2014 Mazda3 GS
2014 Mazda3 GS
2014 Mazda3 GS. Click image to enlarge

Review and Photos by Jeff Wilson

Although this may be difficult to believe, I can assure you what I am about to tell you is true.  I drove – for several days – a new car that was not equipped with computerized aides to help ensure I navigated straight and true within my lane.  This car was also unable to warn me if another motorist was driving in a position slightly behind me on either side of my car.  In fact, the draconian machine I was piloting was not even capable of telling me where I was or how to get to where I was going.

And yet, I survived traveling several hundreds of kilometres in this thing!

Surely by this point you’re imagining me some brawny yet remarkably wise man.  A person who cuts a dashing profile and clearly masters all mechanical devices he touches.  But I assure you, kind readers, this is not entirely so.  I am a mere mortal like any of you and still I was able to tame a car ill equipped to motivate itself without a human’s direct input and guidance.

There’s more to this astonishing tale.  Not only did I manage, I enjoyed it.  Imagine, actually being held accountable for your own driving capability?  Controlling many hundreds of kilograms of steel, glass, plastic and rubber.  Oh the exhilaration!

With cars saturated in technology these days – everything from self-steering correction to sign reading – is it any wonder that a motoring enthusiast should become excited by a car harkening back to simpler times?

The 2014 Mazda3 GS sedan reminds me of how great motoring used to be.  What’s more, this particular test car came fitted with an honest-to-Pete six-speed manual transmission – a device rapidly (and woefully) becoming as common as a Beta VCR.

By now it should be a secret to absolutely nobody that Mazda’s new compact (available in each hatchback and sedan variations) is a game-changer in the category.

At Autos.ca we’ve pitted the new 3 against the new Corolla in a head-to-head battle, which saw the Mazda victorious.  We’ve reviewed the 3 in multiple trim levels and body configurations.  We’ve claimed one for a long-term review.  And most importantly, we’ve declared it the best of an epic 11-car comparison test.

We’re not alone in this praise:  The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada has recently declared the Mazda3 the Best Small Car Under $21,000.  It’s also the Best Small Car Over $21,000.

Okay, so everyone loves the Mazda3, but why?  What makes it so great?

2014 Mazda3 GS2014 Mazda3 GS2014 Mazda3 GS
2014 Mazda3 GS. Click image to enlarge

Mostly it’s that it doesn’t feel like a compromise.  The 3 doesn’t require a purchaser to sacrifice style, comfort or performance in the interest of economics.

The new Mazda3 is affordable to run and affordable to buy, but just look at it – this is no econobox.  While my preference leans toward the hatchback (not just for its greater practicality) and its decidedly European-inspired styling, even this sedan tester features enough sex appeal to suit a Cosmo cover (“How to please your driver in AND out of the garage!”).

Inside the 3 is equally contemporary.  Rather than benchmarking the best of its class, Mazda instead looked to European luxury carmakers for inspiration and ended up with a cabin that’s both sporty and comfortable.  The seats are supportive without being constrictive for those a little larger of frame.  Interior materials and textures offer a high-quality feel that reinforces the illusion that the 3 is a more costly car than it is.

The icing on the cake is the dash-top info touch-screen.  It is bright and crisp of resolution, and controlled by a perfectly-placed and intuitive-to-use rotary knob right where the driver’s right hand falls in front of the arm rest.  This set up mimics the highly effective units found in more costly cars from BMW and Audi.  Though some of my colleagues have griped about the appearance of an iPod Mini glued to the dash top, those of us who are more astute appreciate the airy cabin and improved forward vision this set up affords over chunkier dash designs (see the new Corolla for instance).

It must be stated though that as handsome and straightforward to use as the MMI system is, it is not without its glitches.  Mere moments after admiring the simplicity and effectiveness of the voice-commands for placing phone calls, the system dropped a call, refusing to reconnect to my phone for the rest of the trip.  Song titles and artists were initially read successfully off my iPod only to stop being available through the system after a day’s use (and yet album art files still show on screen).  I wish it were an isolated incident but my experience with a Mazda6 tester last spring presented similar hiccups.

What was I saying about my love for simple cars?

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