By on February 20, 2012

A mere 72 hours after I picked up my Mazda3 SKYACTIV hatchback with the 6-speed automatic transmission, Mazda informed me that they had a 6-speed manual transmission hatch available, and that I was welcome to return the automatic version in exchange for the stickshift. The next day, I dropped off the white automatic for a bright blue manual version. What a mistake.

It’s not that the manual transmission is bad. Far from it. The shift action is crisp, direct and satisfying, with an easy to operate clutch. If I were to buy this car, I would opt for it because I love driving manual. But let’s be clear; claims from other outlets that this gearbox apes the MX-5 are wishful thinking at best, hyperbole at worst. I know this because I own a Miata. It also does not measure up to the wonderful 6-speed automatic offered in this car.

Using a combination of a torque converter and clutch plates, Mazda has created a gearbox that upshifts seemlessly and downshifts with the intensity of an early Volkswagen DSG transmission. While the manual requires a slightly awkward 6-4 downshift to pass anyone on the highway, pressing firmly on the accelerator, or using the +/- manual override feature helps the Mazda3 get out of its own way much quicker.

With 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, the SKYACTIV 2.0L 4-Cylinder puts up decent numbers for its class, but has a few unavoidable idiosyncrasies. Start-up, particularly on a cold morning is loud, with an idle approaching 2000 rpm (as shown above) as the engine heats up. Ostensibly this is done in the name of fuel economy and emissions, but dropping it in gear and driving away before the car is warmed up neutralizes this effect. Torque below 3000 rpm is tepid, but the engine itself isn’t unpleasant as it builds to its 6500 rpm redline.

The middling powerplant is redeemed by a chassis and steering that, in the words of Chuck Sheen, makes the competition look like “droopy, armless children.” The Elantra may have the lock on fuel economy and the Focus may be the most upscale, but the Mazda3 is the driver’s choice in this segment by far. Well-weighted, precise steering and a chassis that provides ample feedback are the highlights here, and even Michelin Alpin snow tires couldn’t dampen the car’s enthusiasm for highway ramps and rural backroads. The one drawback is a slightly firm ride that may surprise economy car buyers looking for A-B transportation. If you’re an automotive journalist looking for a Miata with a back seat, this is the one you want.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that a certain segment of consumers are looking for an escape from the overly tech-laden cars of today, and the Mazda3 should be their first stop. The cabin, clad largely in black hard plastic with a smattering of buttons, is so low tech that it seems to be making a Luddite fashion statement. SYNC, BlueLink, OnStar – you won’t find any of that in the Mazda3. You don’t even get a USB port here – in Canada, where the SKYACTIV comes only one way (as a mid-grade GS model, one step down from the Grand Touring trim), an iPod connector harness is a $450 option. There is an auxiliary jack (my favorite method of “infotainment connectivity”) and Bluetooth is standard, along with cruise control, A/C, heated seats (which work very well in frigid Canadian winter temperatures). Braggarts, technology whores and automotive forum junkies may not be able to yammer on about all the superfluous crap that’s available on other competitors, but I admire the Mazda3′s simplicity – some would even say purity. With that said, the interior materials are dated, if we’re being diplomatic. The flip-up plastic cover in the center console felt like it was liable to snap off at a moment’s notice, and some of the dash materials felt like they were made from polystyrene scale model bodies.

Fuel economy has always been the Mazda3′s big sticking point, and the SKYACTIV was meant to fix this issue. Mazda claims that fuel economy for the hatchback is 28/39 mpg for the automatic and 27/38 mpg for the manual. During our 4 days with the automatic, we managed 25 mpg in town (about 133 miles in total), and our manual returned 26 mpg over 342 miles, including a 115 mile highway drive. Mazda’s Canadian ratings are even higher, with Transport Canada advertising 37/55 imperial MPG (30/45 US MPG)  and touting as much as 58 mpg Imperial (48 US mpg highway) in the automatic sedan. Needless to say, we didn’t come close.

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In the US, the equivalent model retails for $19,300, with the equivalent sedan about $600 less. That puts it smack around the equivalent Cruze, and Elantra, and $1,000-$2,000 less than the equivalent Focus. There are lots of good cars in the compact segment. The Ford Focus offers something for everyone. The Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra aren’t as engaging to drive but are more “grown up” options. The Civic and Corolla are the fallback choices while the Subaru Impreza has all-wheel drive. The big problem for the SKYACTIV is that all the driving chops in the world may not be enough to overcome the goofy styling and the sub-standard (if pleasingly simple) interior. I’d buy one – but when have auto journalists ever been representative of the buying public?

 

Brendan McAleer previously tested the Mazda3 SKYACTIV

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121 Comments on “Review: 2012 Mazda3 SKYACTIV Take Two...”


  • avatar
    niky

    Obviously winter driving in town isn’t going to be the same as normal driving, but still a bit disappointing. What have other cars in the segment done in similar driving (in similar weather) on your regular routes?

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t really have a basis for comparison and the weather was exceptionally cold but I can post my route to and from work if you’d like,

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Good review, Derek.

        I’ve noticed a pattern setting in with what I’ll call the new, conventional, 35mpg to 40mpg highway ‘club’ of cars: There are a lot people claiming that the claims aren’t true, just like you reported in your review here.

        On another site where consumers post a lot about the pros and cons of their new vehicles, I see tons of complaints (more so than with other, traditional areas of bitchin’) about the real world fuel economy they’re getting and what the window sticker said.

        I’ve seen a huge number of these complaints regarding everything from the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus – people on that other site are on a literal rampage regarding the Focus, and I’m not vouching for the rage, just reporting what I read – Chevy Cruz Eco and even the turbo diesel VW Passats and Jettas (although the diesels don’t draw as much ire as the others do).

        To be honest, fuel economy like that which you achieved with the skyactiv 3 is disappointing for me, because it’s almost as if some of the latest and greatest engine technology is not producing the efficiency gains claimed with the internal combustion engine.

        Anyways, good review.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      Won’t tell me much, personally, as I’m not on that route. Like you, I’ll be interested to see what Karesh gets on his drive.

    • 0 avatar
      sayitagainsam

      I don’t know why your so disappointed reading this article. I bought the mazda 3 hatchback sky active this week for commuting after looking at all the other cars that could possibly get 40mpg’s. I have driven about 900 or so miles and am getting about 41mpg’s here in NJ. I am doing about 15% city and 85% highway. On the highway I drive 65m/hr on cruise. In the city I drive normally like everyone else. i am quite happy with car, although USB port would have been nice.

      • 0 avatar
        phx9357

        I bought a 2012 Mazda 3 back on July 4th. Obviously, I haven’t had it very long (1200 miles as of today) but what I can tell you is that I love it. I traded in a 2011 Kia Sportage that had promised much better gas mileage that it ever got close too. I drive about 70 miles per day going to work and back. The 3 had me at the test drive but I had to admit that I was skeptical about what the actual mileage would be. It handles great and has a lot of pick up for a car in its class. The gas mileage to this point has been fantastic. My typical drive is 35 miles each way to work and most of that is highway here in AZ. I was off last week so that entire tank was around town driving with very little highway . I was pleasantly surprised to see 35.4 combined mileage. How awesome is that! The best that I have seen from the highway has been 41.7. Besides being in shock vs what I was getting, I am totally in love with my new 3. There are a few interior changes that I would make if it was up to me with the way the mileage display works but other than that it was the best move I could have made.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    I appreciate the simplicity. Even the audio jack is something that probably won’t even get used (for me at least). The mileage you got was pathetic though. 25mpg? Our 12′ V6 Mustang manages about that in mixed driving…..

    I like the clean look of the Mazda’s interior better then that of the Focus. Shame the materials aren’t up to snuff. $19K seems pretty steep too. I think I’d pass for a Chevy Sonic, 1.4-turbo.

