Mazda hasn’t always proven capable of winning hearts and minds in the U.S. marketplace. But in buff book comparison tests, Mazda possesses a recipe for success.
Nine months ago, for instance, a 2016 Mazda 3 i Grand Touring spanked the Nissan Sentra and scored substantial victories over the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze LT and 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited in a five-car Car And Driver comparison test. Only the 2016 Honda Civic EX came close. Car And Driver was quite right in pointing out the Mazda 3 overachieved “in a world where excellence isn’t always rewarded with sales.” TTAC’s east coast reviewers came to the same conclusion four months ago.
Indeed, U.S. sales of the Mazda 3 fell to a 10-year low in 2016. Now, with sales in 2017 on track to fall to a 13-year low, the Mazda 3 has lost a comparison test.
And not just to one car, but two.
Time isn’t the only factor that’s worked against the Mazda’s favor. In Car And Driver’s last Mazda 3 comparison test victory, the magazine was exploring sedans, and the 3 faced off against its top challenger — the Honda Civic — with a base engine against a base engine. 2.0-liter vs. 2.0 liter.
In Car And Driver’s April 2017 comparison test, however, hatchbacks take centre stage, meaning Honda delivered its excellent 1.5-liter turbo.
The 2017 Mazda 3 Touring 2.5 was simply not able to perform at the 2017 Honda Civic Sport’s level.
Plus, there was a 1.8T-powered Volkswagen Golf in the test.
With 203 points, the Mazda 3 didn’t lose by much, trailing the Golf by only three points and the Civic by five. (The Chevrolet Cruze was 31 points behind the Mazda.) And Car And Driver didn’t shy away from complimenting the Mazda.
The steering is pure satisfaction.
The interior matches with upscale trim and controls that fit into your hands like plugs into sockets.
In the real, eight-tenths world of traffic and guardrails, the Mazda makes time with a confidence that fully masks its humble asking price.
But complaints about rear seat space, limited cargo volume, and busier ride quality came to the fore.
So did the relative lack of urge from the naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter, 184-horsepower four-cylinder.
At a glance, the 3’s 2.5-liter engine was the most powerful in the quartet, with the most horsepower and the most torque. But the 177 lb-ft torque peaks in the Cruze and Civic arrived at 2,000 and 1,900 rpm; the Golf’s 184 lb-ft peak at 1,600 rpm.
Not until 3,250 rpm does the 3’s torque climb Everest.
With each car entering the test equipped with a manual transmission, the Golf accelerated quickest from rest to 60, the Civic was quickest to 100, and the top-gear acceleration from 50-70 mph was 4.5 more seconds slower in the Mazda than in the Honda.
Meanwhile, the 3 has the lowest EPA fuel economy ratings in the test and the Civic — the real performer of the group — achieved the best real-world fuel economy of the test.
Nine months ago, the Mazda 3 was a marketplace loser and a comparison test winner. Now the 3 is losing on both fronts.
The good news for Mazda? In a market that’s quickly becoming anti-car, Mazda’s crossover trio is up 16 percent to 34,386 sales through the first-quarter of 2017. The CX-3, CX-5, and CX-9 form half of all Mazda sales. This momentum is obvious even before the next edition of the CX-5, already Mazda’s best seller, arrives this spring. As U.S. auto sales slide 2 percent compared with 2016’s record results, despite rising incentives, Mazda USA volume is up 7 percent.
Among non-luxury brands, only Mitsubishi, GMC, Volkswagen, and Subaru are growing faster.
Perhaps a comparison test loss for a third-generation Mazda 3 that’s now in its fourth model year is finally a pill that’s easier to swallow.