Mazda Motors is still searching for a home in the North American market since the dissolution of its longtime partnership with Ford. Some have even said Mazda is still wandering trying to get its focus.
I disagree. I think they have their focus and are working diligently, albeit slowly, to execute and improve their market share
The 2012 Mazda 3 5-door is a Mazda bright spot in the crowded compact segment.
Despite some rumors to the contrary, Mazda is not dead or even close as our recent test drive of the remarkably well performing Mazda 3 i Touring 5-Door compact with the fuel efficient SkyActiv power train revealed to us.
Our test vehicle was a very bold Indigo Blue with a two tone cloth interior that impressed us with its room, power, very smooth operating manual transmission, fuel economy; material finishes inside, quietness, excellent road ability and price.
The Mazda 3 i Touring is the basic 5-door starting at $19,300 and powered by the very fuel efficient SkyActiv-G 2.0L 155 horsepower 4-cylinder mated to the Skyactiv-MT 6-speed manual transmission or the SkyActiv-Drive 6-speed Sport Automatic. This power train is EPA rated at 27/38 mpg city/highway with the manual and 28/39 mpg city/highway with the automatic transmission.
At the basic level, there are very few options available, so with an interior lighting kit, rear bumper step plate and Sirius satellite radio added along with delivery, this 2012 Mazda 3 i Touring priced at $20,425.
The Mazda 3 is a front wheel drive (FWD) compact 5-door that delivers a very nice ride with reasonable amenities, good fuel economy and competitive price. This base model Mazda 3 I Touring was equipped with 16 inch alloy wheels, rear window defogger and wiper, variable intermittent windshield wipers and roof spoiler on the rear liftgate.
The rear liftgate was easy to open, lifted high and out of the way and the deck level was an easy reach for placing groceries or luggage in the 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seats. A cargo cover is attached to the rear liftgate and covers the cargo when the hatch is closed.
The 2012 Mazda 3 i comes with a fold down 60/40 rear seat that easily folds flat increasing the cargo capacity to 48.2 cubic feet. It won’t hold 4X8 sheets of plywood, but you can put a very reasonable amount of luggage, groceries or stuff from the big box home and garden store easily in the Mazda 3 i.
On the inside, the Mazda 3 i really stands out. Materials fit and finishes were all well done with care taken on matching finish types with the design to enhance the look and feel of the interior.
We did not expect the two tone interior and, in particular, the lighter almost camel color of fabric on the seating. The two tone with the same fabric was carried into the door panels front and rear which is very much not the norm for door panels which tend to favor hard surface materials in this class of vehicle. Riding around for the week with this two tone interior, we found it to be very comfortable looking and feeling.
Other standard features on the Mazda 3 i include a tilt and telescoping steering wheel which has audio and Bluetooth controls and is leather wrapped. Power windows and power door locks, carpeted floor mats, leather wrapped shift knob, air conditioning with pollen filter and adjustable driver’s seat height all make the cabin of the Mazda 3 very nice.
Though the Mazda 3 i 5-door is a compact car, it has a full complement of safety features sufficient that it earned a 2012 Top Safety Pick designation from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).
SkyActiv from Mazda is a combination of engine and transmission refinements along with body design, vehicle weight and aerodynamic enhancements that enable Mazda to get more miles out of each gallon of gas.
The SkyActiv primary component is the refined engine which has been engineered to achieve very high compression ratios along with other internal changes to burn gasoline much more powerfully and efficiently than in previous Mazda power trains. The 2.0L SkyActiv engine in the Mazda 3 has a high compression ratio of 13.0:1.
The Mazda 3 comes in four models with SkyActiv power plants (“i” model) and a 2.5L 167 horsepower engines (“s” model) both with 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. Prices range from the basic Mazda 3 i touring at $19,300 to the Mazda 3 s Touring at $21,800, to the Mazda 3 i Grand Touring at $23,150 and Mazda 3 s Grand Touring at $23,400.
Normally, I would not pick the base model as a best choice in this segment, but I found the Mazda 3 i at the Touring level with the SkyActiv power train to have plenty to offer at a reasonable $20,425.
My observation of best feature was the solid performance of the SkyActiv engine and the 6-speed manual transmission which was a lot of fun to drive with a high degree of performance confidence.
Mazda 3 sales for 2011 were 102,417 units. Through June 2012, they have held that pace selling 59,527 units.
Mazda still has a way to go to move up in market share. In June 2012, the Mazda 3 was the 9th bestselling car in its segment which is pretty crowded with some very capable competitors.
Leaders include the Honda Civic, Toyota Matrix, Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, Volkswagen Jetta, Kia Soul and Nissan Versa.
But as it has been said before, the race is not always to the fastest, but sometimes to the most persistent. The 2012 Mazda 3 does have its work cut out for it to move up, but with the “zoom, zoom” in the Mazda 3, it is likely going to gain some ground.