    • 0 avatar
      tekdemon

      He’s reviewing it in Canada in the middle of winter with snow tires on. I get something like 15mpg in my car in the wintertime just because I do all short drive and the engine is basically ice cold throughout much of the drive (park outside so no block heater). I’m sure if he used a block heater and maybe synthetic motor oil (synthetics have better viscosity at the really low temps in Canada) he’d probably see better averages numbers.

      Trust me, if you were testing your V6 Mustang in the same conditions as him it’d get worse mileage.

  • avatar
    johnhowington

    2008 called and asked for a USB port. really mazda?

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      +1. I can do without most of the other hi tech stuff, but having a crapload of music on $5 usb stick that I can leave in the car is all kinds of awesome. How much does Mazda save by not having it, a couple bucks per car? I’ll give them a little cred for aux and bluetooth, but really…

    • 0 avatar
      HalfMast

      2012 called and said not to bother with the USB. Leave your smartphone in your pocket and use Bluetooth audio like a normal person.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Doesn’t streaming music over bluetooth use quite a bit of a phone’s battery?

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        >> “Doesn’t streaming music over bluetooth use quite a bit of a phone’s battery?”

        Yes, especially if it’s coming over 4G which is notorious for sucking up power. I frequently use the USB port for charging my phone and other devices. I take advantage of every opportunity to top up my devices – you never know when you’ll need a full charge. I have a phone cradle for the car so it’s not difficult to snap the phone in.

      • 0 avatar
        HalfMast

        Stream music from your phone’s memory to the car over bluetooth isn’t a huge drain on the battery, only marginally more than it would just listening to music with headphones, and shouldn’t matter if you’re on 4G, 3G, Edge, because Bluetooth is a completely different data signal.

        What I think mcs is talking about is streaming internet-sourced music like Pandora, Spotify, or iCloud. That is harder on your battery, of course, and does matter what your data connection is (though I’m suprised to hear it’s worse on 4G… my iPhone’s battery does much better when it’s on 3G over Edge, figured you’d get similar improvement to 4G).

        And you still have power outlets & car chargers. That’s not really any different than needing your phone’s specific USB cable to use a car’s USB port.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I think 4G is more of a battery drain than 3G because carriers (at least Sprint in areas I travel) has inconsistent coverage, so the phone is always scanning for a signal.

        I’m skeptical of bluetooth because I don’t trust my phone’s battery to play music even through the 3.5mm headphone connection. I might be paranoid, but I would be surprised if the phone makes it through the day if I used it for music without a charging cable. Any drive of significant distance obviously requires a charging cable.

        The hope with a USB port is not to connect your phone to it all the time, but to use a memory stick loaded with music. I’m sure this depends on the USB implementation, as having a USB port doesn’t necessarily mean the car can recognize a folder structure and play music from it.

        A USB connection that allows you to navigate and play music gives you a huge collection in the car at all times with no cables to worry about. USB memory is cheap too, which is a bonus since I bet a surprising percentage of the market still doesn’t have a smartphone. Due to battery concerns, I think of bluetooth as a tool for phone calls or streaming music only for the shortest of commutes.

      • 0 avatar
        HalfMast

        Interesting… I generally don’t worry about plugging the phone in unless drive time is 1.5 to 2 hours long, unless the battery was already low before starting. I just haven’t found Bluetooth to be that rough on the battery. And the sound quality has been suprisingly good. Maybe all that has to do with which version of the A2DP driver you have. Or maybe your fancy 4G phone just isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be (sorry, couldn’t resist!).

        I understand the idea of the USB stick, but that’s an additional copy of my music library that I have to manually update. My music library lives on my laptop and automatically syncs to my phone, that works for me.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        One advantage to using a line-in jack over USB is that you can use the phone’s interface to browse your music, which is often far less sucktastic than the one built into the car’s infotainment system.

        A second advantage is that USB might not always work. Does your device support mass storage, point-to-point or MTP? How about Apple’s revisions to the iPod accessory spec (such that I can’t effectively use an iPhone with my 2008 Fit’s head). Meanwhile, the 1/8″ jack just works every time.**

        ** except for the blasts of static on some Android phones due to their wacky handling of haptic feedback…

    • 0 avatar
      strafer

      Really, all new cars should come with USB standard.
      I recently installed aftermarket head unit with USB ($100) on my 2003 Element, and plugged in 16 GB stick which holds all my MP3 collection and still have 2 gigs free.
      no more swapping CDs.

    • 0 avatar
      Wraith

      I’m looking for USB / iPod integration in my next car. Aux input is fine, but it’s not exactly safe to navigate iPod controls while driving.

      Mazda has an iPod Integration Module available, but their compatibility chart hasn’t been updated since 2010, so don’t know if it would work with my Touch.

      The CX-5 comes with USB standard.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    Sounds like the usual Mazda product. Goofy looking, cheap materials and poor gas mileage. I try to like Mazda products but after buying two Mazda’s over the years i gave them up.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    “but the Mazda3 is the driver’s choice in this segment by far”
    Maybe if you keep saying it, it will become true.
    Seriously though, I’ve driven a Mazda3 before. I didn’t think “real driver’s car” so much as “rental car”. It was nice enough. My fiance’s 2008 VW Rabbit beats the pants off it both in terms of satisfaction and refinement.
    I’m sure you had a lovely time in it, Derek, that your observations are heartfelt, and the new improvements made in the new model sound sweet, but I can’t help wonder if there some second-artist-effect going on in the journalism print/web world in more than a few of the pieces I read on this car over the years.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      From what I’ve driven, it’s certainly my choice. Did you drive it hard enough to enjoy any throttle-lift oversteer?

      I haven’t driven any recent VWs aside from a New Beetle though, so maybe I’m missing out there. Or maybe they’ve softened them up since the first gen.

  • avatar

    I had a 2006 2.3L hatch and now a 2011 2.5L hatch and I just love that car, I did look for a different car in the same price range and could not find any other car that will give me the same joy ride. Fuel economy is one thing you need to ignore when we talk Mazda3, my car consume gas at a rate that is a little embarrassing for it’s size but the 2.5L will never disappoint it terms of power.
    I wonder what is wrong with the interior? the competition is defiantly not better, Toyota Prius and Corola, Honda Civic, Nissan sentra and the Elantra, all have hard cheap plastic, the only exception is the Focus.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I really don’t get the issue with the ‘hard plastic’ either. Unless it’s on the armrests or it fades/cracks, it’s not that big of a deal.

      • 0 avatar
        bryanska

        Wrapping the pieces in soft material is a fun and tasteful mod. I’m doing my Fit in grey microfiber this summer. Not the dash, mind you, but only because I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t gaudy. But definitely the dash pillars, door panels, and inserts.

        Takes about a day and the results can make the car feel like a Cadillac.

    • 0 avatar
      HalfMast

      See my comment way below… My 2011 Mazda3 GT has the exact same interior. I understand Derek’s comment about the plastic not looking amazing (though I sometimes think that reviewers end up comparing compact car interiors against the likes of Aston Martin’s, Jag’s and Merc’s), but I honestly don’t have any complaints about it and it has held up well in the year’s time. And yes, I think it’s as good as, if not better than, the other cars in this segment.

  • avatar
    Anchorman33

    My wife has a sedan version with automatic. It’s a pleasant little car, but has less knee room that the previous generation. I can’t get comfortable behind the wheel or passenger seat because my 34″ inseam legs bump the dash. That said, she is averaging nearly 40 mpg on a mostly highway commute in SoCal traffic. Short jaunts on the freeway, even on the up hill portion of the commute can clock 45 mpg+…admittedly based on the trip computer. All told, it isn’t the most refined car, but for $21K and change with leather, nav, sunroof, bluetooth, and an engaging drive, we’ve got no complaints.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      What is the intended demographic for this car? Seems to me it is competing in a crowded field and value-wise it is somewhere in mid-pack.

