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Driven: 2017 Mazda3 Sedan 2.0 G120

Mazda has restyled the 3, its compact-class product, for the 2017 model year. The result takes attention to notice, but you do not have to be an expert to appreciate the other improvements that were applied.
2017 Mazda3 Sedan 63 photos
Photo: Florin Profir
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The refresh of the Mazda3 portfolio has made this model even more competitive on the market, while also adapting it to the latest requirements of customers. The improvements addressed some previous complaints received by the automaker, while others were things it added to bring the 3 up to speed.

Not that long ago, we published a review of the MY2017 Mazda3 Hatchback. This story is about its sedan brother, which happened to be tested with the same engine and transmission configuration.

These two stories put together should provide you, our readers, with an in-depth look at the Mazda3, in both hatchback and sedan form, and how it handles in the G120 version on both body styles.

Design

2017 Mazda3 Sedan
Photo: Florin Profir
Mazda’s models have always struck me with the impression of conservative styling. Even the boldest designs were made in a way that you could not hate them for their looks.

The compact segment from this automaker certainly fits the bill for this assessment, and I admire the fact that the launch of a facelift or even a new generation from Mazda does not make the previous model instantly look outdated, like you may find with some rival brands.

The changes made to the appearance of the Mazda3 include new bumpers, modified foglight ornaments, new headlights, different tail lamps, and adaptive LED lights. The latter are part of the new headlamps, evidently, but they must be accounted for because they do make a difference in real life.

Since this generation of the Mazda3 was launched, many of its rivals have introduced facelifts, all-new models, and various tweaks and improvements. With that in mind, Mazda’s design has not become outdated in any way, despite its age.

While competitors have gone for aggressive forms, like Honda did with the new Civic, some have remained faithful to more conventional lines.

Somehow, the Mazda3 has remained an attractive automobile, and we think that its secret is the fact that it did not have an exaggerated design from the beginning. Instead of going all-out for something that could have polarized its potential customer base, Mazda has done something that is appreciated by many.

A big plus for Mazda’s compact range is the fact that the sedan and hatchback body styles of the 3 do not look like any of them misses anything when put together or regarded separately. The same happened with the previous generation of the Mazda3, and few competitors were close to matching it in this aspect.

Usually, when converting a hatchback to a sedan configuration or vice-versa, something in the lines of that car gets “lost in translation,” which leads to an unusual look for the second body style, and the sedan is often the one that gets the worse look.

The Mazda3 is not the ultimate compact model when looks are concerned, but it sits comfortably above average, in a cozy place that will remain undeterred over the years.

Interior

2017 Mazda3 Sedan
Photo: Florin Profir
Mazda had a few things to fix about the 3’s interior, and the modifications were made through the facelift. The result is what we had expected from the Mazda3 when it was first launched, but this car is not disappointing in 2017.

However, if you analyze it against the rest of the cars in the segment, this model is far from the podium of the best interiors of the class but is still above average.

The reason for this is that Mazda has managed to refine the right things about the 3, while keeping things simple. This simplicity is often misinterpreted as being outdated, but that claim can be true in some aspects of using this vehicle.

There’s a fragile line between keeping things simple and being outdated, and it is hard not to step on it from time to time, especially when you must account for costs.

Instead of going for a futuristic interior, which may feel outdated faster than a simple solution, Mazda chose the latter for its hatchback and sedan models. It is functional, with a few lines drawn up for aesthetic reasons. We like how the dash meets the door panels, and the way that the entire ensemble is driver oriented.

The big thing about a straightforward and functional interior is that the result is a product that is easy to use and follow, in spite of the setback of not feeling like it is the most advanced in the world. Mazda may have been too simple for some from an individual point of view, as the general look of this passenger compartment is close to a premium car of the previous decade.

Fortunately, the technology present inside is adapted to today’s needs, even if it does not have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Instead, it employs Mazda Connect, which is easy to use for most functions, but you will not get full access to your smartphone from the vehicle. It may be for the best, if you ask us, because you could enjoy driving instead.

The entire idea of simplicity was not applied to the comfort chapter, which was handled generously by Mazda’s development team. The front seats offer a sufficient amount of side support, while their design makes them just right for a longer journey. They may not be certified to prevent back pain, but they do a fair job even after a few hours of sitting in them. As we mentioned above, all controls are within reach for the driver, and you can find your way in this car even if you have never been in a Mazda before.

The rear seats offer enough room for three average-sized adults, but the one sitting in the middle will have to keep his or her feet split to avoid the central tunnel that separates the vehicle in half. That shaft, commonly referred to as the “transmission tunnel” hosts the exhaust pipe of this car. Some competitors offer models with a smaller tunnel, and there are even flat floors in the back of automobiles from this segment.

