On first getting into this Mazda3, I was disappointed not to find a USB port, and figured Mazda remained a laggard in the cabin tech department. But then I found the Bluetooth streaming audio source. Although not offering the control or information capabilities of good iPod integration, Bluetooth streaming is effortless, and works with a large number of phones.
Even in this 2012 model, Mazda's cabin tech is still moderate. Beyond Bluetooth streaming audio, the only other digital audio sources in our test Mazda3 were an auxiliary input and satellite radio. Of course there was also a Bluetooth phone system, but it was very basic. It didn't give access to a connected phone's contact list, and the voice command system, which controls only the phone, doesn't include dialing by name.
Another nicety of the Grand Tourer trim is a Bose audio system with 10 speakers. The audio quality was better than I would have expected in a Mazda3, but faces stiff competition from other carmakers, which have also begun to offer quality systems in lower-priced cars.
Mazda conveniently places the radio display, which shows two lines in big fonts, up at the top of the dashboard, just below the windshield. This placement is excellent, as it doesn't make drivers peer down at the central console for extended periods of time. Not that the radio display has much data to show. When playing audio over Bluetooth, it merely says BT Audio, with no song information. With satellite radio it will show the artist, but not the station, making it difficult to find specific stations.
Next to the radio display in our top-trim Mazda3 was the navigation screen, a 3x5-inch color LCD. It doesn't match the look of the radio display, and it is small as navigation screens go, but I liked it. Again, the positioning is up near eye level, so it doesn't distract from the road. With maps stored in flash memory, the refresh time is very good.
The system's route guidance is subpar, with few graphics showing turn information. While navigating around suburban streets, I found the apparent position of the car on the map seemed slightly off from what it was in reality, once making me miss a turn. The voice prompts don't do text-to-speech, either, so the system doesn't say the names of streets for upcoming turns.
The interface for destination input is very cleverly designed, mostly relying on a rocker switch set into the right steering-wheel spoke. Pushing it in brings up a destination input menu, and alphanumeric selection uses a racetrack-style interface. The latter is a bit tedious, but given the lack of a touch screen or dial, works amazingly well.
One final bit of tech that was surprising to find on this car was a blind-spot detection system. An icon in the sideview mirror lit up when a car was traveling in the Mazda3's blind spot, and the system sounded an audible warning if I also hit the turn signal when it detected a car in the blind spot. This system generally did its job, although it came on once when the Mazda3 was in the leftmost lane next to a concrete lane divider.
Beyond this one false positive, the system gave useful warnings a few times when I wanted to change lanes and hadn't realized another car had crept up into the blind spot. Like the navigation system, blind-spot detection is only available in the Grand Touring trim.
The 2012 Mazda3 i Grand Touring came with more cabin tech than I expected, but that is more measured against past Mazda models than other automakers. The cabin has some good tech features, but some serious deficiencies as well. I liked the compact nature of the navigation system, but its lack of traffic data and good route guidance are real problems.
I also expected more from the new direct-injection engine, as other automakers have been able to pull more horsepower out of similar displacement. But Mazda seems to have tuned for fuel economy, which is quite good in the Mazda3 i Grand Touring, especially considering the sizable cabin. As a multipurpose family vehicle, the Mazda3 i Grand Touring is practical and economical.
|Trim||i Grand Touring|
|Power train||Direct-injection 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||28 mpg city/39 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||30.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard flash-memory-based system|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||None|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Bose 265-watt 10-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Blind-spot detection|
|Price as tested||$24,985|