      When we helped buy our grand daughter a new car for her HS graduation in May of 2011, she looked at a 2011 Mazda3 and it came in second place. It was fun to drive even with an automatic but not as appealing to this 18-year old girl as the 2011 Elantra was.

      So if cars in this class are designed to primarily appeal to young people, then where will this Mazda3 rank in annual sales (in this class)? So far the Mazda3 hasn’t been doing all that well.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnQbert

        I think I can answer that.

        Most like the curvy appearance, refined interior, and the tech that comes with the Hyundai Elantra.

        The “how it drives” aspect isn’t really a popular issue with today’s youth, since they just want a comfy ride to transport them and friends from point A to Point B.

        I test drove an Elantra, Veloster, Mazda 3, Ford Focus. I liked the lux feel of the Elantra, but it wasn’t a drivers car. The steering and brakes were nice, but it didn’t feel agile.

        The Veloster has poor rear visibility, which is what kept me from getting one (that and lack of power, but that’s fixed with the upcoming turbo edition). The interior was somewhat nice.

        The Ford Focus’s auto transmission was lazy to be honest, but the select shift was really nice. The issues with the DCT transmissions scared me away from Ford. The interior felt decent for an average commuter car.

        I’ll probably end up getting a Mazda 3 HB, since its the only car that felt decent while driving. I’m not a nut about how close it gets to 40 MPG, since my current vehicle only gets a max of 15 MPG (Highway driving).

        If I had to make a recommendation to Mazda, I’d say upgrade the interior. Now that they’re joining the rest of the world for MPG’s, they need to improve the drivers cabin experience.

        The exterior to me isn’t as horrible as most say it is, but it’s styling is somewhat dated.

        A small note…I was scared away from VW’s regarding the fees for fixes after the warranty is up. The cars are great, but those service fee’s for VW’s can be really expensive if you’re looking at long term ownership.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Thanks, JohnQbert!

        Excellent write. Makes sense.

      • 0 avatar
        biafel

        I checked out Mazda 3 skyactiv, VW Golf, Ford Focus, Hyundai.

        The ones that made the wall of shame: Hyundai and VW Golf. First off, Hyundai shouldn’t be pronounced anything close to “Honda” What a scam. The interior looks too basic and cheap. I can say the same thing with VW Golf. The only difference is that VW Golf is way overpriced for what it is.

        Ford Focus doesn’t boast a 40 MPG by the way, it’s 38. This is because they have a “double clutch” system for their automatic transmission. They dont have a manumatic option where you can get higher mpg.

        After 3 months of driving my Mazda Sedan, I can attest to the fact that I do get 40 MPG and even more. I like how it automatically connects my iphone by bluetooth without me doing anything. The only inconvenience is that when I open the trunk and there’s snow on the back window, the snow rolls directly into the trunk. lol

      • 0 avatar
        Woochifer

        @biafel “I checked out Mazda 3 skyactiv, VW Golf, Ford Focus, Hyundai.

        The ones that made the wall of shame: Hyundai and VW Golf. First off, Hyundai shouldn’t be pronounced anything close to “Honda” What a scam. The interior looks too basic and cheap. I can say the same thing with VW Golf. The only difference is that VW Golf is way overpriced for what it is.”

        Except for the Elantra, your list is identical to mine. (Never got around to the Elantra because I wanted a hatchback) My impression of the Golf was that the interior is basic, but slightly nicer overall than the Mazda3. I was trying out the TDI, which is very nice and I also liked how the car handled. Ultimately, the cost was higher than I wanted to go (plus, the TDI’s higher repair costs need to be factored in as well).

        “Ford Focus doesn’t boast a 40 MPG by the way, it’s 38. This is because they have a “double clutch” system for their automatic transmission. They dont have a manumatic option where you can get higher mpg.”

        Ford does offer a 40 MPG variant, but the SFE version is an extra cost option package that adds low resistance tires, special aero flat wheels, wind diverting shutters on the front grille, among other features. Also, Ford does offer the manumatic mode on all of its Focus. On the S and SE models, it’s toggle button on the gear knob, and on the SEL and Titanium models, it comes with a shift-gate.

        Here too, I liked the interior a little better than the Mazda3, but what ultimate tipped me in favor of the Mazda3 was the more refined feel of the Skyactiv drivetrain. I thought that the Focus’ engine felt a little coarser (IIRC, it’s a direct-injected version of the previous engine that Ford shared with Mazda), and the dual clutch transmission was a step down from the Skyactiv auto tranny. Since the Focus and Mazda3 share the C1 platform, the handling was similarly good.

        I don’t get a lot of the complaints about the Mazda3′s interior. Yes, the competition has raised the bar, but that doesn’t instantly render the Mazda’s interior as cheap or whatever. In fact, the lack of a touchscreen and techie overload was a welcome relief after messing with the gawdawful MyFordTouch controls (the touchscreen I tried with the VW Golf was much better designed, and thankfully more limited in its functions).

  • avatar

    A shame about the gas mileage, especially with the high compression. I’d worry about reliability. Re the gas mileage, my new (to me) ’08 Civic LX with stick got 36-plus mpg driving Boston to DC at 70, and it seems to be getting more than 30 in mixed 50:50 highway/city driving. The steering is tight, the handling flat, and overall the car is agile. The engine is smooth, though not particularly powerful by car guy standards. I considered the 3, but they were a couple of Gs more expensive for comparable.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      I failed to mention that up above.

      All these new gas motors have really high compression ratios. Direct engine took it up a notch, and now there are more and more incremental changes being made which are taking those compression levels even higher.

      It’d be one thing if these motors were built to what we now associate with diesel engine specs in terms of robustness and durability, and I’m sure the manufacturers’ engineers will claim they’ve taken this issue into consideration, but time will tell.

      • 0 avatar
        strafer

        I was wondering that back in the 90s when each new generation of sport bikes had higher and higher compression ratio.
        Looking back now, there were no reason to worry about reliability going down.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    So, if I buy the car and don’t get the mileage, can I sue and win like Heather Peters did in her lawsuit against Honda?

    Sounds like Mazda is lying about their fuel mileage. I hope someone tries and wins.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to admit that I drove the car very hard throughout the week. For what its worth. Michael’s review will be up sometime soon, so I’m interested to see how he fares.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        That’s certainly disappointing fuel economy. I have a 2.0L 2008 Mazda 3 and that’s about what I get in a Canadian winter. I do find that winter affects the fuel economy in my Mazda 3 more than most others I’ve owned so hopefully it does better in warmer weather.

        The poor fuel economy is the Mazda’s biggest weakness, in my opinion. I had high hopes the SKYACTIV would fix that.

      • 0 avatar
        Zoom

        Why didn’t you write that in the review then? That’s a big piece of information to leave out of a review when talking about fuel economy.

      • 0 avatar
        MZ3AUTOXR

        If I can get low 30′s from my 2.3, I am sur that the 40′s are attainable. Trick is you have to drive it like a Prius, not the way Mazda drives the car in commercials. But then, that is true of any car.

    • 0 avatar

      Consumer Reports did just that, Reality check: Will your car actually achieve the advertised 40-mpg?

      http://news.consumerreports.org/cars/2012/02/reality-check-will-your-car-actually-achieve-the-advertised-40-mpg.html

      All but Hyundai Elantra were actually better than advertise, The Mazda3 was rated at 43mpg.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      The only reason the Honda case prospered is because there was an actual drop in economy due to the reprogramming. Which frustrated customers to no end, being given a taste of hybrid goodness, then having to put up with failing battery packs and poor economy at the same time.

      Cars which don’t quite meet their EPA economy often do so because of the differences in driving styles and cycles. It’s easy to exceed EPA in turbodiesels because they build up torque right away, allowing you to cruise at lower throttle openings.

