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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014

New Mazda3 — the 3 that’s a 10


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Is it me, or has Mazda’s perky little Mazda3 sports compact had more facelifts than Joan Rivers?

Just when we’d gotten used to the smiley-face look of the previous “3,” along comes an all-new Mazda3 for 2014 with a pout that’s even more pert.

Arriving at dealers right around now, this latest 3 should be rating a 10 with small car buyers.

It looks terrific, it’s well-priced from $17,740, and most important, it’s an absolute blast to drive.

I really love the new face. It has the same smile as the latest Mazda6 sedan and CX-5 crossover and is bold and distinctive enough to really stand out from the crowd.

But then the whole car looks terrific. It now features some very cool and distinctive lines. Like the way they raked back the windshield and moved the windshield pillars back around four inches to create an even longer hood and sexier roofline.

The result? A compact that looks way more expensive than it is.

As before, you can take your pick of four-door sedan or five-door hatch, though to my eyes, the five-door is the prettier of the two. It’s more versatile, too, with that high-lifting tailgate.

Inside, gone are the cheesy, lowish-rent materials. Instead, there’s leatherette that looks like leather, and real leather from real cows. Climb aboard not knowing it was a Mazda and you might think BMW.

Stretching the car’s wheelbase means there’s now more room inside, which is welcome. And that’s despite the car being shorter overall.

Powering the new Mazda3 is a choice of 2.0-liter or 2.5-liter four cylinders. Most buyers will opt for the smaller engine — not surprising considering it corrals a respectable 155 horses and can average a class-leading 41 highway mpg.

And the new Mazda3 is even more fun to drive than ever, with its laser-precise electric steering, sports car-inspired suspension and right-now braking. If you love to drive, this is the car for you.

Where Mazda loses the plot slightly is with its confusing and plain silly naming strategy. They call the design “KODO - Soul of Motion,” and keep a straight face saying it. Then there’s all the Skyactiv nonsense, plus a new regenerative braking package called, wait for it, i-Eloop.

Next up, a Runaway Bride version called “I-Elope.”

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