2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring Review: Introduction

2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring Review: Introduction

Mazda is a car company clawing its way back to fiscal responsibility after a few years spent wandering the wilderness of illiquidity suffered at the hands of the global economic crisis and the dissolution of old corporate partnerships. A significant driver of Mazda’s return to relevance has been the fruits of its own self-investment in fuel-saving technologies, not the least of which being the Skyactiv engine design that has become the centerpiece of its current vehicle lineup.

The 2013 Mazda Mazda3 i Touring represents the next vessel for Skyactiv technology after it initially debuted in the CX-5 crossover. The compact MAZDA3 hatchback is, on paper at least, the perfect match for the new frugality-first drivetrain philosophy taking hold at the Japanese company, given that the entry-level car is often sought out by buyers on a budget looking for an efficient and affordable daily driver. Does the MAZDA3′s Skyactiv-G engine match up well with the lively, dynamic chassis design that has become a Mazda trademark, or has the Japanese brand traded in some of its ‘zoom-zoom’ for a bigger chunk of the small car market? Read on to find out.

2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring Review: Models and Prices

The 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 hatchback (a sedan is also available) is offered in three distinct trim levels: the entry-level i Touring (MSRP $20,000), the i Grand Touring (MSRP $23,300), and the range-topping s Grand Touring (MSRP $24,850).

Our week-long test vehicle was a Canadian-market MAZDA3 Sport GS-SKY, which is roughly the equivalent of the American i Grand Touring trim after accounting for its optional equipment. The i Grand Touring edition of the car offers a respectable number of features at a very affordable price point, including a push-button start and keyless entry system, dual automatic climate control, power windows, a CD player, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, and 16-inch alloy rims. The MAZDA3 in our driveway additionally came with a power sliding moonroof, heated leather seating, and an optional automatic transmission ($1,150), although it did not possess the navigation or blind spot monitoring system offered in the United States. The total price of our as-tested Mazda hatchback came to $24,150.

2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring Review: Design

What’s New:

The 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 does not introduce any significant design changes compared to the previous model year.

The 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 features a strong fashion forward statement at the front of the car, with its wide smiling grille and deeply sculpted air inlets appealing to some and overdone to others. We have never understood the ire drawn by Mazda’s decision to give the compact a little bit of personality, and although the black plastic piece that bisects the grille is definitely larger than might be expected, the MAZDA3 makes an attractive first impression. Styling is more subdued as the eye travels back along the sides of the car, and the rear hatch does not match the front’s outgoing personality with its large, slanted glass and discrete tuck where one’s hand reaches in to pop it open. The back bumper is equally simple, with an exceptionally short overhang separating it from the back tire.

The passenger compartment of the Mazda MAZDA3 wraps snugly around the driver and front passenger, with the dashboard offering a pair of center-mounted LCD screens protected from the glare of the sun by an elliptical cowl (one of which greets you with ‘ZOOM-ZOOM’ on startup and bids you adieu when you kill the ignition). The materials that make up the plastics used for the door panels, console, and buttons and switches that dot the steering wheel and center console are good – and in keeping with the MAZDA3’s price point. Mazda has also done an excellent job in using LED lighting accents to spruce up the cabin at night. For example, turning the dial on the automatic climate control to increase or decrease the temperature sees it respond with a gentle pulse of the red or blue lights that define its edges, while changing tracks via the stereo system causes the center-mounted rotary dial to throb blue as well. Even the blue LED mounted on the ceiling in front of the sunroof switch is a nice touch.

2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring Review: Comfort and Cargo

What’s New:

The 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 does not introduce any significant comfort and cargo changes compared to the previous model year.

The 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring is the mid-tier edition of an economy-minded car, which means it’s not exactly loaded with luxuries. The vehicle’s power-adjustable driver’s seat is comfortable and makes it easier than the manual version to achieve the desired driving position, and while the leather upholstery in the car didn’t exactly scream ‘high end,’ it was nice to see on a vehicle one step below the most dear on the pricing ladder.

One thing that is immediately noticeable about the Mazda MAZDA3 hatchback is its rather snug allotment of both passenger and cargo room. From the front two positions the situation doesn’t come across as dire, but the rear row is much tighter in almost every dimension than that of several of the Mazda’s competitors. This is especially true in terms of leg room, with even shorter passengers complaining of about squeezing themselves into their seats.

We were also surprised by just how small the storage space between the rear seatback and the liftgate seemed when loading the car with groceries. We attributed this to the presence of a cargo cover, as 17 cubic feet are available with the seat raised. This figure expands to 42.8 cubic feet in total with the rear accommodations folded forward, which is not exactly at the front of its class.

The hatch itself was somewhat irritating to open, with Mazda engineers apparently visualizing only a narrow range of situations in which it might need to be popped from the outside. At times the hatch would not pop when the car was running, and the center-mounted button just above the liftgate’s handle had to be pushed twice each and every time to unlock the liftgate – regardless of the status of the vehicle’s doors, or how many times the remote unlock button had been pushed.

We also discovered a few idiosyncrasies with the remote unlocking system that were not exactly convenient. For one, if the car was running and the driver exited the vehicle with the remote in their pocket, it would no longer unlock the passenger doors even if the button was pushed. Also, at a refueling stop one of our writers went in to pay the tab and left a passenger sitting in the vehicle. When he emerged from the station, the car had automatically locked itself, and when the passenger used the interior unlock button and the door was opened the vehicle’s alarm sounded. Key proximity should not be tied into the locking feature, especially with the ignition off.

