Car Tech Video: 2014 Mazda3
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Car Tech Video: 2014 Mazda3

6:27 /

The first rule of producing small affordable cars is don't make them look like small affordable cars. Does the new Mazda3 succeed?

The first rule when you set up to make a small cheap car is to try to not make it look like a small cheap car. On that front, I think Mazda is up to a pretty darn good start. Let's try this 2014 Mazda3 5-door s Grand Touring and check the tech. The first thing I love about this Mazda3 is the look and the quality of the cabin materials. This is kind of Audi [unk] on a much better budget. Nice looking understated trim, this is the new Mazda look. It's tach-centric, a little digital speedo in the corner, and everything else is pushed out as a periphery. Now, of course, the next thing that grabs your eye is this. This is an all-new look and feel for them. It's the now in vogue in the industry toaster slot, tablet-style head unit screen. You've got apps, your media luckily all in one place. Thank you, Mazda. No one else seems to do that -- communication, navigation, your overall settings. And here's your source list. It's all the hits that you need. AM, FM with HD radio satellite, aha, Pandora, and Stitcher apps are built in, but you have to launch them on your phone to get this to talk. Bluetooth streaming, USB, optical disc of course. Everything is done from a controller down here with home buttons for major functions, little Audi-like volume knob to the right. Unfortunately, it's kind of surrounded by other knobs. It's really kind of hard to operate. I wish they'd make it taller or wider or something. When you're driving, you see the speed limit show up here in the left corner of the screen. That's really good. And if you exceed the speed limit, it turns red and yellow to remind you. That's something very cool. I don't think I've seen that before. Navigation entry is pretty easily done via the controller or via the voice button over here. Unfortunately, when you hit the voice button, you don't get really clear prompts on the screen on what you can or should say. On the other hand, you can enter the destination as one blurp from street number to state without having to go bucket by bucket. That's commendable. On the other hand, when you wanna turn down the voice guidance, which I often don't use, get this, the voice stops talking, it's muted, but it's still mutes the left side of the audio system when it would have been talking. That makes no sense. I can't believe that actually made it out of production. It's infuriating as hell. On thing I am missing here is there is no live internet search to destination like you'll find on a BMW, Mercedes, Audi. No Google in other words. You'd have to know the address or use the POI database, and those are never very good. And as you're gonna start to notice here, there are an incredible number of settings I haven't seen on most other cars that spooks the average driver. I'm not a big fan of things like calling focus of the HUD calibration. Just call it focus. An incredible number of traffic settings including something called detour sensitivity. I do this for a living and I have no idea what that is. Traffic is forked in two sessions. There's online traffic which requires a Wi-Fi hotspot device hooked up to the car, and then under Apps, you've got HD radio-delivered traffic which is a separate traffic map that's not part of the navigation screen. So, this is kind of a scattered mass of too many choices, too much gobbledygook and jargon, and not enough unifications. Fuel economy monitor is interesting. The cars that have i-Eloop, the dumbest trade name in the auto business, actually have regenerative braking which is not uncommon, but in this case, they use an alternator that can run it 12 or even higher volts to charge a capacitor, not the battery. That's really high tech stuff. We'll explain the use of capacitors versus batteries in a future Car Tech 101 on CNET on Cars. We have the optional Bose Centerpoint with AudioPilot noise cancelling. I gotta say this system did a really good job with tortured signals like satellite radio, brought them up clean without a lot of that artifact de-sibilant. So, pick up on that. Now, you may have noticed we've got little projection screen that winks up off the dash when you start the car and there's sort of a blue electrofluorescent camera under there, giving us a pretty rudimentary display. The problem we had was the thing is very uneven. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn't. Sometimes, the height control actually does something. Sometimes, it doesn't. And sometimes, the image just goes up and out and I couldn't get it back. We've also got blind spot detection. Like the lane departure, it's passive. Little indicators light up in the mirrors. Adaptive cruise control on this car, that means it'll maintain speed and distance ahead. There is no assisted parking on this car. You do get a rearview camera. Sensors, though, oddly enough, are optional. Now, under the hood, this Mazda3, because it's an s or sport model, has a 2.5-liter inline-4. The "i" cars will have a 2-liter inline-4. But what they have in common is something called SKYACTIV technology in that shelf. That means it's a really high compression engine, almost at diesel levels of compression. 184 horsepower, 185 foot-pounds of torque, 0 to 60 for this 3,000-pound car is a respectable 7.5 seconds. Notice that 3,000 pounds is pretty light by today's standards. MPG is 27/37. Transmission and drivetrain are straightforward. Six-speed automatic only and a real automatic, not a CVT, and front-wheel drive only. The thing feels like it's put together like a drum. There's not a rattle in the car and I'm on a crappy waterfront road right now, so that's saying something. Now, here is the odd thing. The engine does not feel as good to me as it looks on paper. I don't get a lot in that 20 to 80 percent of pedal travel. It just kind of gets stuck in unbearably tall gears. In fact, I'll tell you I thought it was a CVT when I first drove the car. You know, I never looked at the specs [unk] I've driven the car for a while and I would not have bet it was an automatic. The head-up display is kind of badly positioned 'cause it puts the data, the tech that's on it, right over the arm of the wiper which is a busy background and it's not my favorite positioning for a HUD. It's actually kind of out of my line of sight. I think they could put that stuff on the dash and it would be just as good. Okay, let's price our Mazda3. It's pretty much top of the line loaded, so we're looking at $27,300 for s 2.5-liter Grand Touring trim that brings in nav and a bunch of other tech. Then, on top of that, we're gonna add 2,600 bucks for the Grand Touring tech package. That adds the i-Eloop capacitor-based regeneration system, kind of high tech stuff, lane departure warning, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control. Other options include rear sensors, oddly enough for ala carte at 450, and remote start is 575. You're a little over $30,000 for this guy loaded up. And the cabin tech, as I showed you, is kind of getting out in front of its keys and definitely has some bugs that need to be worked out. Overall, though, they've got a serious contender in the segment.

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