Mazda3 SKYACTIV Surprises with Efficiency and Fun

Fun to drive is a phrase that is not often associated with a compact car. In the case of the 2013 Mazda Mazda3 with SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY, fun is exactly what you get. That is only part of the story. Fuel efficiency is the other part of the story. After spending a week in the Mazda3 and amassing over 550 miles in the driver’s seat, the Mazda3 was a car that easily satisfies all that an everyday driver needs with an added dose of fun or as Mazda calls it “zoom-zoom”.

The Mazda3 with SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY comes with a plethora of standard features. The version that I was provided with was the grand touring edition which came in velocity red, a beautiful metallic red that looked good in any light. The Mazda3 was powered by a 2.0 liter, 4 cylinder engine capable of producing 155 horsepower and 148 lb. ft. of torque. Sixteen inch wheels came standard. Comfortable leather seats kept me planted during spirited driving and the 265 Watt Bose audio system helped ticked off the hours of driving. Overall fit and finish of the interior was good, though a little too much black. Perhaps a little more contrast might help. The Mazda3 has generous trunk space that is easily expanded by the 60/40 split fold down rear seats. The touch screen navigation system and Bluetooth system were all easy to use and very functional. Heated front seats ensured that I would remain comfortable once the temperatures dipped after a day at the beach. The car also came with blind spot monitoring system.

The SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY that Mazda has effectively branded appears to be a bet on the larger car market.

While hybrids and electric vehicles will become an increasing fixture on our roads, Mazda views this market as relatively small over the coming years and instead has focused on making the internal combustion engine more efficient. Whether it is the engine, the transmission, or the body and chasis, Mazda is clearly focusing on taking the traditional automobile and making it better. The result in the Mazda3 with SKYACTIV Technology is an EPA rating of 28 city and 40 highway with a combined rating of 33 mpg. By the way, premium gas need not apply. Regular is just right.

For the Mazda3 I Grand Touring with SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY, the MSRP came to $23,650. Add in the technology package that includes Bi-Xenon Headlights, adaptive front lighting, and rain sensing wipers among other features, the MSRP rises to $26,420.

On the fuel efficiency front, I averaged 32 mpg. In one drive from the Normal Heights area of San Diego to Fallbrook, over to Carlsbad and to downtown San Diego, I averaged 38 mpg with three adult males in the car. This gave me confidence that 40 mpg on the freeway is easily achievable. Of course fuel efficiency is also dependent on the driver. If you have a driver with a lead foot, the numbers is this car and many others will look different.

On the fun side, one might think that this car is underpowered. For its class, it fits right in. On a random Friday afternoon drive to Julian in search of an apple pie craving that I had, I found the definition of fun with this car. It really likes to be driven. It likes the curves. It likes to be revved. On the back roads out by Cuyamaca Rancho State Park en route to Julian, the road turns into a series of curves with little room for error. The Mazda3 handled the task admirably and to my surprise did not dramatically alter my fuel efficiency readings.

The market for compact cars is crowded with plenty of offerings. However, the combination of fuel efficiency and fun is a hard combination to shy away from. The Mazda3 fulfilled most, if not all of my daily needs, whether it was commuting, driving to the beach, or a scenic ride through the backcountry outside San Diego.

Walter Wang is Managing Editor of CleanTechies. Follow Walter on Twitter: @energytaxprof

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