Drive Time: ’17 Mazda3 pleasing for a compact
November 25, 2016
Belatedly, I'll say "Happy Thanksgiving," and add the following to the leftovers:
The start of the holiday week Sunday was a great day for a 75-mile drive from Greeley to the south; the rush hadn't yet begun and traffic was light as the 2017 Mazda3 sped up U.S. 85, on to Interstate 76 and into I-25. An hour-and-10-minute trip, even with the normal couple slowdowns through central Denver. At our destination in Parker, I pulled slowly into the driveway, which was partially obscured by other parked automobiles, and several members of the family waved me from driving any closer.
There before us was a propane-fueled oil roaster with you-know-what cooking inside. Watching over the turkey, which was only 5 minutes into the cooker and already browning, was Daniel Hansen, who is married to my granddaughter, Kara Wells Hansen.
The Mazda3 compact sedan, which in recent years has grown, carried Jan, her mother Ruth and me in comfort to the pre-Thanksgiving gathering with a dozen other family members. Well, not full comfort; it seemed that through some bit of redesign of the driver seat, I sat in less comfort than in the same model in previous years. I couldn't find the right fit in the car's contoured sport seat.
Otherwise, the Mazda3 was pleasing as could be for a compact. It's been a favorite of mine. Last year, only the new Honda Civic matched it in overall driving performance, in my assessment.
The Mazda averaged 30.5 miles per gallon from its 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine (184 horsepower, 185 lb.-ft. of torque) and 6-speed manual transmission with easy shifts from the short-throw shifter. Steering is precise, and with sport-tuned suspension the handling is superb. Plenty of road noise is present in higher-speed drives. The car's EPA estimate is 25/34.
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Interior finish is attractive with light-colored, perforated leather seating. Rear-seat space is fairly tight. It has a 12.4-cubic-foot trunk, smaller than the Civic's, though very useful with wide lid opening.
A 7-inch color touchscreen display accommodates navigation and Bose nine-speaker audio with SiriusXM/Bluetooth/Pandora/Stitcher and rear-view camera.
Addition of radar cruise control, heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and lane-departure warning raised its sticker price to $26,880.
Our return home, after dark, followed I-25 to the north; before the U.S. 34 interchange, we turned east toward Greeley on Weld County Road 54 and this rural roadway gave opportunity for full use of the Mazda's automatic high-beam headlamps which dim for oncoming traffic. Not many autos of this price range offer the feature.
The posting of a stop sign in the head-up display as the car nears one along the street is an unusual option; none on approach of a signal light, only for a stop sign. Also posted in head-up are current speed limits.
The 2.5-liter engine is standard in the Mazda3 Grand Touring trim level; lesser-priced trims Sport and Touring are equipped with 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder power. The sport base models begin in price around $18,500. The sedan and an available hatchback model are built in Hofu, Japan.
In addition to the Civic, the Mazda3 also competes against the Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, Subaru Impreza, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra and Volkswagen Golf.
Bud Wells, a native of Wray, is a former Page 1 editor of the Denver Post and has reviewed automobiles for the past 40 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.