The Mazda3 cars get more power from their four-cylinder engines for 2014 but still earned a federal government fuel economy rating of 30 miles per gallon in city driving and 41 mpg on the highway. This is with the smaller, 2-liter four cylinder and automatic transmission.
Plus, the Mazda3 is predicted to have better than average reliability, according to Consumer Reports magazine.
And there's a new, broad selection of upscale features that buyers can add to the Mazda3, including lane departure warning, forward collision control, adaptive front headlights and an uncomplicated head-up display that puts vehicle speed right in front of the driver, up by the windshield.
Best of all, the front-wheel drive, 2014 Mazda3 impresses with its solid handling, good body control and top-of-the-pack steering.
The test Mazda3 was fun to drive on curvy, mountain roads, where it passed slower, less poised vehicles while holding tenaciously to its lane.
To be sure, the 2014 Mazda3 is not a bargain-basement car. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $17,740 for a Mazda3 sedan with six-speed manual transmission is more than the $16,800 starting retail price for a 2014 Nissan Sentra sedan with a six-speed manual.
The price difference grows with the addition of an automatic transmission: The starting retail price for a 2014 Mazda3 sedan rises to $18,790 compared with the 2014 Sentra's starting price with automatic of $17,400.
The Mazda3 five-door hatchback has starting retail prices that are higher than the sedan's. A base, 2014 Mazda3 hatchback starts at $19,740 with six-speed manual and $20,790 with automatic.
Based on the test car, the new Mazda3 expertly dials in driving pleasure while still being thrifty with gas and offering practical interior room. The test Mazda3 five-door hatchback was at the high end of pricing at more than $29,400.
Passengers sit lower to the pavement in the 4.8-foot-tall Mazda3 than in many other vehicles, so driver views are blocked by vans, sport utility vehicles and taller cars in front.
The ride in the test Mazda3 five door was a bit on the noisy side, with a good amount of road noise coming through. But the shifts from the six-speed automatic transmission were smooth. The tester easily averaged the federal government's 32 mpg rating in combined city/highway travel.
2014 Mazda3 5-Door s Grand TouringBase price: $16,945 for i SV sedan manual; $17,995 for i SV sedan automatic; $18,445 for i Sport sedan; $18,945 for i Sport hatchback with manual; $19,595 for i Touring sedan; $19,995 for i Sport hatchback automatic; $20,095 for i Touring hatchback; $22,745 for i Grand Touring sedan; $23,245 for i Grand Touring hatchback; $24,595 for s Touring sedan; $25,095 for s Touring hatchback; $25,995 for s Grand Touring sedan; $26,495 for s Grand Touring hatchback.
Price as tested: $29,485.
Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger, mid-size hatchback.
Engine: 2.5-liter, double overhead cam, SkyActiv-G four cylinder with VVT.
Mileage: 28 mpg (city), 38 mpg (highway).
Options: GT technology package (includes active grille shutters, i-ELoop regenerative engine braking) $1,600; Soul Red metallic exterior paint $300; scuff plates and door sill trim plates $125; rear bumper guard $100; cargo mat $70.