      With gasoline cars, it’s highly dependent on throttle mapping. Toyota and Honda usually use mapping that opens the throttle a lot more at low pedal inputs. Mazda uses more linear throttle mapping. People coming in expecting big engine torque from smaller mills are happy with Toyota’s solution. With Mazda, they tend to bury the pedal to get the same effect, leading to poorer consumption.

      I’ve driven Mazdas back-to-back with Toyotas and Hondas, and the consumption is similar enough for the difference to be unremarkable.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I drove a Mazda3 hatch with auto & averaged 36. The EPA ratings seem accurate to me.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    The lack of a manual on the Grand Touring model took this off my list immediately. Of course, the current 3 was already off my list because it’s unspeakably hideous. Which is a shame, because I loved the old one and regretted not buying a new one when I had the chance.

    I took delivery of my 2012 Jetta GLI on Thursday. So far I’ve been getting about 34 on the highway and 29 combined, with my lead foot. And the manual transmission is fantastic. I had to bump my budget up about 4k to buy this car over some over the dreary, sluggish compacts I was considering for a long while, but it was worth every penny.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      Enjoy the GLI. I have a 2008 Mazda 3 and a GTI. Certainly the GTI is a treat, even compared to the Mazda, but especially compared to other compacts I considered.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        What exactly is the difference between the GLI and the GTI? I read all of the Jack’s reviews discussing the pros/cons of each, but still didn’t catch the big difference.

        (Running from all the flying objects being hurled at my head.)

    • 0 avatar
      acuraandy

      Nice. Not to be a jerk, but how’s that $3.79/gal (SOON TO BE $5!) 93 octane treatin’ ya…?

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        I’ve owned a couple of gas guzzlers in my time. The GLI gets roughly the same mileage as the Civic I traded, but with twice the horsepower and real, useable torque. ~4 bucks a tank is a small price to pay for that.

        For all the complaining about the decontenting of the new Jetta, it feels like a luxury car compared to a decade-old Civic. The GLI upgrades eliminate or distract from many of the complaints. The upholstered A-pillars in particular are a nice, unnecessary added touch.

      • 0 avatar
        Marko

        When the price of gas increases or decreases, the price difference between grades (20-25 cents or so) seems to remain the same.

        And the GLI is a very nice car, by the way.

      • 0 avatar
        acuraandy

        A valid point.

        I in the past six months went from living in my parents basement and driving 100mi a day simply to ‘not be home’ to being a homeowner and driving, well, MAYBE 100mi (US, not Imperial :) a WEEK. Finally at the point where a Premium gas requirement wouldn’t necessarily make me not buy a car.

        Adjusted for inflation, gasoline is still a bargain, as much as we(even myself) all bitch about it not being sub-$2/gal. I once filled up my ’87 Camaro on 93 octane at $.89/gal. This instance was right after 9/11/01 (around Thanksgiving 2001) when the airliners weren’t flying of course, but still…

        Bought milk or hamburger lately, guys? Here’s yer sign…

        P.S. Saw a neo-GLI Jetta the other day in Brooklyn Park, VERY sharp looking ride. Congrats!

      • 0 avatar
        Charles

        They lowered the compression just a tad to take regular fuel, under the impression that North American drivers would balk at putting in premium for the added mpg benefit.

        Kinda like the CX7 they tuned for regular fuel in 2008.

        I’ve got a co-worker who is definitely not a feather-foot, and he can’t get his SKYACTIV to get less than 30 mpg, despite trying. Perhaps living at 6,500 feet might have something to do with it.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Any word on when the 3′s interior will be improved? Being that an owner will see the interior more than the exterior, Mazda should upgrade it soon!

  • avatar
    skor

    Those gas mileage numbers are disappointing. I owned a first gen Ford Probe with the 2.3, 3 valve engine. The Probe was actually a Mazda MX-6. That Probe would get 22-23mpg around town and 30-32mpg on the highway. For all the new tech, it looks like Mazda hasn’t advanced very much in 20 years.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnQbert

      The problem with his MPG numbers are that he was having fun with the car while saying he drove highway. A fun lead foot will kill any MPG average, even if its only half the miles.

      Highway mileage isn’t reached until you’re doing 80+ miles on the highway everyday – otherwise the engine never really adjusts to that type of driving.

      Sheesh…these days everyone feels they should have a 300+ HP vehicle getting 45 MPG+ that’s lightweight and has 10 speakers and a touchscreen for under 25k. If you want mileage, just buy a Prius already.

      • 0 avatar
        mikedt

        Yes, I’d venture to say any auto reviewer is going to have a hard time hitting EPA numbers unless his real goal is to achieve them. Driving a car in hard/fun/reviewer mode is not conducive to high mpg. I’m sure the first month of car ownership for any enthusiast has lower mpg than the second month just because you’re probably tromping on the throttle every chance you get during your “get acquainted” stage.

    • 0 avatar
      Brendan McAleer

      2.2L. Good car, with the turbo motor.

  • avatar
    foojoo

    You must really be jumping on the gas pedal. I average 26-28 MPG in a 2012 non-Skyactiv Mazda3, and I do almost 100% city driving. I don’t drive like an old woman, nor do I drive like a maniac.

  • avatar
    Brendan McAleer

    For all those disappointed by the fuel economy, I beat the absolute CRAP out of the automatic Skyactiv Sedan I had, and was actually pretty please with the results. The problem with the Mazda is that it’s fun to drive, so you drive it hard. Penalty boxes that put you to sleep will get better mileage, but this car returns very good fuel economy given how hard you will want to flog it. Depends what kind of driving experience you’re looking for.

    Also, DK is right on with his comments on the auto-box. It’s better, given the application, than PDK.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      This is why I get all my economy numbers from a test unit during normal sedate commuting in the middle of the week… and THEN beat the absolute hell out of the car on a balls-out weekend trip.

  • avatar
    otaku

    Cold winter temps and ethanol blended gas may partially explain the negative effect on overall gas mileage. Still, considering all the SKYACTIVE hype over the course of the last few months, those mpg figures seem fairly disappointing. I own a 2008 Ford Focus Coupe automatic which uses a basic Mazda-sourced 2.0L Duratec engine without any of the direct-injection, high-compression (or even variable valve timing) electronic felgercarb and I average right around 30 mpg in mostly city/suburban driving. Hell, I’m fairly certain I could keep the lever in low gear and still do better than 25. I wonder how much heavier this Mazda hatchback is versus my lightweight two-door?

    • 0 avatar
      Zoom

      You have to read the comments to find out that Derek “drove the car very hard throughout the week”. Truthiness fail on Derek’s part.

      • 0 avatar
        otaku

        Well, that might be part of the equation, but he also states in his review that, “Torque below 3000 rpm is tepid.” I wonder if this means that the SKYACTIV is tuned to make most of its useful power at higher rpm’s than most of the competition, or if the Mazda 3 hatch is so heavy that the new 2 liter needs to work a lot harder than the older 2.5 to get out of its own way?

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Here’s the torque curve:

        http://i1127.photobucket.com/albums/l634/phytheaux/2012_mazda3.jpg

        edit: trying to get the link to work

  • avatar
    ambulancechaser

    I can honestly say, hand on heart, that fuel economy will have nothing to do with my next car purchase and I’ll tell you why. I will never forget owning a 2wd 4 cylinder Ford Ranger manual. Especially the part where I could only pass another car if it were Thursday afternoon. And only if the road was perfectly straight for the next 50km. And only if it was going down hill with a tail wind. And only then if the moon was in it’s third quarter. You get the idea.

    I will take power over fuel economy EVERY time. I will stop eating meat if it meant that I could instead use that money to buy gasoline to put in a car that was pleasurable to drive.

