Friday, January 20, 2012

Keep it simple: This Mazda3 is a pleasure

Sacramento, California – Let me start by saying that I like Mazda’s vehicle lineup, even without the catchphrases.

Let’s see, you’ve got your “Zoom-Zoom.”

And the “always the soul of a sports car” pitch written right on the window sticker.

The latest is “SKYACTIV” technology, which Mazda goes to great pains to explain on its website. In simple terms, it’s a smallish engine that still has pop and gets very good gas mileage.

My tester, the 2012 Mazda3 i Grand Touring five-door model had all of the above. And I didn’t need a dictionary to enjoy my week in the car.

I keep running into young folks who like the Mazda3, and that’s really no surprise. What better vehicle for a recent college graduate or a young couple just starting a family? Good looks, utility, robust fuel mileage and peppy performance will win you a lot of friends these days.

The Mazda3 has all that in bunches.

My tester looked particularly striking in a blindingly blue paint job, and the previously mentioned SKYACTIV technology with a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine matched with a six-speed automatic transmission was a winner.

Vehicle performance was very good, with the occasional complaint at the top of a steep hill. The Mazda3 was getting the most out its allotted 155 horses. Fuel mileage numbers raised a cheer: 28 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.

The car was remarkably agile in tight spaces. Turnaround radius was comfortable … I imagine even for those who will go to great lengths to avoid a U-turn lane.

At freeway cruising speed, the tester was remarkably smooth. I got a little bit of rattle at the hatchback connection when the car did some turns at relatively high speed on city streets.

Dashboard controls were easy to see and use. Interior comfort for all passengers received high marks from some adult-size volunteers.

The price is just about perfect at $22,800 to start. My tester come in five bucks short of $25,000, courtesy of some Technology Package extras that included a blind-spot monitoring system (very nice), rain-sensing windshield wipers (also nice) and high-tech, high-intensity lights (completing a nice trifecta).

Even without the extras, this Mazda is generously equipped with standard comfort, convenience and safety features. By the way, the feds gave a maximum five-star safety rating for driver protection in frontal crash tests.

All in all, a good car gets better with multiple improvements for 2012. Don’t need any catchphrases to tell me that.

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