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2014 Mazda3 Hatchback First Impressions

#gamechanger By ,

Hollywood, CA - When a company is charged with reinventing one of their best-selling products, there’s bound to be a bit of hesitation. As they say; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But what happens when you want to stay ahead of the curve, at the top of your game, while the rest rely on tried and true to keep them afloat? What happens when you want to stand out from the pack, but remain in it all the same?

Well, that’s what the engineers and designers at Mazda had to deal with when they took to the drawing board for the brand new 2014 Mazda3. Since it’s introduction in 2003, Mazda has sold over 3.5 million Mazda3s. That’s impressive, no wait, that’s class-leading. And now they’ve changed it all, inside and out.

What is the Mazda3?
The Mazda3 resides in the compact car segment, and is sold in over 120 countries. It is available in a hatch and sedan body style, the Mazda3 is responsible for 50% of Mazda’s overall sales

The 2014 Mazda3 introduces the third generation of this car. And while some may think the hatch is the better seller, numbers prove that the sedan actually pulls more sales in Canada with roughly a 60/40 split for sales.

However, the new model may just change all that.

2014 Mazda3 Price and Specs
We’ll have to wait on pricing to appear closer to the vehicle’s actual launch in September of this year, but despite the long list of amenities Mazda’s packed into the new 3, they expect to stay in the same price range as the previous generation across their lineup.

Available in three trim levels -- GX, GS and GT – the 2014 Mazda3 has two engine options: a 150 hp 2.0L SKYACTIV inline-4 or the new 184 hp 2.5L SKYACTIV inline-four we all loved in the CX-5. A 6-speed manual is standard in the GX and GS trims, while the 6-speed automatic is optional and standard on the GT. A manual transmission is currently not available on the GT, however, Mazda is working towards being able to offer it on the top Mazda3 model.

Driving the 2014 Mazda3 Hatchback
Here’s the thing about the 2014 Mazda3: It’s capable. It’s grounded. It’s stable and it’s a bloody good time.

Starting in the 6-speed automatic 2014 Mazda3 GT, I tackled the twisties surrounding L.A. with confidence, at first letting the transmission handle itself in “Sport” mode (a first for Mazda). Holding the revs in the power range and downshifting at just the right moment, the “Sport” mode is for just that: transmission adjustments. Steering and throttle response remains the same, but the car registers cornering Gs and understands your having a bit of fun, so will hold gears longer, downshift appropriately and generally behave as you’d want it to.

I did, however, find the engine noise to be quite loud when revs were held for a longer period of time.

In manual mode, the steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters are great. Shifts are quick with very little lag.

Mazda worked hard at perfecting the steering on the new 2014 Mazda3, and they did a fine job of it. While there’s some loss of feel at higher speeds with the electric power steering on open roads, turn-in is sharp and the steering felt very responsive.

My second stretch of drive was handled by a base model 2014 Mazda3 GX with the 2.0L SKYACTIV and 6-speed manual transmission – of note, this SKYACTIV-MT transmission is the first new manual Mazda tranny to appear since the ‘80s.

Despite the new 2.0L featuring more midrange oomph, I felt a need for more torque. On the open highway, a downshift from 6th to 5th did very little to move the car forward. A more drastic 3rd gear was needed. However, in day-to-day situations the 2.0L will satisfy.

Inside and Out of the 2014 Mazda3 Hatchback
Here’s where Mazda may lose a few loyal customers. They’ve rather drastically updated the exterior and interior look of the Mazda3.

Where it was slightly cutesy and bubbly before, the 2014 Mazda3 is now modern, edgy and (dare I say) sophisticated? With the same KODO design language used for the Mazda6 and CX-5, the 2014 Mazda3 sports a front end that’s not only aggressive but pretty sexy, too. It has purpose, it has attitude and that continues to the rear where the new hatch looks suspiciously wagon-like … just sayin’.

Inside, Mazda engineers had a field day (with the top GT version at least), equipping the new model with a brand new HMI system and exposed 7” “flat screen” that rests on the dash. There’s also a brand new navigation knob in the centre behind the shifter, reminiscent of iDrive. We were unable to fully test the new HMI system as it was not yet functional in our vehicles at the time of the drive.

Also new for the 2014 Mazda3 this year is a nifty heads-up display. However, unlike BMW, Mazda’s head-up is housed on a rather flimsy clear plastic “screen” that pops up over the steering wheel when the car is turned on.

Otherwise the interior received the same grown-up once over that the exterior did. Comfortable, side-hugging seats are available across the lineup, and space is as you would expect in the 2014 Mazda3. And despite the cabin looking smaller, it’s actually slightly larger inside.

Comparing the 2014 Mazda3
There’s no denying, Mazda has some pretty steep competition out there with the likes of the brand new Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic. However, I have a feeling the new Mazda3 hatchback will not only keep Mazda3 enthusiasts happy and wanting more, but also bring in a whole new slew of customers who may not have looked at the compact car segment before.
 

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    2014 Mazda 3
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    2014 Mazda 3
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