    It seriously feels like we are going backwards here. The cars are larger, heavier, needlessly complicated and less powerful than before. They have stupid transmissions and you can’t see out of them. They have advertised fuel numbers that are meaningless in the real world. Its all very dis concerning.

    • 0 avatar
      phxmotor

      Ambulancechacer : hey dude…you got it right! A true driver will do anything…and I mean anything… to drive a car that feels right… we will eat beans…forgo meat… put off needless purchaces… and whatever else you mentioned… in order to feed a car whatever it needs as long as the car just simply feels right.
      I for one prefer a old big Lexus for the summer and any Subaru for the wintertime…at 24mpg even at 85mph its better than my friends cars that exceed 35mpg…because they have costly repairs that more than eat up their fuel savings… … an extra few mpg just doesnt matter to me… in the middle of a snowstorm the last thing i am worrying about is if my car is getting 34mpg or if its actually getting 27…seriously I just dont care… I just want it to hold together and not be costing an arm and a leg to keep it on the road… my summer cars and my winter cars are not the highest mpg machines ever built, but I carefully choose them because they are the lowest cost to keep on the road that i know of… every car i buy has at least 125k miles on the day I buy it…and i never break down or get stranded……overall, for me anyway, its cheaper to buy cars this way…but to each his own… There are sooooooo many good cars these days it becomes almost pointless as to which is best. Whatever a person feels is best for them is OK with me… detailed reviews like the ones posted here are comical… …I mean really, some of the things that people care about are pretty funny…, but to each his own…wtf…. Will the car last? Will it be reliable in 10 years and still be safe…and fun to drive with minimal costs to keep it running? These points to me are alot more important that an extra mpg or two… or if the touchscreen has bluetooth and m3 and 4g and etcetc. But I love reading these heartfelt comments… its cheap entertainment keep ‘em coming.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Interesting that this Mazda3 doesnt’ get much better mileage than my 2003 Protege5 with the sport stick auto and yes, it’s the non variable timing 16V 2.0L 4, but with a 4spd unit instead of a 5spd unit and I just went through a full tank of gas as of Saturday and managed 20.5mpg average.

    Mind you, it was mostly city/rush hour driving with some highway cruising (mornings mostly) and yes, I am a bit of a lead foot too and kept the motor around 3000rpm, shifting between 3K-4K, which I know isn’t the best for the ultimate mileage.

    Old EPA said, 25/31, combined average, 27mpg, new EPA ratings for the same car, 22/28, 24 combined. I put in 11.99Gals and I went 2 weeks without filling it up, driving it nearly every day and doing 246miles before filling up (when the low fuel light lit up as I waited in line at Costco to fill up) and the car only holds 14.5Gals.

    Mind you this car actually begs you to keep the revs up some due to it being a non skyactive motor and I find its main torque curve to be 2500-5000rpm range.

    I am also taking into account that I’m still getting used to driving this newer shift it yourself automatic as I’ve been driving a true stick shift for 20 years now and thus am getting used to not dealing with that third pedal as I’ve only had the car 3 weeks now.

    That said, I would agree, the car needs a USB port so we have the option of using a memory stick for our music storage but nice to know that the technology takes a backseat to driving pleasure, which I get in my car in spades, though it predates USB/Aux and Bluetooth. I can’t wait for the weather to improve so I can take it on some day trips and/or road trips.

    Seems to me that Mazda may need to rethink their motor strategy and try going smaller in displacement to gain better mileage, all the while maintaining decent enough performance (by reducing the weight some as I have heard even the P5 is a tad on the heavy side at 2700#).

    Nice review otherwise on the larger 3.

  • avatar
    Woochifer

    Yeah, as others have said, I think that full disclosure is in order with this review. Winter tires, winter weather, and mostly “hard” local driving is not exactly comparable to most normal driving conditions (or at least the conditions in the EPA tests). Saying that “we didn’t even come close” without acknowledging the effect that these conditions have on gas mileage is a disservice to readers looking to this review for guidance on how the real world mileage compares to other cars and to the govt ratings. Judging by some of the comments, people are simply reading (or skimming) the review and concluding that the Mazda3′s mileage ratings are bogus, which is not what my experience has been.

    In the nearly two months I’ve had my 3i Touring, my mileage calculations at the pump have ranged from 31 to 36 MPG average per tankful — well within range of the EPA’s 32 MPG combined rating. That’s with mixed driving (50 to 80% highway), mostly mild weather, and a daily highway commute that includes two steep grades.

    Most posts by Skyactiv Mazda3 owners and other reviewers seem to peg the MPG in the lower-to-mid-30s range. The outliers in the high side include MPGOmatic (which posted a 45 MPG highway run, and disclosed the outside temps and how they were driving the car, i.e., cruise control usage and speed range) and Consumer Reports (with a 43 MPG highway mileage test run, and their usual opaque lack of disclosure about their testing).

    • 0 avatar
      Zoom

      +1. With Mazda putting so much emphasis on improving their previously below average mileage, the review needs to be more specific. I even glossed over the significance of winter tires, and the review doesn’t mention the week of “hard driving”. Sorry to pile on, but this review needs to be edited.

    • 0 avatar

      @ciddyguy Well you answered your own questions. My review clearly states 66 percent city driving, winter conditions and winter tires and I still got within 1 MPG of the car’s city rating. The white car I drove was not driven “hard” and I got 25 mpg in the city – two mpg off the EPA rating.

      The car didn’t come close to achieving the Canadian MPG ratings, which I have written about previously. People on both sides of the issue are piling on to suit whatever biases

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        True, I did but I WAS expecting a bit more than what I got none the less, I’d expect an average more like mid 20′s instead.

        At least it seems to be considerably better than what I got out of my old 4.0L V6 equipped Ranger though (yes, 2WD and a 5spd).

      • 0 avatar
        Woochifer

        How are “people on both sides” piling on? Those of us who have recorded higher MPG runs with the same car model are simply noting our observations, and/or the omissions in your review (i.e., the effect that winter tires and winter weather have on fuel economy). Problem here like I said, is that people are looking at your recorded mileage — which is not normal driving, and certainly does not emulate the EPA test run — and concluding that because your mileage “didn’t come close,” Mazda is therefore lying or at least continues to issue substandard fuel mileage cars.

        Here are some of the quotes from this thread that drew conclusions about the car based on your review.

        “Sounds like Mazda is lying about their fuel mileage. I hope someone tries and wins.”

        “Sounds like the usual Mazda product. Goofy looking, cheap materials and poor gas mileage.”

        “A shame about the gas mileage, especially with the high compression.”

        “Those gas mileage numbers are disappointing…. For all the new tech, it looks like Mazda hasn’t advanced very much in 20 years.”

        “Still, considering all the SKYACTIVE hype over the course of the last few months, those mpg figures seem fairly disappointing.”

        “When it says 27/38 on the sticker, and routine driving gets 25-26, we all know that the numbers are being manipulated.”

        “So, terrible fuel-economy and a dated, plasticky, low-budget interior, coupled with a dated, non-pretty exterior?

        Sounds like SkyActive is little more than a blue engine cover and an etherial name.

        I suspected as much.”

        Comparing your results with others on various blogs, forums, and review sites, it’s an outlier on the low side — no different than the high outlier 44-46 MPG value that the MPGOmatic site cited in their review. But, at least MPGOmatic noted the steps that they took to obtain that mileage (~50 degree temps, cruise control used much of the time, windows up, A/C off, speeds in the mid-60 MPH range, etc.) Only the 23 MPG tankful that Inside Line got on their long-term test was lower than your observed mileage (the overall fuel economy on IL’s long-term test is 33 MPG, with the high tankful of 41 MPG). Most of the results I’ve seen have been in the low to mid-30s, which is exactly the same range I’ve been getting. I guess that getting the same mileage range as most other owners is not as exciting as being able to say that “we didn’t come close.”