The rear seats are firm, as per many models in this class, but they are good enough to support a long journey, even with three passengers in the back, if that is what you want.

The backseat is specially profiled to comfortably sit two people, while the third “jump seat” is not that generous, but it is there. The trunk has a broad opening, and it can host a reasonable amount (351 liters, to be exact) of luggage.

The materials used inside are better than on the pre-facelift model, but it is still not a premium car, which is not the intention anyhow. The lower part of the dash comes in a material that is not as nice as the one on the top, but this happens across the board in the segment.

Things could always be better, but we did not find something disturbingly cheap in the Mazda 3 Sedan. The rear door cards are better than on some competitor models, while other parts are not entirely perfect.

The shiny ornaments near the control buttons on the steering wheel, for example, are sharper to the touch than expected, but that gives them a “metallic feeling,” even though they are plastic all the way.

Mazda’ 3 Sedan manages to remain comfortably above the average in the segment while being an enjoyable automobile even if you are a fan of gadgets and technology.

It may not rock your world with holograms or give you the feeling of the most advanced compact car ever made. The Mazda 3 is a proposition that has what it takes to stand the test of time for the responsible consumer, which is more important than how many LED and displays you have inside your car.

Driving

2017 Mazda3 Sedan
Photo: Florin Profir
Mazda is one of the brands that still builds what we like to call driver’s cars. While that is something unusual to write about a compact-class sedan or hatchback with 120 HP on tap, let us explain.

First of all, this is not a driver’s car in the "purist sense of way," with minimal electronic assistance, total feedback, and perfection on four wheels.

Secondly, Mazda’s 3 is easy to drive, and even a learner driver could handle this automobile in any situation that he or she is trained to endure.

With that explained, you might imagine that we have lost our minds, but that is fortunately not the case. Instead, Mazda offers a compact car that feels like home when you drive it quickly, but it is just as pleasant, if not even better when you switch your head to “limo-driver-mode.”

The steering is light enough to ensure a small effort to handle it, but it offers sufficient feedback for this kind of automobile. Its shifter is well placed, and it operates in an almost exemplary manner.

The clutch pedal is light enough to be pleasant in the day-to-day, stop-and-go traffic, but nevertheless, gives you enough response not to embarrass yourself when slowly pulling away from a stop.

It is fair to note that many of the qualities listed above are found in some models of the competition, but not in all, and not necessarily at the same time.

Mazda figured out it could live without one of those “fancy” adaptive suspensions, and it looks like the “gamble” paid off. The rear setup is a multi-link, while the front is a double wishbone configuration.

They have bushings and settings optimized for comfort, but the light chassis and bright tweaks here and there help this car ride with the best in the class.

A premiere in the compact segment is standard on the 2017 Mazda 3, and it is called G-Vectoring Control. In a few words, this is a system that offers torque vectoring by limiting torque in a subtle way to boost comfort.

Instead of using the brakes, it limits engine power by a margin that you cannot perceive, but it raises passenger comfort in turns. There’s no downside for the driver, and the car does not go slower because of its existence, which is great in itself.

Mazda has an alternative strategy for its powertrains, and the result involves sticking to naturally aspirated gasoline engines instead of turbocharging. Customers in various markets can also order diesel engines, but they also have “unusual” displacements that are not advantageous in every possible situation, but they do drive nicely.

Our test car was a G120 version, which means it has a 2.0-liter SkyActiv-G four-cylinder engine. This kind of displacement in this segment used to be something usual about a decade ago, but Mazda is among the few brands that still offers this today. All other competitors have downsized their engines, but Mazda can even sell you a 3 with a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated gasoline engine.

Thanks to its high compression ratio and intelligent systems, which include the best start&stop in the business, the unit manages to be incredibly economical for its displacement.

It does not have the power of the smaller turbocharged engines, but it is smoother in operation than all of its rivals, while also being powerful enough for the average driver. Even the 1.5-liter handles the Mazda3 without feeling underpowered, but we would go for the 2.0-liter, or even the 2.5-liter if we could.

Torque is not something that the Mazda3’ G120 engine has to “throw” around, but it gets the job done every time you ask. Be warned. You may be "defeated" in a drag race by someone who drives a comparable car with a downsized engine. However, your car sounds better, runs smoother, and can be more fuel efficient if you treat the gas pedal with care.

From personal experience, a Mazda3 with a 2.0-liter gasoline engine can be more economical in the city than a competitor model with a downsized engine, and it all happens in the same town, with the same driver, and the same style.

