I am a buyer rather than a trader, and with cars that is no different than with tools. When I purchase a vehicle I am looking at getting at least 100,000 miles out of it, and preferably more. Recently, my 2001 Oldsmobile Alero reached the point where it’s value as a starter car for a relative was higher than it’s value as a daily driver for me, and so on the day it hit 155,555 miles I retired it from active duty and shifted that role to a 2017 Mazda 3.
Given that I have access to several other vehicles (minivan, full sized pickup, sports car) for cases where additional capabilities are desired beyond a daily driver, my selection criteria was focused on a vehicle tailored to that task. The primary requirement was a vehicle that was small, nimble to maneuver, solid on the highway, simple to maintain, fuel efficient, and overall fun and comfortable to drive. After an initial downselect to the VW Golf, Mazda 3 5 door, and Ford Focus Hatchback I came to the very difficult decision of which of 3 very good cars to put my money on. When I was frequently on the road for work I had had the opportunity to drive the sedan versions of each (Jetta for the Golf) as rentals, and from that experience I had an initial lean toward the Golf. After detailed comparison and multiple test drives of comperable trim levels of each, I ended up on the Mazda 3 Grand Touring mainly due to the driving dynamics fitting my driving style a touch better than the others – to me it simply felt more balanced and responsive than either of the others. I was initially intrigued by Mazda’s iEloop regenerative system, but on analysis of my typical drive it failed the benefit vs. complication test and I ended up passing on that option. I also passed on the lane assist feature given some negative experience with a version of that system on a rental VW Passat a few years ago where it was a constant distraction when going through construction zones.
After 1500 miles in the seat, I’m still very happy with the Mazda 3. On a 50 mile round trip commute which includes a significant construction zone full of stop-and-go traffic, multiple elevation changes, poorly sequenced traffic lights, and the occasional stretch of open road I’ve been averaging 32 mpg compared with 23 for the Alero and 21 for a 2102 Dodge Grand Caravan under the same conditions. It’s a very comfortable car to drive when in commute mode, but flip it into sport mode, find a nice twisty stretch of pavement, start blipping the paddle shifters and the giant smile which comes out more than compensates for the decreased fuel economy. It’s pretty much the best of both worlds.
The interior is very well laid out, and after a few weeks of using the HUD I now find it awkward to have to look down at a speedometer when I drive another vehicle. I was initially skeptical about the infotainment display rising up out of the dash, but the more I’ve used it the more I like the way that it’s position makes it easier to glance at while generally keeping eyes up on the road ahead relative to a lower display. The same holds for the console mounted rotary selector.
Of course this car has all the evils of modern cars – very limited natural visibility (e.g. what you can see through the windows and mirrors), excessive size for function (the Mazda 3 is physically larger than the Alero, despite the fact that the Mazda Protégé (precursor to the 3) was a significantly smaller vehicle in 2001), etc…, but that’s across the industry and I have yet to find a vehicle that has remained reasonably sized and provides good visibility all around. Beyond that, my complaints are mainly personal preferences. The audio pilot feature on the Bose branded audio system (otherwise known as speed compensated volume) doesn’t seem to work overly well to my ears and I find myself having to fiddle with the volume quite a bit. The high and blunt front really cuts down on forward visibility while parking. A factory installed forward looking camera for various “safety” features doesn’t have a way to connect to a dashcam style recorded. There is only one installed 12 V power socket (hidden in the console, and wired as always on) despite places for multiple others which are used for other trim configurations – I find it odd that on the top trim level they take out and blank off the space where lower trims have multiple sockets and the option to select either an always on or on with ignition configuration. Finally, since the car is based in a dusty desert environment I wish they would have had a light tan cloth interior option rather than the “option” of black or (basically) white leather.
All said, while there are some little things I would have different, I have not found any significant issues with my Mazda 3 Grand Touring, and the combination of excellent driving dynamics, a good interior layout, and relatively good fuel economy makes me very happy with this car as a daily driver.