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I agree with Woochifer. Derek, you have enough language in your review to cover your ass against people claiming you omitted key facts, but only barely.

        When you lead the discussion on fuel economy with a comment on how the SKYACTIV engine is meant to fix the issue of the Mazda3′s fuel economy, then provide numbers illustrating how your test fell short of EPA numbers, this reads as “fuel economy is still a sticking point.” Even if your concluding sentence “Needless to say, we didn’t come close” refers to Canadian estimates, it can easily be read as a summary of fuel economy performance as a whole.

        If the whole point of the SKYACTIV engine is fuel economy improvements, then you need to be more specific about driving conditions when you imply that it falls short. A sentence or two reminding readers of driving conditions would be fine. You briefly mentioned the winter tires, but not in the context of fuel economy. You also did not clearly say the test was 66% hard city driving. Readers can hope you drove it hard based on your praise for chassis and steering, but you never explicitly state that. Furthermore, the fact that 115 of your 342 miles was a highway drive does not mean 66% of the miles were exclusively city driving. It could just as easily be 227 miles of mixed commuting plus a 115 mile highway trip.

        I don’t expect you to make excuses for the SKYACTIV Mazda3, but a lack of detail in the fuel economy discussion lead many readers to believe the SKYACTIV engine essentially failed in its mission. This seems a bit unfair given the information on driving conditions clarified in the comments. Now before you argue that the information was always there if anyone cared to read carefully and pay attention, remember you are writing for a web audience. I’ll bet that for most readers here, the articles are read rather quickly as a short break from work. Readers should not have to pick out small details and implications from other segments of the review to build a context for how your fuel economy fell short of EPA expectations. Besides, barely covering your ass shouldn’t be good enough for you as an author. Clearly state all relevant facts and then let the numbers speak for themselves.

    • 0 avatar

      Look again to the part where I said I didn’t come close to matching the Canadian fuel economy numbers, which I had already written about in a previous article, but that I was within 1 mpg of the EPA city rating.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    The penultimate sentence sums it up for me. The current Mazda3 is hideous. Based on the results from the new CX-5, the redesign might be a winner. It can’t get here soon enough.

  • avatar
    Zoom

    Hate, hate, hate the protruding head and tail lamps. They look bug-like up close. Not sure how this trend caught on, but I hope it dies soon.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Mazda’s my brand of choice in a world of bland, mass production appliances -

      - and I couldn’t agree with you more;

      This is one ugly car. They’ve KILLED the exterior aesthetics of the 3 with the ridiculous, cartoonish front and rear.

      • 0 avatar
        HalfMast

        What’s the complaint about the rear? I’m so use to hearing about the goofy-grin-grill that I hardly hear about the other sides (are you thinking Sedan or Hatch?).

        If you can look past the stupid front end (hard, I know), I never thought that this car was that bad looking. I would put it clearly ahead of Corolla, Versa, Focus, Caliber, and Rio. Accent and Civic are not much better. In this size, only the Cruize has any significant exterior appeal, in my mind.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        The problem with the rear is the ghastly tail lights. I could get over the goofy-grin-grill before the tail lights.

      • 0 avatar
        replica

        Although it’s an “interesting” looking car, at least you know which one it is. Everything else in the segment looks like a bean.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        For me, the grin is growing on me now that I own the previous car, the 03 Protege5 and love the driving dynamics of it.

        The rear lights are just an evolution of what they’ve been using since 2004, true they do stick out more now but I don’t mind that at all either.

        I understand from some that the 3 isn’t quite as good a handler than the P5 but it IS a nice looking ride none the less.

  • avatar
    p316

    To Whom It May Concern,

    I’m trying to contact TTAC through the webform but it keeps saying that I’m not correctly entering the phrase at the bottom of the page correctly…

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    An uncluttered, simple, gizmo-free interior, gotta love that!

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Polystyrene plastic materials? Does a tube of model airplane glue come with the car? That stuff cracks very easily – just look at any CD jewel case for proof!

    Other than that, it looks like a nice ride. BTW, our 2007 MX5 Sport has an all-hard plastic interior, too, complete with rubber stair-edge guards for armrests!

    We love it anyway…

  • avatar
    HalfMast

    My 2011 Mazda3 (not a SkyActive), clearly has the same interior, based on your pictures, so I’ll add a few comments on interior & tech.

    1. Material quality: I agree that Mazda’s choice in plastics for center consel and cupholder doesn’t look great. But I will say that after a year in this car, with a non-car person wife driving it and a 2 year old boy doing what boy’s do, and everything has held up very well. No plastic peices threatening to detach or crack, all buttons work as they should, etc. It’s only a year, so we’ll see….

    2. Tech: We opted for the built in Nav (I know.. garmin’s cheaper, but I’ve always prefered having it built into the dash than having charging cords everywhere, suction cups falling off while driving, not being able to hear it over radio, etc). The nav gets you a nice info screen up-high on the dash that can show standard trip info (including MPG, DTE, etc.), radio info, or maps. The controls for the nav are through rocker switch and buttons on the steering wheel, which sucks, but everything else is good.
    What you also get is bluetooth phone and audio, including voice control on the phone. The bluetooth audio is done very well, and I would take this over a USB port anyday, especially if you have iphone or another smartphone. Besides nav, all controls are simple, easy, and functional. All together, it is clearly a step or two below Sync, but it’s far from being stone-age.

    Besides that, most of Derek’s comments apply to our 2011 pre-Skyactive. My primary driver is an RX-8 (the 3 is my wife’s), so I guess I venture into fan-boy territory here, but no buyer’s remorse on this Mazda3. For being a small family sedan, it’s a whole lot more fun to drive than anything else that I’ve seen in that segment, and fufills it’s other duties very well.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      I’m probably Mazda-biased, too, as I own a RX-8 that I can’t replace (if I wanted to, which I don’t, since it the best car I’ve owned and has been as reliable as any car I’ve owned and more than most), because even if I did want to replace it, there’s literally no car out there that it can be directly compared to in terms of handling, chassis, steering and refined gearbox and drivetrain; nothing south of 60k, at least.

      All other former proper RWD scalpels have turned into pudgy porkers where the engineers apparently gave up trying to minimize weight and said, “screw it, let’s just stick a much heavier, more powerful motor under the hood, reprogram it with a more aggressive stability control/nanny kit, and hope the consumer doesn’t notice the bloat.”

      The Subaru BRZ/Toyota FT86 will be my only hope, but doubt that they’ll match the 8 as a scalpel.

      • 0 avatar
        HalfMast

        +1 to all of this. I have a little under 3 years on my RX-8, and you couldn’t pry it out of my cold, lifeless hands. Well, maybe if a 16X magically appeared in some new Mazda RX-#.

      • 0 avatar
        lastwgn

        Couldn’t agree more. My RX-8 is the best, most reliable car I have ever owned. I only hope there are thousands of garage queen RX-8′s being treated to very low miles so I have a nice buffet to choose from when I need to replace my current daily driver.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    I have not driven the manual version, but I did test drive the auto Skyactive 3 when it first came out and the unavailability at that time of the manual is one of the main reason I don’t currently own one (I found my used BMW before the stick shifts arrived for test driving). Sorry Derek, I have to disagree with you about that automatic. I found that while the traditional lively Mazda handling and steering were present and accounted for, that slushbox totally neutered the drivetrain and killed the fun for me. It was neither as intelligent as the auto box in the Infiniti G37 (still to me the gold standard of what I’ve driven if you have to have a torque converter), nor as responsive or smooth in anything more than stop and go driving as the powershift DCT in the Focus (I realize I’m in in a very small minority in having that opinion, but having spent a lot of time and hundreds of miles driving rental Focuses, that’s my take). I would agree that the interior cheapness is the biggest drawback. I don’t mind the car’s styling, and at any rate, I don’t have to look at it from behind the wheel.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    25mpg? Let me guess- you were driving ‘car magazine writer’ style. In other words you shift the automatic transmission manually because you are clearly much smarter than the ‘slush box’.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Clearly season and tire choices have an impact on fuel economy but part of Mazda3′s economy issues have probably also been due to the fact that the car’s chassis invites more spirited driving. I had an ’08 2.3 and was initially very disappointed with it city cycle mileage (20-21 MPGs). I then backed off a bit and got 23-24 without problems.

