The cars we loved.
The new Mazda3 poses an interesting question. Would you prefer luxury in a compact package from a non European (German) company or bare bones luxury from a German carmaker? Cars like top versions of the Mazda3 and the Ford Focus can be had loaded with kit while still undercutting so called entry level German luxury cars like the BMW 320, Audi A3 and Mercedes Benz CLA.
For Mazda’s compact sedan, the biggest hurdle might be reaching the near luxury buyer intent on buying intangibles like European heritage. For many people my age or older (in their 40s) European heritage meant expensive repair bills, inconsistent fit and finish and the occasional fussy electrical problem. Even as I have pampered my 2001 BMW 325, it has developed odd fit and finish issues like cracking wood grain and door seal lining coming loose.
As my BMW ages ungracefully, I must ask myself is another BMW worth the price or should dispense with German (made in South Carolina) heritage and go Japanese. New generations of car buyers have been asking this question with more choosing to go Japanese or Korean. It would seem that younger car buyers are less interested in cars as personal statements of performance and more as mere reliable transports assuming the car keeps them connected with their personal gadgets via a easy to use interface (or hands free voice activated).
Mazda has manage to stay ahead with a infotaiment system that is as sophisticated as it is easy to use. The rest of the interior appears to have been made with high quality materials and detailing in keeping with Mazda’s near luxury aspirations. In contrast to cars like the Honda Civic or the Subaru Imprezza the Mazda3 feels and looks like an Audi inside.
The Mazda3 manages to appeal to the auto enthusiast and those wanting a compact car with luxury aspirations while still managing to reach up to 40 mpg. If pleasing everyone is the goal, the car can be had in 5 trim levels with the sGrand Touring trim approaching $30,000. Unheard of for a compact car from Mazda, yet the Mercedes Benz CLA coupe starts bare bones at just under $30k with no options.
When equipped with the 2.5 liter Skyactive four cylinder engine the Mazda3 produces 184 hp. That’s as much as much as a new BMW 320, but offers nearly the same driving dynamics at 39 mpg on regular unleaded gasoline. Power to gas milage ratios have steadily risen, but in the heated compact car market the advances have happened the fastest with American and Asian cars.
The last Mazda3 was highly respected, but it’s clown faced front end made it controversial. Now with the Kodo family styling first seen in the Mazda6 and 5, the 3 should become the latest design hit from Japan’s fifth largest automaker.
Most Mazda3 sales are likely to be of the lower to mid level trims with a 155 hp 2.0 that can be equipped with six-speed manual or automatic. The 2.5 is only available with the automatic, but it only gives up 1 mpg to the smaller engine.
There are basically two body configurations, each with a distinct personality. For many the 5 door hatch is the looker. All versions of it feature twin exhaust ports (even in its base configuration). From some angles it looks awkward and even hides the fact that its a hatchback. The sedan is more business-like in appearance, but no less attractive.
In time the sedan may age better simply because it looks handsome from any angle.
Either configuration comes with Mazda’s new fluid design language giving the front wheel drive Mazda3 the proportions of a rear wheel drive car. The grille is reminiscent of Maserati while it’s lines flow like some Italian GT cars of the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Time will tell if non-luxury makers like Mazda will take market share from the onslaught of lower cost European cars on their way to the American market. If Mercedes does what it has in other markets by diluting its name with bare bones cars at high prices, the concept of “heritage’ will become irrelevant to current and future generations of car buyers who care more about efficiency, comfort and gadget compatibility than performance heritage.
I wish more manufacturers would take interior and exterior design quality more seriously on their small cars. The arrival of small near luxury cars in America may be just taking off and so far none of them really has a German brand on them when you consider that to equip them like typical near luxury cars, they cost nearly double the price of a Ford Fusion and still not have all of it’s options.