by Frank A. Aukofer 

2017_Mazda3_57If the 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring were a lot more expensive,  it likely would be regarded as an exclusive high-class sedan. 

A longstanding favorite of driving enthusiasts, the Mazda3 is a quality compact with exceptional overall performance and many desirable features. Yet in 2017, it came in 10th in sales against the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Kia Forte, Volkswagen Jetta and Subaru Impreza.

Total Mazda3 sales amounted to a respectable 75,018, which included both conventional sedans and hatchbacks. Leading the compact pack was the Honda Civic with 377,286 sold, or more than five times as many as the Mazda3. In 9th place was the Subaru Impreza, an exceptional compact in its own right with standard all-wheel drive, which totaled 86,043 sales.

2017_Mazda3_exterior_005Sedans and hatchbacks are losing ground to sport utility vehicles, especially the car-based crossovers. At Mazda, for example, the CX-5 midsize crossover outsells all of the Mazda cars, including the Mazda3, Mazda6 and the MX-5 Miata two-seat sports car.

Still, there’s a solid cadre of American customers who prefer sedans — especially those with some sporting credentials — for pure driving enjoyment. That’s where a car like the Mazda3 Grand Touring comes in.

2017_Mazda3_55There are two versions: a five-door hatchback and the subject here, the traditional four-door notchback sedan, which comes with a choice of two engines. The base model, which is no slouch, is equipped with a 155-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Grand Touring model, the subject here, uses a 184-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 185 lb-ft of torque. It is the torque, or twisting force, that delivers the excitement of strong acceleration off the line. The Grand Touring moves to 60 mph in about seven seconds, more than respectable for a compact sedan in the Mazda3’s price range.

Autodesk VRED Design 2016 SR1-SP4

For enthusiasts who like to shift for themselves, the tested Grand Touring arrived with steering-wheel mounted paddles to manually shift the six-speed automatic transmission. Though the transmission did fine on its own, the paddles were useful for holding gears on twisting, hilly roads.

With a starting price of $25,070, the tested Grand Touring with its six-speed automatic transmission is a bit more expensive than some of its compact competitors. Spiffed up with a short list of options, it came with a $28,470 bottom-line sticker.

2017_Mazda3_51That’s roughly $5,000 less than the average price of a new car these days. Yet it’s a complete package, with a full suite of safety equipment, including lane keeping warning and assist; low-speed automatic collision braking; blind-spot warning; adaptive cruise control; rear cross-traffic alert, and tire-pressure monitoring.

One of the options deserves a separate mention. It is Mazda’s adjustable  head-up display, which uses a separate screen that rises up from the top of the dashboard into the driver’s line of sight. In addition to a digital speedometer, it also reads traffic signs like speed limits and shows other information.

A center-mounted seven-inch color touch screen displays navigation and an array of vehicle functions as well as satellite radio and other entertainment data. Selections can be made from the screen or by using a rotary knob mounted on the center console. 

2017_Mazda3_36The Grand Touring sedan’s exterior styling borders on the generic for compact sedans, handsome without being offbeat or offensive. Where it stands out is in the interior materials, design and execution. The heated leather-covered sport seats on the test car showed quality workmanship and offered long-distance support and comfort up front.

However, the back seat was tight on knee and headroom for average-sized humans. Though there were seatbelts for three, the center-rear position should be reserved for emergency situations. The small trunk’s exposed hinges could damage contents.

Desirable equipment, both standard and optional, included a motorized glass sunroof; dual-zone automatic climate control; LED headlights, fog lights and taillights; pushbutton starting; keyless locking, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

2017_Mazda3_37On the road, the test car cruised quietly except for engine noises that intruded under hard acceleration. The electric power steering felt nicely weighted and responsive around curves and maintained a strong line in straight freeway cruising. A supple suspension system, abetted by 18-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, helped the handling without sacrificing ride quality.

Mazda has long touted its SkyActiv technology, a holistic approach that covers every aspect of vehicle design, no matter how tiny. When you sweat the small stuff, you get something like the Mazda3 Grand Touring.

2017_Mazda3_56Specifications

    • Model: 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring four-door sedan.
    • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, 184 hp, 185 lb-ft torque.
    • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
    • Overall length: 15 feet.
    • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/12 cubic feet.
    • Weight: 3,100 pounds.
    • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/36/30 mpg.
    • Base price, including destination charge: $25,070.
    • Price as tested: $28,470.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2017_Mazda3_27.jpgPhotos (c) Mazda.