    In contrast, my friend has a new Elantra and gets great fuel economy. It’s a really nice car but also at point does it ever encourage the driver to go faster or drive it harder. Maybe that’s also half the Prius’s fuel economy secret.

  • avatar
    clam chowder

    Up here in Vancouver I’m averaging 29-30MPG w/ ~75% city driving, and rarely get to touch 100km/h on the highway in the 5-door Skyactiv. The week I decided to be late to everything plus had manual-mode engaged constantly, mpg dropped to 25.

    “If you’re looking for a Miata with a back seat, this is the one you want.”

    Probably sums up why I ended up getting it. Got the chance to take a PHRT MX-5 out for a couple of days prior. :)

    Definitely should have a USB port, even if only for charging. Bluetooth audio works very well, but importing phone contacts is a pain- the system wants you to name each contact! Would have liked to see it take caller ID and display it whenever a call arrives.

    Also like the tight-fitting hatch cargo cover. Can be difficult to pop-out though but it seems that un-locking the rear seats to fold down does the trick.

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    The beef car buyers have with carmakers that spew garbage about 35-40 mpg is that it’s such shameless bulls**t done through some combination of statistical manipulation and downright lying to move iron in an age where gas mileage suddenly means something.

    Our Subaru’s window sticker reads 20/26… and combined city stop and go and highway 80 mph storming gives us 24, a value somewhere in-between.

    When it says 27/38 on the sticker, and routine driving gets 25-26, we all know that the numbers are being manipulated. And there’s no interwebs armchairing that can justify how there can be such a discrepancy or that the car is being driven by some troglodyte autoblogger with both opposable toes on the gas.

    • 0 avatar
      Woochifer

      How are the numbers “being manipulated” when the test was done using winter tires in obviously winter conditions and while being driven hard (as Derek would later admit)? Are you saying that these are “routine” conditions?

      So then what do you say about MPGOmatic obtaining 44-46 MPG and Consumer Reports observing 43 MPG in their tests? Are they somehow the liars because their highway mileage exceeded the EPA rating?

      • 0 avatar
        replica

        I have no idea how to drive a car hard enough to reduce the overall MPG by almost half the rating for an entire tank. That’s insane.

      • 0 avatar
        FJ60LandCruiser

        No conditions are ideal. Here in Florida stop and go driving in 110 degree heat with the AC blazing is routine. Just as crappy winter driving is elsewhere in the country. Not everyone can drive to the organic food co-op in 75 degree weather with 50 percent humidity and a gentle sea breeze.

        I don’t believe the overinflated highway mileage all these tests tout. I can make our Subie show 35 MPG highway under ideal (I prefer manufactured or staged) conditions, 55-60mph on flat flat flat county roads with no AC. It’s a HIGHWAY, after all. Not the 70-80mph highways at rush hour with 6-10 lanes we all think of, but it sure as hell gives good mileage, so let’s throw that in there to make the manufacturer and the EPA proud.

        Mixed city and real commuter highway real world usage is the acid test to see if any car holds up to EPA figures.

        Anything else is a lie, and people just perpetrate it to feel better about their purchase.

      • 0 avatar
        Woochifer

        @FJ60LandCruiser “No conditions are ideal.”

        The word you used was “routine.” My point was simply that driving conditions requiring winter tires I would hardly regard as “routine.”

        “I don’t believe the overinflated highway mileage all these tests tout.”

        So, if this review records a low fuel economy rating in cold weather using winter tires while being driven hard in mostly local driving, that’s the definitive truth. But, publications like Inside Line, MPGOmatic, and Consumer Reports that have recorded 40+ MPG fuel economy tests with the Mazda3 are lying?

        “Mixed city and real commuter highway real world usage is the acid test to see if any car holds up to EPA figures.”

        And on that count, most of the other reviews and gas mileage posts I’ve seen for that particular model (in addition to what I have recorded at the pump) have been in the low-to-mid 30 MPG range. The combined EPA rating for the Skyactiv Mazda3 is 32 MPG, so this is well within the rated fuel economy.

        “Anything else is a lie, and people just perpetrate it to feel better about their purchase.”

        Yet, you are the one claiming that Derek’s fuel economy somehow represents “routine” driving, and that it supports your conspiracy theory that the fuel economy ratings are “manipulated.” Never mind that nearly every other recorded MPG test for this model that I’ve seen is well within the rated EPA fuel economy range. Bottomline is that you believe Derek’s test is “routine” and everyone else is just perpetuating lies “to feel better about their purchase.”

    • 0 avatar
      Woochifer

      @replica “I have no idea how to drive a car hard enough to reduce the overall MPG by almost half the rating for an entire tank. That’s insane.”

      That’s hard driving, combined with cold conditions and winter tires (and not sure if this applies to Canada, but many US urban areas use winter fuel blends that also bump down the fuel economy). The review needed to at least acknowledge how all of those conditions affect the fuel economy. Here’s a link from Scientific American that explains the effect that winter weather has on fuel economy.

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-is-the-fuel-economy-o

      The key quote here is “the fuel economy during urban trips of less than 10 minutes, in cold weather with snowy road conditions can easily be 50 percent lower than operation of the same vehicle in warm weather with dry roads.”

  • avatar
    darex

    So, terrible fuel-economy and a dated, plasticky, low-budget interior, coupled with a dated, non-pretty exterior?

    Sounds like SkyActive is little more than a blue engine cover and an etherial name.

    I suspected as much.

    I’ll stick with my Veloster. At least it really does achieve 40 mpg on the highway and the interior is a delight. I love my gadgets and creature comforts and the Veloster makes me smile every time I get behind the wheel.

  • avatar
    replica

    I had a 2004 Mazda3 Grand Touring hatch with the 5 speed and the 2.3 I remember hitting 28+ consistently in Houston traffic. I remember doing a little better in my manual Protege5. My current Mazda, a Mazda2, hits 32-33 in city and about 36 on the highway. It’s a rather low-tech, gutless motor too. What’s the point of Skyactiv?

    In regards to “hard plastic” interiors, who are these people that rub their interior panels all day? Aside from the door pulls, steering wheel, shift knob and stereo buttons, I don’t touch anything else. I just got done moving in the Mazda2, which I assume has similar plastics to the 3, and all the scuffs were easily removed with a pass of Armor All.

    Are Bluetooth/USB/Tecnhocrap really that important in cars this cheap? Aftermarket stereos are quite affordable and will be more up-to-date than anything OEM.

    • 0 avatar
      darex

      Aftermarket stereos don’t tend to harmonize Stereo, steering wheel controls, voice controls, NAV, Bluetooth audio streaming, bluetooth calling, back-up cameras, etc. the way a factory unit does, not to mention the esthetics of a factory unit. Factory units rarely get stolen, too. To me, that’s worth paying for.

      • 0 avatar
        replica

        There are wiring harnesses to integrate aftermarket stereos to the steering wheel controls now. Not sure on the other things you listed, as I’ve never had a need for them. About as fancy as I get is an out-of-date Garmin Nuvi 205 and a Sansa MP3 player.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        Many aftermarket atereos now have integrated BT these days, some as low as $100 or so, but sans the other capabilities such as integrating with the steering wheel, nor do they have HD or Sat radio either.

