Executive wheels: A car to love

2015 MAZDA3 S 4-DOOR GRAND TOURING

Recently, the opportunity presented itself for a pilgrimage to Michigan for a homecoming football game. One of the major highlights of the trip was the opportunity to drive the 2015 Mazda3 S 4-Door Grand Touring model.

There are many reasons I was so impressed right off the bat, but the chief one was that since the Mazda3 is a high-mileage vehicle – rated 29 mpg city/40 mpg highway – I expected it to be under-powered. Wrong. It is a pocket rocket – the 2.5-liter, 184-hp four-banger feels like a V6 with a whole lot more power. It is fast off the line, it is fast on the highway, and it will accelerate from 60 to 80 for passing in a flash. I was awed.

On top of that power, it’s a quiet car that allows for easy conversation and radio-listening – the zoom-zoom stays outside – and it comes in a package that has the perfect shape for a car. The Mazda3 comes in a hatchback and this four-door model, which is handsome and has a wonderful and balanced center of gravity that at once make it feel both extra-stable and sporty.

The room was amazing. My son and I both had luggage and a carryon, all of which fit nicely into the surprisingly ample trunk. Then there was the back seat. We took my mother and sister from Flint to Ann Arbor for a Homecoming/alumni dinner, and they both exclaimed that the back seat was comfortable and roomy.

Also, I must say that the Mazda3 had an incredible heater. I didn’t have the chance to test out the AC, but if it cools half as well as it heats, the climate control of this Mazda3 ranks in superstar land. This all came in handy when we had to maneuver through a pretty good snowstorm. Through it all, I felt warm and in control.

Another of the impressive aspects of this Mazda3 was what I would call the “driver-oriented cockpit.” Since driving is the fun and the focus of this vehicle, you want to make sure that the controls are easy to reach, easy to use, and as low on the distraction scale as can be in today’s cars. Mazda3 fit the bill.

There is a mouse of sorts on the console that controls icons that can be seen in the relatively small screen (7-inch touch control) in the center of the dash. The icons direct the driver to things like the map/navigation, climate control, sound system, and the many apps that you can tap into these days (Pandora, Aha, Stitcher Audio, etc.). The screen is also where the rear-view camera comes up. While I found the navigation system a bit difficult to control – my son and I tried for some time in a parking lot to set a destination with very little success, even with the help of the manual – everything else was easy.

We synced a smart phone to play iTunes and our Pandora, played the system’s Pandora, used the hands-free phone, played AM/FM/Sat radio – all easy and quick. It takes a while to get used to the volume knob being on the console, but once you have the car that will seem like no big deal. The climate control, which looked just like a classic radio with dials and such, was particularly easy to control for temperature, fan speed and direction.

Other than the hard-to-navigate navigation, I have no complaints about this car. It’s that good. I want one.

The Mazda3 four-door comes in six trims ranging in base price from $16,949 for the iSV to $26,045 for the S Grand Touring. The less expensive models feature a 2.0-liter four banger with 155 hp rated at 30.41 mpg in auto transmission (29/41 in manual). My test drive vehicle, top-of-the-line, had a very smooth 6-speed automatic, electronically controlled with a manual shift mode (with paddles) and a sport function. Mine also had, standard, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, great four-wheel disc brakes, traction control, stability control – and, of course, all of the usual luxuries like power everything and keyless entry.

The added on a couple of small things (mats, scuffplates) for about $250, and then a Technology Package, for $2,600, that included such things as high beam controls, grille shutters, lane departure warning, forward obstruction warning, and radar cruise control. Also included in the technology package was the i-ELOOP Regenerative Braking System that traps extra energy with a capacitor, giving the car extra electricity for on-board systems and more fuel economy, which, according to Mazda, allows more of the car’s horsepower to go into more driving power. It must work.

The bottom line on this very nicely equipped car is $29,685, and while that isn’t cheap by any means, this is one of the few cars I have driven in a long time where the price seems about right for what is offered.

I can’t imagine anyone not liking – no wait, loving – this Mazda3. At any price.

RATING: FOUR WHEELS PLUS THE SPARE (OUT OF FOUR)