When you go into a restaurant or bar in, say, France or Italy, you’ll undoubtedly discover that you can order the house wine and it will be both comparatively cheap and comparatively wonderful. But when you go to a gas station, you’ll discover that the number of euros that you’re paying for a liter of gas is enough to make you want to go back into aforementioned bistro.
One of the consequences of high gas prices throughout western Europe is that there is an array of small cars that have plenty of style. Panache. Capability.
Sure, we may see the large German executive sedans, but what is the number of executives in any given organization as compared with the people who actually do the work? And there are also the sport sedans that allow drivers to pass people on the Autobahn and to carve their way through precipitous mountain passes with élan, but, again, how many people spend a considerable amount of time driving in conditions where they only wish they could go fast enough to get somewhere near the speed limit, and what is the percentage of people who drive through the Alps versus flatlanders?
All of which is to say that the real action is in the small car category. Regular people (that’s as in you and me) buy those cars in Europe, which is why there are impressive compact Peugeots and VWs and Renaults and Fiats.
Given that these smaller cars are as mainstream as midsize cars are in the U.S., one consequence is that the automakers, knowing that this is where they’re going to make money because this is where the action is, charge what may seem to be high vis-à-vis what we would pay for a small car in the U.S. Of course, before there were efforts like “One Ford,” where cars that were developed for Europe were found on the roads of America, most U.S. small cars were, to use a term that is insufficiently strong but an indicator of where I am going with this, crap. That’s because in the U.S. for a long time, small cars were pretty much an after-thought. (Consider the greatest number of entries on the GM recall list and you’ll discover that it doesn’t consist of pickups and SUVs or large Buicks and Cadillacs, but things like the Cobalt and Ion. Clearly, not top-of-mind cars for the corporation.)
This is a long way around to get to what is my point about the 2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring Five Door. It reminds me of a European car. Small, nimble. And I would argue that it is by far the most stylish compact out there. And it is priced like a European car, too. The base MSRP for the vehicle I had is $26,495, and once the options were added in, with the biggest number coming from the Technology Package that adds a considerable amount of advanced content (e.g., regenerative braking; lane departure warning; adaptive cruise control) such that the $2,600 almost seems like a bargain (seriously), I was looking at a sticker reading $30,415.
You can most certainly buy a bigger car for that money. But I think you would be hard pressed to buy a better car for that money.
As mentioned, the design is the sort of thing that one might associate with a concept car, something where there are lines and shapes in the sheet metal that you figure are simply one-offs for a display, but there’s the car, ready to go with the panels stamped, welded and painted.
Inside, the trim level brings leather trimmed sport seats which are supportive while still being comfortable, pushbutton start, rear seats that fold down so there is a fairly capacious cargo capacity (47.1-cu. ft.), paddle shifters, and more. The materials are class-above in their quality.
I took the car on a run down I-75 to Cincinnati and back and found that the car is solidly planted, not buffeted by the string of semis, and the 184-hp engine more than capable of providing the power to really move the car when needed (e.g., like pulling out of one of those seemingly endless construction zones). In addition to which, I averaged 35 mpg, which is better than the sticker combined number (32 mpg), and while I never saw the 38 mpg highway, I also pretty much found the car to be performing above the 28 mpg city number.
There are car companies that are talking about “transformation,” and several of them seem to just be talking. But clearly, with a car like the Mazda3 (and the Mazda6), Mazda is undergoing an impressive transformation, one that is providing consumers with cars that look as cool as they drive. While I’m guessing that the car would do well on the Autobahn and wending its way through mountain passes, for those of us on Wooster Pike and I-275, it does exceedingly well, too.
Engine: 2.5-liter four
Horsepower: 184 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 185 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm
Materials: Aluminum block and head
Transmission: Six-speed, electronically controlled
Steering: Electric power assisted
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 175.6 in.
Width: 70.7 in.
Height: 57.3 in.
Coefficient of drag: 0.28
Seating capacity: 5
EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 28/38/32 mpg