more torque than the old 2.0L). Because the new car, unlike the previous generation, has room in its engine bay for the Skyactiv engine’s 4-2-1 exhaust, the 2014 Skyactiv 2.0L also bests the performance of the 2013 Skyactiv 2.0L thanks to a big bump of torque in the mid-range (it has 14 lb-ft more torque at 3,000 rpm).

Looking at the car itself reinforces the notion that Mazda has a winner here: Mazda’s Kodo “soul of motion” design philosophy has been well received in the CX-5 and Mazda6, and the new Mazda3 takes cues from both of them, with gracefully flowing lines and a nice sense of motion. It also achieves the designer’s dream trifecta of lower height, greater width, and shorter overall length on a longer wheelbase than the previous-generation car, giving it an assertive, planted stance. Gone is the old 3′s smiling visage, replaced by a chrome-highlighted grille that cuts deep into the bumper and strikes a pleasing compromise between aggressive and happy. Distinctive available LED running lights and taillights complete the package.




About SimonHill

Simon Hill rebuilt his first engine, an air-cooled Volkswagen, at 14. He started writing professionally about cars in 2009 and is also the editor of Boat Journal magazine. He lives in Vancouver, BC.