Last weekend, Morrie’s Mazda loaned me a fully-loaded 2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring. The Snowflake White Pearl sedan blended in perfectly with the snowy weather but kept my passengers and I coddled with leather-trimmed, heated seats in a nice and cozy interior. The SkyActiv 2.5L 4-cylinder uses a very high-tech hybrid-like system called i-ELOOP to increase fuel economy to 32 MPGs which means I had no problems driving all over the metro area visiting family before the holidays on less than a half tank of gas. The available navigation system that came standard on the Grand Touring trim level helped guide me along as if I was in command of Santa’s reindeer.

2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring

The 2014 Mazda3 is all new and completely redesigned. The exterior styling now falls more in-line with the more recent offerings from Mazda and to my eye, the Mazda3 looks like a miniature Mazda6. To me, that makes it the best looking compact car on the market today. The front of the Mazda3 no longer features the big, smiling grille that gave the car a rather polarizing look. Now, the front end is a bit more angular with the grille taking on more of a sneer than a grin. The new LED taillights look almost jewel-like which adds a touch of class as well. There’s also a hatchback which offers a bit more space in the back for transporting those large or unusually shaped items. In my case, it would’ve been great for carrying presents around! That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I could fit in the trunk or rear seat.

2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring

Inside, it’s obvious that Mazda has taken a more European approach to Mazda3 GT. The seats are covered in perforated black leather with sporty red stitching. This same theme is carried over on the shifter and steering wheel where all of the touch points feel solid and well-made. Even the dash is entirely covered in soft-touch plastic which is almost unheard of in this segment. The hard plastics around the buttons on the steering wheel and door panels have a cool, high-tech looking carbon fiber pattern as well. All in all, it contributes to the Mazda3’s interior feeling much more luxurious and expensive than it actually is. Suffice to say it’s also incredibly quiet inside.

2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring Interior

Taking a look at the technology inside, first and foremost is the all-new 7.0-inch touchscreen. It’s crisp and colorful with big icons on the home screen to access things like media and phone features or the navigation system. In addition to the touchscreen, there is also a small control knob that works similarly to BMW’s iDrive system in that the driver can scroll through the menus, toggle through screens, and press down to make selections. There are also a handful of helpful shortcut keys surrounding the control knob for accessing phone, audio, and navigation features as well as back button. What really sets this Mazda3 apart from everything else in the segment is the available head-up display. Mazda has implemented a small, clear plastic screen that elegantly rises out of the top of the dash above the instrument cluster and information like speed or navigation directions are then projected onto it. The Mazda3 is the only vehicle in the USA to use a system like this and it really does work well with the navigation system. The navigation system also features 3D map graphics for big cities like downtown Minneapolis and St Paul which add a touch of class to the Mazda3.

Now, Mazda has a long-standing partnership with Bose for their stereo systems and the same holds true for the 2014 Mazda3. This car featured a 9-speaker Bose stereo with a Centerpoint 5.1-channel surround sound and active noise cancellation. Of course, there’s also AM/FM radio, HD Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, a single disc CD/MP3 player and two USB ports. In terms of sound quality, this is easily one of the best in its class. When a phone is connected via Bluetooth, it also enables Pandora, Aha Radio, and Stitcher which all feature integrated apps that can play through the Bose stereo. One other advantage to pairing a phone is that this Mazda system will receive and read SMS text messages back to the driver and allow them to reply by voice command. One last thing to note about the technology inside the Mazda3 is that it is WiFi enabled. Although it’s not available to use quite yet, a future software update will allow the driver to connect their Mazda3 to available WiFi networks and download content like traffic and weather information.

2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring

Continuing with the all-new theme, the Mazda3’s SkyActiv direct injection 2.5L 4-cylinder engine uses a trick hybrid system to boost MPG while delivering 184 HP and 185 lb-ft of torque. The i-ELOOP system is basically a big capacitor that stores energy recovered from braking and uses it to power things like the headlights, stereo, navigation system and air conditioning so that these systems don’t need to draw power from the engine to work. This means that there is less there is less stress on the engine and better fuel economy. Other high-tech features in the Mazda3 include a blind spot monitor that alerts the driver when a vehicle is in their blind spot as well as a lane departure warning system that will let the driver know if they drift out of their lane. A back-up camera combined with a rear cross-traffic alert system makes parking in busy parking lots a snap.

2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring

So, what’s it like to actually drive the 2014 Mazda3? Well, Mazda has kept the “zoom zoom” DNA with a peppy engine and tight suspension that feels well balanced between sporty and comfortable. After driving the new Mazda3 with both the 6-speed manual transmission and the 6-speed automatic, I found the automatic to be the better all-around car. In the past, Mazda’s have made compromises in interior features and technology in exchange for being more fun to drive than the competition. Mazda has made it clear that there are no more compromises. With the Mazda3, you really can have it all. It’s a fun to drive compact sedan with loads of technology and safety features that delivers great gas mileage while still offering a level of refinement nearly on par with that of German luxury cars.

2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring

Now, with an as-tested price of $28,035 for this fully-loaded model, that’s priced near the top of the compact, front-wheel drive segment but by backing off on some of the options, you still end up with a really nice car that has all of the features you’d use on a daily basis for around $20,000. For those that are a little more budget-conscious, the entry-level Mazda3 comes in at just $16,945. Whether in base trim or fully loaded, the new Mazda3 firmly establishes itself as one of the best compact cars on the market today.

Guest blog post written by: Alex Bellus – a well-known automotive photographer in the Twin Cities area and a frequent attendee of MN C&C at the Automotorplex. He is an Automotive Analyst for IHS Automotive and has a wide range of automotive knowledge. Keep your eye out for his next Blog Post where he will highlight another popular new vehicle!