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2017 Mazda MAZDA3 Test Drive Review
For 2017, the Mazda3 gets its first real update since this generation debuted back in 2013. Design changes inside and out and new G-Vectoring Control make what was already a great car even more appealing and fun to drive.
Mazda is known for making stylish cars with beautiful interiors, and the Mazda3 is no exception. Whether you’re looking at the sporty little MX-5 Miata or the full-size CX-9 crossover, Mazda interiors make these cars look like they cost a lot more than what you paid. Plenty of features even in the base version and well-priced options let you build exactly the Mazda3 you want at a price you can afford.
Look and Feel
This year, the Mazda3 4-door sedan shows off an updated grille and new available LED headlights. They reinforce the car’s low, wide stance, which is a theme that carries through to the rear, where there’s a newly designed bumper to match. The 18-inch aluminum wheels also have a sporty new look.
Open the door and you’re greeted by a typically gorgeous Mazda interior. It’s clean and tasteful without unnecessary flash. Changes this year include a new steering wheel, which debuted in the 2016 CX-9 and is also available heated for the first time. The doors feature increased storage with larger, wider door pockets with additional new storage on the center console thanks to a new electronic parking brake.
There are three different trim levels available, and each features a choice of either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive only. The base Sport at $17,845 features a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Skyactiv-G engine with 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. Even though it’s the base model, it’s still a very well-equipped car with daytime running lights, tire pressure monitoring, dynamic stability control and traction control, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control, and the Mazda Connect infotainment system.
Every 2017 Mazda3 also features new G-Vectoring Control. This technology is a part of Mazda's SkyActiv Vehicle Dynamics, and it adjusts where it sends torque based on how you turn the steering wheel. It’s a subtle system that’s designed to give the car better grip, especially in hard cornering, so you stay more confidently in control.
The mid-level Touring with a base of $20,495 adds those new 18-inch wheels, automatic on/off headlights, heated side mirrors, dual-zone climate control, a 6-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, and leatherette trimmed sport seats. The Touring also gets a safety boost with rain-sensing windshield wipers, Smart City Brake Support, and advanced blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
Sitting at the top of the Mazda3 lineup is the Grand Touring, which gets a more powerful 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Skyactiv-G engine with 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. This sporty version of the Mazda3 includes LED fog lights, a rear decklid spoiler, roof-mounted antenna, perforated leather-trimmed sport seats, and power sliding-glass moonroof with one-touch open. The infotainment system gets an upgrade with a Bose 9-speaker surround sound system, SiriusXM satellite radio with a 4-month trial, and a full-color active driving display. Pricing on the Grand Touring starts at $23,145.
Mazda focuses on building cars people want to drive. It doesn’t build utilitarian boxes of metal that will get you where you need to go and do nothing more. Slide behind the wheel of a Mazda3 and you will absolutely enjoy the ride home.
Power comes from one of two engines, both with your choice of a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission in every trim level. The base offering is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Skyactiv-G engine with 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 27 mpg city, 37 highway with the manual or 28/37 with the automatic.
The more powerful 2.5-liter 4-cylinder offers 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque and is found only in the Grand Touring. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25/34 with the manual or 27/36 with the automatic, so there is a sacrifice for that more powerful engine, but it’s not much. You can improve the fuel economy of this engine by opting for the $800 i-ELOOP package on the automatic transmission only. It adds regenerative braking and active grille shutters to bring fuel economy back up to 28/37.
The Grand Touring tested had an automatic transmission. Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters offer more control over the transmission, and a Sport button on the center console changes the transmission mapping and throttle response for a more aggressive drive.
This is a responsive engine that doesn’t hesitate when pressed for power during hard acceleration. Highway driving is smooth, and the combination of that responsive engine and solid steering make driving relaxing. Take it off the highway and find a twisting road and the Mazda3 is something of a showoff.
Give it some gas in the corners and it hugs the ground with no body roll and great steering control. You’ll stay firmly planted and never get the sense that the car is working too hard or desperately trying to maintain its grip on the road. This is likely due in part to the new G-Vectoring Control which manages torque distribution when you turn the wheel. It’s not something you can point to and say you noticed a big difference, but it lends to the secure and controlled drive characteristics of the car.
When it’s time to hit the brakes, the Mazda3 quickly slows down without any loss of steering control or nosedive, even in hard braking. This is a thoroughly composed ride at all times. Road and wind noise are minimal, which keeps the driver from getting weary even after hours behind the wheel in heavy rain. If you like to drive, then you’re going to like the Mazda3.
