We don?t understand the Bernoulli Principle, which explains how air moving around the wing creates the lift to make an airplane fly, any better than we understand Mazda?s Skyactiv technology. Never-the-less we know that airplanes fly and Mazda is building some great new cars with its Skyactiv technology.
We?ve driven the CX-5 crossover and the Mazda6 mid-size sedan, both which had been ?Skyactivated?. This week it was our first chance to drive the 2014 Mazda3 s Five-Door Grand Touring with the Skyactiv technology.
New from the ground up the Mazda3 is what is called a clean sheet vehicle, with basically the only holdover from the previous generation being the name.
The most visual change is the dramatic styling, which comes from the Mazda KODO design language which means ?Soul in Motion?. While we don?t pretend to understand the intricacies of oriental design either, we certainly appreciate the results with its flowing wave-like lines. The Mazda3 five-door hatchback is dramatic and looks as if it?s moving, even while sitting in the garage.
The design carries over to the interior where our top-of-the-line test car favored the look of something much more expensive. Materials are high quality, with soft touch surfaces. We loved the dramatic interior lines and the highly bolstered-two tone perforated leather seats. The seats are comfortable and hold the front seat passengers tightly in place during more exuberant driving. The rear seat space is larger now, and comfortably holds 2.5-six footers. Like most cars, the center position of the rear seat is tight. And of course the five-door hatchbacks have the great expandable cargo area, which almost makes them like a wagon when it comes to cargo room.
The controls are well placed for easy access and include redundant audio and communications controls in addition to the cruise control controls on the face of the meaty steering wheel. Like many of the premium brands, the Mazda3 also has a bank of buttons and a large nob on the center console to the rear of the shifter. This grouping operates the navigation, audio and certain other vehicle functions with simple, intuitive menus shown on the seven-inch screen (plus it?s a touch screen) that?s mounted on the dash above the center stack. The system includes Mazda?s new human-machine interface (HMI) system, which makes using the system easier and requires less driver concentration to use.
As we understand it, Skyactiv technology is supposed to make the vehicle more efficient and often that means lighter weight. Plus the vehicle components are synchronized to interact better. Whatever it means, it works because the Mazda3 feels solid, agile and balanced.
Two Skyactiv-G (gasoline) engines are used in the Mazda3. The base engine used in the ?i? vehicles is a 155-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder while the upper level ?s? models have a 184-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Both engines have an aluminum block and cylinder head, direct injection and variable valve timing. The ?i? engine has a standard six-speed manual transmission with an optional six-speed automatic. The ?s? currently is only available with the automatic transmission, but it?s a very nice transmission complete with paddle shifters and a Sport mode which holds shifts a little longer, plus it automatically downshifts during braking.
The ?s? version we drove accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, but it even feels a little faster, which is surprising for such a small engine. Fuel economy numbers for the ?i? with the automatic transmission are 30 mpg city, 41 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined. The manual transmission is rated a couple miles per gallon lower. The 2.5-liter engine in the ?s? we drove is rated at 28/39/32 mpg; we actually averaged 29.8 mpg during a week of spirited driving. We enjoyed spending some quality time in the winding mountain roads near our house and that makes the mpg number drop a bit.
Mazda3 models equipped with the Technology Package include a feature called i-ELOOP, which uses regenerative braking, like the hybrids, to create and store energy to power the accessories to reduce the engine load.
The 2014 Mazda3 is available as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback ($500 more) and in four trim levels: SV (sedan only), Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The standard model is an ?i? but the Touring and Grand Touring version get the higher equipment level and the larger engine when equipped with the ?s? trim.
Pricing ranges from $17,740, including the destination charge, for the ?i? SV sedan with the manual transmission. The top model, a five-door hatchback ?s? Grand Touring is priced at $27,290. Fully loaded with the Technology Package, premium paint and a few accessories, the maximum price closes in on $30,000. That seems like a lot for a Mazda3 until you start to look at the equipment which includes features like navigation, lane departure warning, leather, Bose audio, adaptive lighting and a high level of safety and convenience equipment. Besides the car looks and acts premium all the way.