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2012 Mazda3 i Grand Touring (photos)

Mazda's new 3 model gets direct-injection engine technology to greatly increase fuel economy. The Mazda3's cabin tech is limited, but useful.

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Wayne_Cunningham.jpg

Wayne Cunningham

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Mazda redesigned its 3 model for 2012 with its Skyactiv technology, an umbrella term for fuel efficiency tech. Like the previous generation, the Mazda3 is available as a sedan or hatchback. An important distinction is also the i versus s trim, as the i model gets a Skyactiv engine, giving it much superior fuel economy.

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Mazda's current design language is called Kodo, and the new Mazda3 exhibits it to some degree, mostly down the sides. The front grille and headlight arrangement forms the smiling face which Mazda has designed into many of its cars.

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Our review car was the i Grand Touring, meaning it has the SkyActiv direct-injection engine with four cylinders and 2 liters of displacement. Mazda only gets 155 horsepower out of it, but also excellent fuel economy of 28 mpg city and 39 mpg highway.

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The Mazda3 has a roomy cabin, capable of fitting five adults easily.

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The suspension is tuned more for stability than comfort, which leads to some harsh jolts in the cabin.

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The hatchback space is not huge, but the rear seats fold down, expanding the cargo area with typical hatchback practicality.

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Mazda has long lagged behind competitors in cabin tech, but this newest Mazda3 patches some of the holes. The compact navigation unit comes standard in Grand Touring trim, and Bluetooth streaming audio allows music playback from iPhones and Android devices.

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As part of its Skyactiv initiative, the Mazda3 uses electric power-steering boost, taking some strain off the engine.

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Mazda maintains a simple instrument cluster, yet with a sporty look designed to evoke its Zoom Zoom theme.

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The Mazda3 i Grand Touring comes with a six-speed automatic, the only transmission choice. The lesser Touring trim model can be had with a six-speed manual.

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Mazda is very clever with its navigation system controls. These buttons on the steering-wheel spoke serve for destination entry.

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The flash memory-based navigation system fits in this upper section of the dashboard. It is small, but practical.

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Route guidance was not very good with this system, as it does not read out street names and the small size of the screen makes it difficult to tell where the car is in relation to streets.

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The navigation LCD also does duty as a trip information monitor.

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One surprising driver assistance feature on the Mazda3 was a blind-spot detection system, one of the most useful safety features around.

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The Mazda3 i Grand Touring came with a robust Bose audio system, which delivered above-average sound quality.

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