Everyday living

2017 Mazda3 Sedan
Photo: Florin Profir
The car we drove is a 2017 Mazda 3 Sedan in the G120 version, with a six-speed manual transmission, and the “Attraction” trim level. It may be different in your market, but this is the second-cheapest from the entry level, and it comes with a generous list of standard elements.

The car we drove starts at EUR 19,390, which means that it is not exactly cheap when compared to its competitors in our market.

However, Mazda was never the brand with the most affordable cars in the segment, and it looks like it survived in the market in spite of its prices.

Fortunately, Mazda’s 3 is not the most expensive proposition in the class, so you can rest assured that someone else is paying more for a car that does not handle as well as yours, for example.

Fuel economy is more than reasonable for this model, and we will present the figures I obtained below. The lowest fuel consumption displayed after a reset and through city driving was 6.8 liters/100 km, which was achieved in “chill” traffic, and with an economical driving style. If the city gets even less traffic, as many do during the night, you will get to see 6.2 liters/100 km, just like we did.

On the other hand, if you like to hurry, or you drive in heavy traffic, or even both, the fuel consumption will grow to 8.7 liters/100 km. Unless you drive it like a maniac, it will not exceed ten liters/100 kilometers in urban traffic, but we suggest reconsidering your life choices if you like accelerating hard through the city.

On the highway, driving at a steady 130 km/h in sixth gear, the rev counter will display 2,700 rpm. Fuel economy gets stabilized at 7.2 liters in this type of driving condition.

If you drive on a regular road outside the city, without too much traffic and obeying the speed limit, the Mazda 3 Sedan G120 will reward you and your wallet with 4.2 liters/100 km. A more relaxed driving style, with a bit more throttle input, will bring about five liters/100 km or so.

We managed this kind of fuel economy thanks to the small (if any) vibrations perceived in the car, which withstood low revs like it was nothing. You can drive up to motorway speeds without exceeding 3,000 to 3,500 rpm, which will be a silent ride for you and your passengers.

The said silence comes not just from the engine, but also from the refined suspension and overall soundproofing, which has been perfected over the previous version of this car.

Gasoline engines like this one are more than enough for what the average driver needs in day-to-day situations, and it will handle almost anything you ask, as long as you remember that it is a 120 HP machine, and nothing more.

We must note that not every driver will get the fuel economy results posted above, but you might get the chance to enjoy them, even in the winter, if you adjust the way you drive.

We are positive that some people out there could beat our results in a heartbeat using the same car. However, we are more than happy with the figures we obtained, especially since the heater was on at all times, and so were the radio, heated steering wheel, and heated seats.

Roundup

2017 Mazda3 Sedan
Photo: Florin Profir
Mazda’s 3 is a competitive product in the compact segment thanks to the unique approach of this independent manufacturer. Instead of going with the flow and downsizing its engines to incredibly small displacements for the class of automobile they are offered, Mazda only set out to build the best engines, transmissions, and chassis it could with the resources at hand.

It looks like the work has paid off, as the Mazda3 seems to be the last compact model without downsized gasoline engines in its range, and it does not burn fuel like it was built ten years ago. Sure, its styling may not be the most thrilling or aggressive in this world, but it will stand the test of time, and so will its “back-to-basics” interior.

A day will come when Mazda will replace the ongoing 3 Sedan and Hatchback, but their replacements are at least two years away. Even when they will get replaced, you will not feel like you have been cheated, because your car will remain pleasant to drive, look at, and be dependable in general.

If you are looking for a car in this class, no matter if you are seeking a sedan or a hatchback, we heartily suggest visiting a Mazda dealership. Even if you don’t find the Mazda3 to be for you, just sit in one to get a baseline on what to expect from anything else.

You may not be charmed by it because of the lack of fancy gadgets inside, but some of you might feel that the Mazda 3 is the car for them. Who knows, for the right price, it might even be for you, especially if you are good at negotiating and research, and get a good deal after asking in several dealerships. It is always worth a shot to ask if they can do a better deal than the others, keep that in mind.

Until we drive the rest of the newly-launched cars in this segment, we cannot say that this is the definitive volume model of the compact class, but we do know that the Mazda 3 will fare well with almost anything comparable you place beside it.

It may not be the cheapest, most powerful, biggest, or most fuel efficient on paper in the segment, but it is balanced enough in all aspects to make it count.

In some situations, car buying included, a balanced product might turn out to be better than something covered in superlatives. You may not need the most powerful compact sedan, or the cheapest one, and not even the most fuel-efficient according to ratings, but you do want and need something that is as good as it can be at all of those things.

That is what Mazda accomplished with the 3 Sedan and the 3 Hatchback, and that is why we this is on our list of recommendations for those who want something in this segment.
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About the author: Sebastian Toma
Sebastian Toma profile photo

Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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