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Mazda3 delivers ‘driving enthusiast’ compact

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The 2018 Mazda3’s combination of craftsmanship, quality and uncommonly good driving dynamics place it apart from its competition in the crowded compact segment. Mazda3 models include G-Vectoring Control, a Mazda-exclusive technology that uses the engine to put a minute amount of weight on the front tires, making steering inputs more surefooted and increasing peace of mind with the goal of improving stability.

Engineered for Enthusiast

It’s these incredibly thoughtful engineering aspects that Mazda has always tried to deliver as it distinguishes itself from a crowded field of sedans by making itself the unrivaled “driving enthusiast” choice.

The Mazda3 is a quality compact with exceptional overall performance and many desirable features and there’s a solid market of American customers who prefer sedans, especially those with some sporting credentials, for pure driving enjoyment. That’s where a car like the Mazda3 Grand Touring comes in.

Grand Touring

Two versions are available: a four-door hatchback and the subject here, the traditional four-door notchback sedan, which comes with a choice of two engines. The base model starting at $18,095, which is no slouch, is equipped with a 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox or a 6-speed automatic transmission.

The Grand Touring model I tested, featured a 184-horsepower, 2.5-L 4-cylinder engine that offered up 185 lb.-ft. of torque. It is the torque that really delivers the excitement. The Grand Touring gets to 60 mph in about seven seconds, more than respectable for a compact sedan in the Mazda3’s price range.

The Grand Touring tester featured steering-wheel-mounted paddles to manually shift the 6-speed automatic transmission. With a starting price of $25,070, the Grand Touring with its 6-speed automatic is a bit more expensive than some of its compact competitors.

That’s roughly $5,000 less than the average price of a new car these days. Yet it’s a complete package, with a full suite of safety equipment, including lane keeping warning and assist, low-speed automatic collision braking, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, and tire-pressure monitoring.

Head Up Display

Mazda’s head-up display, which uses a separate screen that rises up from the top of the dashboard into the driver’s line of sight, is adjustable for any driver size or sightline. Look for a digital speedometer, it also reads traffic signs (like speed limits) and shows other information.

A center-mounted 7-inch color touchscreen displays navigation and an array of vehicle functions as well as satellite radio and other entertainment data. Selections can be made from the screen or by using a rotary knob mounted on the center console.

Interior Impressions

Where Mazda3 stands out is in the interior materials, design, and execution category. The heated leather-covered sport seats on the test car showed quality workmanship and offered long-distance support and comfort up front.

Desirable equipment, both standard and optional, included a motorized glass sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control; LED headlights, fog lights, and taillights; pushbutton starting; keyless locking, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

  On the road, the test car cruised quietly except for engine noises that intruded under hard acceleration. The electric power steering felt nicely weighted and responsive around curves and maintained a strong line in straight freeway cruising. A supple suspension system, abetted by 18-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, helped the handling without sacrificing ride quality.

Mazda has long touted its SkyActiv technology, a holistic approach that covers every aspect of vehicle design to improve fuel economy as well as driving dynamics, no matter how tiny. Thankfully, Mazda engineers took the efforts on the details and the Mazda3 Grand Touring benefits from that approach.

This auto review was researched and written by SteinPro Content Services and provided to the Sun-Times for publication