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Sleek Mazda3 is big on drive experience, tight on space

The compact 2017 Mazda3 sedan is for people who like to drive. Mazda has been successful in infusing its cars with driving characteristics above competitors’. In the Mazda3’s case, notable competition includes Civic, Impreza, Jetta, Corolla and Elantra.

I tested a 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring four-door sedan and found it an attractive package — for those who are the right fit.

The mid-size Mazda6 sedan is Mazda3’s inspiration, as the 3 has a new front bumper for a better “chin” to go with a slightly revised nose and grille. From the A pillar forward, the nose looks long and gives the car a bigger road presence. The low roof line and short deck make the car look fast. Additionally, my test vehicle came with large 18-inch alloy wheels that really filled up the curvy fender lines.

Under the longish hood, my Grand Touring model had a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with 185 pound-feet of torque. And surprise, surprise: this top model came with a six-speed manual. The transmission was a snap to operate, and it allowed me to wring out every hoof of horsepower. It also goes a long way toward giving you the driving excitement lacking in most of the segment competitors.

The interior layout looks good at first, but not all will fit in the narrow confines. The leather-trimmed front seats have a sporty vibe, and there is some leg support, but the rear seats are thinly padded and decidedly uncomfortable for adults. Competitors provide better, roomier comfort.

Strangely, Mazda used nice pieces on most of the interior, then went “economy class” on the door and headliner materials. Prioritizing the driver, Mazda placed the controls and switches where you expect and need them. Additionally, the hand brake has been updated to a better, smaller electronic switch. An area that needs an upgrade is the multimedia system, which looks like it was Velcroed to the dash. The colors wash out, and resolution wasn’t great.

Now on to the good stuff — the drive. This year, Mazda added standard G-Vectoring Control (GVC) software utilizing throttle input and steering angle sensors to modulate torque based on sensor input. I found the steering feedback to be a big plus over competitors. According to Mazda, the worse the road conditions, the better the technology works, regardless of driver skill. Peak horsepower is average, but using the manual and working it to your advantage really pays off as this car has a whole performance “feel” that’s just not available from competitors. The 18-inch P215/45R18 all-season tires are a nice fit for this car providing decent grip and low squeal.

So, is the drive/styling and connection to the road enough to overcome the shortcomings? It depends on how you value the drive. For this class, and at this price, the Mazda3 over-delivers in driving experience — an area that most competitors lack.