Form and Function
As already mentioned, Mazda builds cars with beautiful interiors, and the Mazda3 is a great example. The Grand Touring trim features comfortable and supportive leather seats with 6-way power adjustability and lumbar support for the driver. The seats are heated, as is the steering wheel, making cold mornings more comfortable.
It’s a smooth and quiet ride with little road and wind noise. Conversation is easy, even with back-seat passengers. You can fit three adults in the rear, but it’s better suited to two. Although there’s plenty of headroom, legroom is tight. If the front passengers are tall and push those seats all the way back, back-seat passengers will have to pay the price.
Controls are well organized and within easy reach, and there are lots of cubbies for storage. The electronic parking brake allows for more storage space on the center console than last year, and the side door pockets are larger and wider than past versions, so bigger objects can easily be tucked away.
Additional cargo can be loaded into the 12.4-cubic-foot trunk, which extends into the passenger compartment if you flip down the 60/40 split rear seats. Those who want more flexible cargo space might want to look at the Mazda3 hatchback. It has 20.2 cubic feet for cargo or as much as 47.1 cubic feet when you fold the rear seats.
The infotainment system features a 7-inch full-color touchscreen mounted on top of the dashboard. It’s well-placed, so your eyes don’t have to stray far from the road to reference navigation. The system itself is good, with clear directions and easily read mapping. It also includes a Bose 9-speaker Surround Sound system, Bluetooth handsfree phone and audio streaming, and the Mazda Connect infotainment system.
It includes SiriusXM satellite radio with a 4-month trial subscription, voice command, AM/FM/HD Radio and SMS text-message audio delivery and reply. Android Auto and Apple Car Play are not available, but it has an auxiliary audio input, 2 USB ports in the center console, and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.
The system is controlled through what Mazda calls the multifunction commander control. This is a large dial on the center console that works like a joystick to cycle through the various menu options. Buttons around the dial quickly take you to the Home screen, Navigation, Music, and Favorites.
It seems like it should be an easy system to use, but it’s unnecessarily complex. The options on the screen aren’t intuitively organized, and time is wasted spinning the dial to find what you want. Although it’s a full-featured system, it’s not as easy to use as those available from other automakers.
A small plastic rectangle that pops up on top of the instrument cluster at the bottom of the driver’s line of sight provides a head-up display that shows navigation, speed, speed limits, and road signs when equipped with traffic-sign recognition. Turn off the car and the display folds flat back into the top of the dashboard.
The 2017 Mazda3 has not been fully rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It has so far received a top mark of 5 stars in side crash testing and 4 stars in rollover testing. It has yet to be tested at all by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but the 2016 model received top marks in every category and was named a Top Safety Pick+, which bodes well for the 2017 model year.
Standard safety features include multiple airbags, antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, hill launch assist, dynamic stability control, traction control, and a reversing camera. Standard on Touring and Grand Touring trims are advanced blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and Smart City Brake Support, Mazda's version of automatic emergency braking.
Its combination of sure-footed handling and numerous safety features make the Mazda3 a confidence-inspiring car. It is composed even in difficult conditions like pouring rain. Prior year safety ratings and excellent ratings so far for this year enhance that feeling and make the Mazda3 a good choice for those who want to ensure a safe ride.
Fuel-economy ratings ranging from 25 mpg to as high as 37 mpg make this an economical choice no matter the price at the pump. The Grand Touring tested was rated at 27 mpg city/34 highway, and it averaged 32 mpg during the test period. That’s better than expected given drive time that was primarily in the city with a load of three passengers.
It’s hard to argue that the Mazda3 is not a good buy. A starting price of only $17,845 puts it within reach of the most budget-conscious buyers and still provides plenty of safety features and amenities. The top Grand Touring can be had for $23,145, which will put you in a beautiful, powerful sedan with high-end features and plenty of room for passengers and cargo.
Even adding packages doesn’t make the price skyrocket. Adding the Premium Equipment Package for $1,600 and the I-ACTVS Safety Package for another $1,100 along with special paint and scuff plates brought our tester with the automatic transmission up to $28,230. That’s a lot of car for under $30,000. You can get a cheaper car, but it will be tough to find one with the same features and the same fantastic driving experience.
Coverage includes a 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, 5-year/60,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, and 3 years/36,000 miles of 24/7 roadside assistance.
The 2017 Mazda3 offers only three trims, but with two engines and well-priced options packages, it’s easy to get what you want at a price you can afford. Add performance that exceeds that of some more expensive sedans, and the Mazda3 is a fun and economical choice.
Nicole Wakelin's passion for cars started on the day she went for a ride in a bright red Ferrari as a teenager. She writes reviews and covers everything cars for CarGurus, The Boston Globe, BestRide, AAA, Autobytel, and numerous other outlets.
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