2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring Review: Features and Controls

What’s New:

The 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 has shuffled some of the standard equipment available with its various trim levels.

An unpretentious car, most of the features offered by the i Grand Touring trim of the 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 are simple enough in their presentation and operation. As mentioned above, the LED feedback associated with stereo and climate inputs was appreciated, and the presence of big dials and well-labeled buttons for the most part made it easy to interact with the car’s various systems.

The MAZDA3’s Bluetooth connectivity did, however, require us to crack open the manual in order to properly link up our phones. The main issue had to do with the fact that the entire linking procedure is done via voice commands – with a very limited, single-line LCD display doing its best to help you out – and the car we received had its text systems set to English but its voice controls set to French. This meant turning pages in order to find the accepted list of French-language voice commands and it also drove home the point that when switching languages or units in a car, one menu selection should handle all systems.

2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring Review: Safety and Ratings

What’s New:

There are no new safety features offered with the 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring compared to the 2012 model.

All versions of the 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 come side curtain airbags, side impact airbags, dual forward airbags, and electronic stability control with traction control. A blind spot monitoring system is optional on the base model hatchback, but the i Grand Touring receives it as standard equipment.

2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Touring Crash-Test Ratings: The National Highway Transit Safety Administration has rated the MAZDA3 four out of five stars in its overall crash protection ratings. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety was equally impressed with the hatch, giving it a rating of ‘Good’ in each of its three major crash test categories. This makes the 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 an IIHS Top Safety Pick.

2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring Review: Engines and Fuel Economy

What’s New:

The 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 soldiers forward with the same engine options offered the previous year.

The 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 offers the recent Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine as standard equipment for both the i Touring and i Grand Touring trim levels. This unit makes use of a high compression ratio, direct fuel injection, dual variable-valve timing, a special exhaust manifold design, and unique pistons in order to produce 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque while reducing fuel consumption versus the previous-generation Mazda 2.0-liter mill (still available with the MAZDA3 sedan) by a considerable amount. The Skyactiv-G motor delivers 28-mpg in city driving and 40-mpg on the highway without the need for any trick ‘eco-package’ body work or accessories, although winter weather and a city-heavy driving cycle knocked our real-world observed fuel mileage down to 20-mpg.

Transmission choices for the Skyactiv-G engine include a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic. Our car was equipped with the latter, a gearbox that combines a traditional torque converter (that functions at lower speeds) with a wet multiplate clutch system in order to introduce even more efficiencies into the driveline (called Skyactiv-Drive).

It’s also possible to order the MAZDA3 hatch with a somewhat more robust, 167 horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Found in the s Grand Touring trim, it offers either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic tranny and drops fuel mileage by more than 10-mpg without offering a significant gain in acceleration.

2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring Review: Driving Impressions

The 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 offers handling that is far tighter than any inexpensive compact hatchback has any right to offer. The Mazda MAZDA3 is one of those rare automobiles the manages to draw the driver in without resorting to ultra-stiff spring rates and shock absorbers, which means that the hatch’s cornering capacity it matched by its docility over rough pavement. The vehicle’s steering is communicative and well-weighted, and while we weren’t able to get the most out of the car due to its affordability-focused winter tires, we came away impressed by just how much Mazda has been able to position this car above the rest of its competition through careful chassis tuning and the willingness to acknowledge that not everyone is looking for a driving appliance when seeking out an affordable car.

One would be right to assume that 155 horsepower from an engine that has been tuned with fuel economy in mind isn’t exactly overwhelming when the hammer is dropped, but in truth acceleration from the Skyactiv-G unit under the MAZDA3’s hood was either on par with or better than most compact offerings both domestic and import. The hatchback skips to 60-mph in roughly 8.5 seconds, and while the engine might occasionally take a few seconds to drop revs after it’s been pegged at the redline there’s no roughness to be had from the Skyactiv-Drive hybridized transmission. The only area where we somewhat noticed a lack of spring in the Mazda’s step was during highway passing, where moving from 65-mph to 75-mph required a degree of patience and planning.

One more thing to add: unlike several other small cars that have recently succumbed to what some might call over-styling and seen their rear window sizes squished down to a bare slit, the MAZDA3 hatchback offered excellent visibility while reversing. Sliding back into the garage each night was stress-free due to the clear sight-lines out the back and to the sides of the compact vehicle.

2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring Review: Final Thoughts

The 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 illustrates what can be achieved on a modest budget by an equally small car company charged with facing down mega-sellers like the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla. Fun without being fast, and comfortable (in the front seats, at least) without being expensive, the MAZDA3 is one of the best-driving compact hatchbacks on the market, built by a brand that truly understands how to lure in enthusiasts with the kind of finely-tuned, behind the wheel experience absent from most of its competitors. The fact that this has been achieved with a 40-mpg engine is even more impressive, and the lack of battery-assist or turbo charging indicates just how much efficiency is still locked up inside internal combustion motors waiting to be teased out by clever engineering.

2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring Review: Pros and Cons

2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring Review: Pros and Cons

Pros:

Nimble, fun, and quick through the corners
An advertised 40-mpg on the highway
Decent acceleration
Attractive styling without being over-the-top

Cons:

Cramped rear seat
Tricky keyless operation
Unable to match listed fuel mileage in city driving

Mazda Canada supplied the vehicle for this review

By Benjamin Hunting