Mountain Wheels: The heavily evolved Mazda3 sedan achieves luxurious stature
Perspective has become a little skewed for all of us. This week, as I discuss the very advanced, current edition of the Mazda3 and also a repeat visit I had with the accomplished Mazda CX-5 crossover, I will indeed say it feels like only yesterday that I drove the 3’s great-grandparent — and luckily that’s not just a memory from February.
No, I actually had a 1982 Mazda GLC, which I purchased in the early ’90s and used to roam the continent. Back then, Mazda occupied a slightly mysterious echelon somewhere between the other Japanese manufacturers, and basic motoring was the mantra.
We have moved through many, many generations of Mazda to arrive at the all-new 2019 Mazda3 sedan, which I drove last year, an all-wheel-drive Premium model that came to $30,635, all totaled, and starts at $21,000 in its most basic form. This year, the 2020 models of sedan and the super-sexy hatchback are available with few new changes, other than their almost complete transformation the year before.
The 3 family has provided two very different choices for what had become a disappearing breed — non-SUV buyers — with the hatchback morphed into a modern, super-sleek machine that looks like candle wax in a wind tunnel, and the sedan occupying a space and size I swear the Mazda6 used to hold, with equally swept looks.
From its swept, striking and solid exterior to an interior that is even blacker than Mazda’s typical style (don’t ask me how that’s possible), the new 3 sedan takes on an upscale feel. Metal accented sill plates and covers for its Bose speakers; a floating, white-accented, soft-touch leather shelf that sweeps around the entire cabin; and classy chrome instruments with a switchable digital center face all speak to a very different experience than my long-ago 3 ancestor.
Combine that with the striking white perforated leather seating, and you have a very different experience than even relatively recent Mazda3 models.
Driving, it also exceeds expectations, behaving like a swift, almost drift-able stealth machine that handles in an exciting and composed fashion, even doing some gear kickdowns in sport mode, with the 2.5-liter SkyActiv four-cylinder charging along with a giddy 186 horsepower. You’ll certainly feel lower to the road and maybe a bit more penned in than you might in an SUV model, but the resulting connection and very present comfort makes it a pretty cool ride.
It can be just a little challenging at first to actually find the controls in that blacker-than-black interior, a tiny bank of air controls virtually invisible even in daylight and various storage cubbies needing to be explored like a darkened closet. I had trouble working the maps on a new 8.8-inch-wide center display and got auto-zoom that I could never stop zooming. A cordless phone charging pad and extra USB outlets inside the sliding, leather-topped elbow rest were a nice touch.
Mazda also has gone heavy into its standard safety features that include a new driver-attention alert system, lane-departure warning and assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts, plus radar cruise control and in-city braking assist.
Memory lane also included a second drive a while back in the new CX-5, which was entirely redesigned in 2017 and, in the 2019 high-end Signature edition I drove, received an equally splashy upgraded interior, a turbocharged 2.5-liter SkyActiv engine and driving technologies including torque-vectoring cornering control. I missed out on the more interesting variation, a $41,000 diesel-engined edition with a 2.2-liter turbo offering 290 foot-pounds of torque and up to 30 MPG on the highway, but the specs are pretty impressive for the standard engine: as much as 250 horse power on that now dirt-cheap, high-octane gasoline and 310 foot-pounds of torque. I still got nearly 29 MPG total, with a base price of $36,890, bumped up only a bit by a beautiful machine gray paint job and a rear bumper guard.
That repeat drive in the CX-5 revealed what I felt was just a little weightiness to the crossover, still Mazda’s biggest-selling model in the United States. The upside was that it’s still a very classy variation on the endlessly crowded world of compact crossovers, with looks that include an especially evocative nose, tasteful lines and loads of interior space
Its 19-inch wheels, with what I described as shiny, Twizzler-styled spokes, rest in large wheel wells, suggesting decent articulation space for any trail driving or winter snow.
Unlike the smaller models, it did feel like I was vaguely overdriving the chassis for its quite abundant power with a bit of a top-heavy feel.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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