While there are many contenders in the compact car and compact hatchback segments, there are very few that truly live up to the name “hot hatch.” The one most automotive journalists point to is the Ford Focus ST, but that’s to ignore what may be the most definitive hot hatch in the game: the all-new 2014 Mazda3. This car combines beauty, style, fun factor and performance with economy in one package. It’s the best of all worlds and has some of the most luxurious comfort offered in this segment.
Here at Guys Gab, we’ve looked at a lot of the cars in this market and were impressed with many of them. Yet each has a flaw that creates an opening for another to best it. The Corolla has a clunky CVT, the Forte is pricey in its top fitting, and the Focus is polarizing in its style. Until driving the 2014 Mazda3 S 5-door Grand Touring, I wasn’t sure that there was a car in this segment that had it all.
The Mazda3 was completely revamped for the 2014 model year. It grew by about two and a half inches in length and proportionally in width, it got restyled to match its Mazda6 bigger brother, and it received the full suite of SKYACTIV treatments for safety, handling, and power. Finally, the interior was re-thought and completely redone.
With all of these improvements, the core essence of what makes the Mazda3 what it is wasn’t lost. Despite being somewhat larger and a lot more stylish, the 2014 3 still retains the excitement and fun that has marked Mazda’s compact car and made it the company’s best-selling global vehicle.
The first thing noticed when looking at this car is that it has great style and a near-perfect balance of elegance and muscle in its look. The nose, hood and fenders are very similar to the look of the larger 6, but from there, things in the little Mazda3 begin to become unique. The elegant hood curve and sinuous fenders are fronted by the new Mazda grille that adorns all of the company’s current-generation vehicles. The windscreen tapers up to the roof in a coupe-like attack and the roof holds a gentle arch that continues down the rear hatch in a fastback style which gives this hatchback a far more powerful look than expected. Meanwhile, the belt-line and running board cut parallel one another upwards from the front tires to the rear where they define the muscular haunch created by the rear fenders and tail lamps.
The overall impression is one of a big, sleek cat ready to pounce on the road.
This great design is carried to the interior, which recently won a Ward’s 10 Best for its style and comfort. It’s doubtful that any other vehicle in this segment can rival the 2014 Mazda3′s beautiful interior treatment and ergonomics. The slightly larger size of the car translates into more legroom in the rear seats and the slightly wider stance means more shoulder and hip room as well. The seats are more than comfortable all the way around and there’s ample room for four adults and their gear with room in the back seat for a third person if required. There isn’t a hint of cheap plastic anywhere and the array of standard and available technologies and options will make all but the most technophilic happy.
Under the hood, the base model 2014 Mazda3 sports the well-proven 2.0-liter inline-four the car has been known for in the past few years. It’s a capable, efficient engine with a decent amount of output for most drivers. That’s mated to a six-speed standard or automatic transmission (manual is standard in the base option, auto is standard in the Grand Touring trim). We prefer the 2.5-liter four, however, which boosts output to 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. In either engine, peak torque is at relatively low RPM thanks to these high-compression SKYACTIV engines. This gives powerful off-the-line acceleration in comparison to most other engine offerings on the market.
On the road, the 2014 Mazda3 S is peppy, maneuverable, and confident. Fuel economy is very good at 33 mpg average for the 2.0L and 31 mpg average in the 2.5L in the five-door model. The “i” trim offers i-ELOOP for slightly better economy (roughly 1 mpg). Our test model was rated at 37 mpg on the highway and that was not difficult to achieve, though with the 2.5 under the hood, it’s a real act of self-control to keep from gunning that little engine at every opportunity.
The only complaint we had with the 2014 Mazda3 was its interior noise level, which is on par with the segment, but that’s not saying much. With such a great interior, you get the impression you’re in a luxury vehicle, but on the road, that impression vanishes. This can be made up for with the excellent 8-speaker Bose sound in the premium stereo offering. The driver will also note the ergonomics of the Commander control knob just below the shifter for navigating the infotainment system. No more missing the button because of a road bounce as you reach to the touch-screen thanks to that controller.
The 2014 Mazda3 impressed us with its big interior, fun drive, high fuel economy, great looks, and all around excellence. It’s rare for an automotive journalist to honestly say they’d buy the car they were testing. Few segments have a truly dominant vehicle in them that makes it a hands-down choice like Mazda has done here. I would buy this car without hesitation. Now all I have to do is convince my wife that we no longer need our minivan.. Wish me luck.