        I’m looking at replacing an older Alpine unit in my Mazda that does not have aux/usb, nor BT with one that does but I don’t have steering wheel controls so that’s out for me.

        But as already been said, many units now do allow integration with the stock steering wheel controls with an adapter controller.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Many aftermarket head units come with a remote control. I realize using a remote control in a car where the main controls are always within reach sounds beyond idiotic, but it works. I had one in my last car and I found it easy to use the remote just by feel of the buttons (imagine that, actual physical buttons). I think that’s tough to do on most head units, especially aftermarket ones where the buttons tend to be too small. The result is your eyes never leave the road.

        Well done steering wheel buttons that work would be even better, but the remotes can be surprisingly effective. Don’t laugh!

  • avatar

    This review is a bit more effective: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/review-2011-mazda3-sport-gt-take-two/

    Regardless. I can’t stand the trend auto journalist are going with cars in which they compare them like tech writers compare cell phones. Just because cars change every five years or so between generations they assume that if it doesn’t have a usb port that should have been there three years before, it just ruins the whole experience. Furthermore, this generation Mazda3 came out in 2009 to rave reviews for both drivability and interior quality. Newer cars come out with more features and junk, and now the Mazda 3 is unbearable and cheap – being reduced to car-rental status. I, more than anyone, dislikes hard plastics that tend to rattle and feel unpleasant, but personally I am fine with the Mazda3 as everything you touch is pleasant (controls, steering, shifter, door handles) and that is perfectly fine with a car in this price range.

    Without dwelling on the newer Ford Focus / Hyundai Elantra interior and tech superiority (and distractions), the belief that a car on its third year of its generation is suddenly outdated is ridiculous. Stop reviewing cars like cell phones.

    • 0 avatar
      darex

      Well they had the chance to change that equation with the most recent generation Mazda3, which is only a year or perhaps approaching two years old. Not so long ago. No, they can be held accountable, in my opinion.

    • 0 avatar
      Woochifer

      +1 The tech press is pretty much the lowest rung on the journalism totem pole. Just a bunch of self-important ADD-addled dorks who obsess about feature checklists and specs. You’re totally right in that the jaded tech press mentality has begun seeping into auto reviews.

      Thankfully, at least the automotive press still has a few writers that give a hoot about the driving experience, and have rightfully called out this trend towards technological overload in newer cars. And just as technology features can give certain car companies a market edge, they can just as quickly take it away, if these features are poorly implemented or introduced with bugs. If anything, the “sell it now, patch it later” mentality of the tech industry has now crept into the auto industry.

      Just look at the tumble that Ford took this year in the initial quality and reliability rankings. The bugs in Ford’s MyFordTouch system played a huge role in deprecating their hard earned quality rating improvements.

      And in the latest JD Power initial quality ranking, Hyundai has fallen below the industry average, just two years after they ranked #1 among non-luxury brands. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that they’ve been larding up their cars with tech gadgets.

  • avatar
    rodface

    Holzman said it best: “The steering is tight, the handling flat, and overall the car is agile.” My girlfriend has a ’10 sedan (strangely optioned with power windows but manual locks) and loves the stereo and the handling, and she doesn’t give two shits about the plasticky interior surfaces (though she does love putting her feet up on them). Can’t say it’s pretty or soft, but shouldn’t you be looking out the big transparent rectangles located at all four sides, instead of caressing your dashboard? I’ve driven that car quite a bit, and I love the crisp handling and flat cornering so much that I’m going to add more zoom-zoom and a stick to the equation and upgrade to a Mazdaspeed3. To everyone who can’t stand the cracked-out grin: lighten up. I laugh every time I see one of these on the road and I want to feel that way every time I walk out to my car. Something about driving a happy face on wheels can make even the dreariest day a little brighter.

    On the subject of Hyundai’s competitor, just today I borrowed my roommate’s ’11 Elantra to commute to work. It’s a competent enough car but has rubbery, disconnected steering and feels more gutless than its displacement would suggest. I’d rather drive my ’09 Rio, it might rattle and shake its way to highway speeds and wallow in the turns but at least the thing feels like it’s *trying*.

  • avatar
    Terry

    “Sounds like SkyActive is little more than a blue engine cover and an etherial name.”

    You couldnt be more wrong if you tried.
    The engine has high compression,yet the extreme variable valve timing coupled with piston crown design and direct injection make this engine totally different from what came before.
    The transmissions, both manual and auto have been simplified, made stronger, and all engineered with efficiency and fuel economy in mind.
    The upcoming CX-5 will feature all of that in addition to body changes featuring a lighter. stronger assembly. There are also Skyactive steering and suspension revisions as well.
    Ive worked with Mazda for over 30 years, have attended ALL the Skyactive training, and work on these vehicles daily. I dont sit around complaining about “hard plastics, long-lost “Panther Love”, and fret over every last MPG on a chart.
    Visit the dealerships, test drive the cars, and THEN come back telling us what you liked or didnt like about them.
    Or…just sit in front of the monitor and play “Armchair Auto Designer/Road Tester”.
    Funny thing…the customers that own these cars, both Skyactive and previous models LOVE them. RX-8 owners LOVE their cars. Same as with Miata owners, myself included(along with my Mazda5, MPV, and Tribute.
    And that is The Truth About THESE Cars.

  • avatar

    This has to be one of the worst car reviews I have read in a long time. The Mazda3 is still one of the best compact cars around. I own a 3 and the interior is the best part of the car. The majority of the dash is a high quality rubber, including the AC vents. The instruments pop out from the design like a sports car. The design is very unique and futuristic without the copycat look of all recent “modern” interiors which make the center console look like the helmet from one of the robots of the Transformers (Ford Focus anyone?)

    The handling is first rate. With a super responsive steering with no dead zone in the middle. The only complaints are the shifter and clutch action. Great car. I would recommend anyone test driving it instead of reading these silly reviews you find all over the net. Mine is the base model. I believe the SkyActiv has an improved manual transmission.

  • avatar

    This has to be one of the worst car reviews I have read in a long time. The Mazda3 is still one of the best compact cars around. I own a 3 and the interior is the best part of the car. The majority of the dash is a high quality rubber, including the AC vents. The instruments pop out from the design like a sports car.
    The design is very unique and futuristic without the copycat look of all recent “modern” interiors which make the center console look like the helmet from one of the robots of the Transformers (Ford Focus anyone?)

    The handling is first rate. With a super responsive steering with no dead zone in the middle. The only complaints are the shifter and clutch action. Great car. I would recommend anyone test driving it instead of reading these silly reviews you find all over the net.

  • avatar
    derosa

    I thought the review was well balanced and written.
    All I can add that might be useful to a potential buyer is consider the leather seat option. They seem more firmly bolstered and longer in length than the standard cloth. The downside for me is this option is only available with the sunroof. That’s problematic for meat 6’3″ as I lose some critical headroom..

  • avatar
    sayitagainsam

    From someone who bought one a few weeks back after considering Hyudai, Ford, Honda, and yes VW TDI, I can tell you that no regrets so far. Commuting during work week in NJ I got 42.4mpg, zoom-zoom driving on weekends, has bought it down to 38.6mpg so far.

    Did not choose Hyundai because dealer adding huge markup to MSRP.
    Did not choose VW TDI, because of expense and unreliability(2 friends have TDI’s constantly in shop),
    Did not choose FORD because of acronym Fix Or Repair Daily
    Did not choose Honda because still using 5-speed auto tranny when rest of world has moved to 6-spd.
    Chose Mazda because of their innovative engineering–simple and reliable.

    This SkyActive magic is real. Test drive it, feel it, be one with it, then YOU make decision.

  • avatar
    pablo87

    Got one (non sky activ) as a rental. Real fun car to drive, I could see how this would affect mpg. Only complaint is the ride is hard esp. on bad roads.


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