Now that the new 2014 Mazda3 is here, I don't feel as bad for shitting all over the last model. Here's how it went with my experience.
(Full disclosure: Mazda doesn't know I borrowed this car from work to rack up miles on it, it was part of our rental fleet and needed around 2500 on it to be considered "used" so we could sell it on our lot. As a manager with one of the longest distances to drive to work, I was entrusted with a grey one. Then a black one. I paid for my own gas.)
I will not be sticking to the standard format for Jaloppositelock reviews, but bear with me, as I will touch on all the features that are important, as well as the positives and negatives that I noticed during my four month period of loanership.
The MPGs. MMmmp-guhs. Emm Pegs. HOLY FUCK. Yes, I saw as high as an average of 44.1 MPG on a tank of regular unleaded. This involved a few hypermiling techniques, but as you'll see below, it really never fucking mattered. So long as you have a lot of highway driving to do, this thing will astound you in it's frugalness.
Here's how it was with a tank full of full throttle starts, high speeds, and other general driving jackassery:
On a normal tank, driven spiritedly, but not asshattedly, I regularly saw 39-41MPG. This was in the middle of summer, with temps in the 90's, even hitting 100 on one day. Most of the other times, I kept the A/C running, and hardly ever drove around with the windows down. This thing just could NOT get bad mileage.
But, YMMV. Also, sorry, tires. Also, you suck. The car comes standard with Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02 tires, and while they are grippy, and break away predictably when cornering, they are loud, ride harsh, and squeal under protest at the slightest of corner-happiness. They do stick, but they don't sound happy about it.
While we're talking ride and handling, its stiff. It's "sporty". There's a bit of body and tire roll (again, sorry, tire sidewalls), and the ride is generally choppy. You hear every impact of every crack in the pavement, and feel it as well. But hey, it's a Mazda. Zoom-Zoom. Sporty. Fucking deal with it. Or go buy a Kia.
AND, since we're talking about sporty, and Zoom-Zoom, and not buying a Kia, lets talk about the drivetrain. The engine has like, 150 horses, and they're adequate. The engine sounds like a 4cyl, and it's not a great sounding one. Its buzzy and you feel it farting away at idle. The warm-up procedure for the catalytic converter dumps fuel into it to warm it up fast, and it makes a bit of racket. From a $18,000 Mazda3, to a $38,000 Mazda6, the noise is there. And it's annoying and embarassing. But thankfully its only when cold, and putting the car in gear (sorry, this was an AUTOTRAGIC test) will quiet it down mostly. Otherwise, it lasts about 30 seconds. Hooray, low emissions!
Oh, sorry, got off track. Was about to bitch about the automatic transmission.
It's a transmission. It has 6 speeds. 4 of which are useful. 2 of which it hates to downshift out of. It gets good mileage though, by keeping the RPMs low. So that's good, right?
Well the rest isn't.
It adds to the NVH of the car, which buzzes at idle. You can feel it through the wheel, the shifter, your seat, etc. It has a manual mode, which works. Shifts are a bit slow, but it will hold gears for the most part. But here's my issue with it, and with most of the car: Its a dumb transmission. At low speeds (say, in congested traffic) it hunts between 1st and 2nd gear, and often slams into one or the other as you accelerate or let off the go pedal. The other thing that it does, is when braking moderately it downshifts in a matter that you put a certain pressure on the brake pedal, so you expect a smooth slow-down or stop but NO. The trans is downshifting, and due to it's partial conventional torque converter, partial wet clutch, it feels like the thing is locked up and still engaged, so you feel a SURGE while heavy braking. It's very disconcerting, as you're trying to avoid rear-ending that semi trailer, and it feels like the car is LUNGING toward it every gear it drops. Spooky. Noticed that in a 2014 Mazda6 I just got done doing an extended drive of. More on that story at a later date and time.
So the trans is a big let down. Those issues would mostly be solved with a proper 6-speed MANUAL. But it was a rental, so.... yeah.
TOYS! It had toys! Toys make everything better, right? Well yes. And no. The car(s) I drove had the "sun and sounds" package, which includes a moonroof, BOSE radio, BlueTooth connectivity, and all the shit that comes with. Mainly the little info screen that shows music info when played through a BT device, along with the maintenance settings and things like changing the turn signal volume. COOL.
Although it was funny when it messed up the text. Less fun when it made annoying "skipping" sounds, or cut songs short, or wouldn't skip tracks. And, it might have been an issue with my phone(?), but it would stop shuffling ALL tracks, and would just shuffle in ONE genre. Like rap. That got odd. Being able to use the radio or steering wheel controls to skip tracks was nice. The sound was also clearer than using the AUX input. AUX input bad.
Using the BT to make calls.... worked. The volume for calls could have been louder. As it was, the radio had to be turned up way above the music volume was set to hear people. But the sound of music was good and crisp, with high highs, and low lows, as a Bose system should be. Although placing 9" subwoofers in the front doors seems odd to me, especially when it leads to them rattling from not-even-hard-hitting-gangsta rap.
Interior wise there's another issue. Mainly, it looks like a sci-fi fucking police battle cruiser at night. That, and the dash panel materials and trim aligning and color was goofy as heck. I hated having to see this all the time, and once I did notice it, I couldn't not.
Another small annoyance was the plastic on the back of the steering wheel. It made a noise when tapped. I think there's a TSB for that. The sun shade dots above the rear view mirror made it difficult to attach a suction-cup mount to that area, and with my 6" ass sitting in the front seat, there was very little room for legs behind me.
I know, a lot of interior things, but that's where I spend a lot of my time. I can forgo a lot on the exterior, like the little flaps in front of the rear wheels that get ripped off by road debris easily, or the small trunk opening, and even the goofy looking front end. But give me an interior I can live in, that's not going to feel funny or rattle at only 1000 miles.
Well my time with the car(s) have ended, and I'm not sure if I'll get a crack at a 2014 someday. The transmission issues I've been assured have been fixed, as evidenced by the 6 I drove (same powertrain), and while the interior hasn't grown inside, the materials are a LOT better, and the design more cohesive.
Would I buy one, if I had the money? Yes. But with a manual. And a hatch. My God, people. 40+ MPG and fun to drive. Worth the caveats, I say.