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The Mazda 3 was completely redesigned for 2014, and although it's now entering its third model year in this form. It's by no means lacking in flair; it's one of the most eye-catching, contemporary designs in its class, in fact. In hatchback form, its "cab-back" styling, evoking the proportions of a rear-wheel-drive car, really helps the design pop in ways that other compacts don't.
The latest 3 adopted Mazda's "Kodo" design language, which was first seen on the CX-5 crossover and Mazda 6 mid-size sedan. Although the front end might look blunt, this new design improves aerodynamics.
Inside, the Mazda 3 isn't quite as radical, but it has a tech-savvy look that also makes it a standout in this class. The instrument cluster houses a large central analog gauge with a wing-shaped digital display on either side. Regrettably, Mazda has succumbed to the use of glossy black trim for the center console and door accents, set off by satin chrome highlights. They look a bit cheap here and can also cause glare that is itself a driver distraction.
Mazda has designed a new driver-focused cockpit for the latest 3, with pedals and manual controls arranged symmetrically around the driver's centerline. A head-up display is available and it uses a clear panel that pops up from behind the instrument cluster when the car is turned on to show speed, turn-by-turn directions, and other critical information.
There's not as much of a difference between 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter "i" and 184-hp, 2.5-liter "s" models as you might think. The "i" is plenty quick for most needs, and it’ll net you an extra mile per gallon or two overall. Both engines have the same personality and are very smooth all the way up the rev range. With the last redesign that the 3 got a couple of years ago, it made some major gains in interior trims; yet there were some steps backward, however—mostly the consequences of the Mazda 3's fashionable exterior.
From the front seats forward, the Mazda 3 feels premium, and materials are a major step forward for Mazda—even in some cases better than what’s offered in the latest Mazda 6. Yet, the interior surface alongside the rear doors is a hard surface that has a slightly different sheen and is just hard plastic (Mazda isn’t the only offender; it’s also in the Honda Civic, for instance). The headliner itself is another area of disheartening cheapness; in both top-of-the-line Grand Touring we spent time with, it felt like flimsy cardboard covered by a felt-like material, with the entire section a bit loose over the moonroof mechanism. In short, you don't have to look far to see the cost-cutting.
There's one big advantage for the 2.5-liter, though: It makes its peak 185 pound-feet of torque at 3,250 rpm, while the 2.0-liter makes 150 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm; as a result, the 2.5 feels noticeably stronger at the lower end of the rev range, which should make it an even better companion for the automatic transmission.
*This vehicle is Certified Pre-Owned and is eligible for our third party warranty program.