Project Mazda3: Part 1 - This Is The Droid We’re Looking For.           

by Per Schroeder

You know that perfect dreamworld where you’re dating a super model and Patrick Dempsey asks you how you make your hair look so cool?   It doesn’t exist.  In our heads, we should all be driving <insert sports car du jour> and making each and every highway on-ramp a text book example of a four-wheel drift. But that’s not how the ball bounces all the time with life and we need to roll with it.

Last February, I came to the conclusion that my daily driver, a 2005 Subaru Legacy, wasn’t in the best of health. I purchased it as a winter beater for Cleveland's notoriously bad traffic—but apparently it was a little too beat. At 85,000 miles, it was showing signs of at least one soft headgasket and it started to make sense to kick it on down the road. I drive about 100 miles a day to and from work and as the sole breadwinner in a family of five, thoughts of trying to nurse a crappy car through my daily slog wasn’t sounding so great. It was time to start looking at a new reliable transportation appliance.


The Subaru was an excellent winter beater, but starting to have issues. 

Being the analytic type, I made a spreadsheet with a list of possible candidates that fit my basic needs. I figured I could swing around $23000, preferably less. I wanted something that I could occasionally autocross and it had to fit kids in the back. My list included MINIs (been there, done that), the FR-S and even a Prius C. The last one wouldn’t be all that great for autocross, but the MPG wouldn’t suck. The FR-S was nice, but at the top of my budget and the backseat area wouldn't work for three little kids (and their booster seats)

As readers of my GarageLove column might recall, I settled on the just-released 2014 Mazda3. The combination of utility, probable reliability, mileage and frisky attitude made the 3 stand out from the rest. For 2014, only the smaller 155hp 2.0-liter versions were available with the six-speed manual transmission, so that's what I went with. The 184hp 2.5-liter came with an automatic only, as well as a lot more optional equipment, including a standard sunroof. While the bigger engine gets the stick for 2015, it is still saddled with 130 or so pounds of extra crap. I’m a firm believer in going for a lighter, less equipped car for autocross use and commuter use. Cheaper too.


One of the downsides of my commute is that the Mazda3 rarely looks this clean. 

The one I chose was the Touring model—it’s got a few extras like alloy wheels and blind-spot monitoring, but otherwise, it’s a basic transportation appliance that fits my needs. Within a week or so of owning it, I found a few sets of older Mazda3 wheels in the stock 16x6.5 size that I could use for snow tires and autocross rubber. 

Since purchasing it eleven months ago in late February 2014, I’ve amassed over 24000 miles on the odometer. It’s delivered an average of 36mpg during that time for my traffic-laden commute and aside from oil changes and some windshield washer fluid, it hasn’t needed anything more than a fill-up of 87-octane gas every four days.


Even at full throttle, this thing still gets okay mileage--our average is 36mpg with a stop-n-go commute. 
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Wednesday, February 11, 2015 7:26 AM
I've really been liking the currenty Mazda design language, and the skyactive approach to efficiency (weight saving!). So I am interested to see where this goes!
Per Schroeder
Per Schroederlink
Wednesday, February 11, 2015 7:35 AM
Thanks--it's a darn good car right out of the box. We'll be pushing to see what parts are developed for this entire line of SkyActiv cars--3,6, etc.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015 10:18 AM
Per, are you going to keep it a street stock class car?
Per Schroeder
Per Schroederlink
Wednesday, February 11, 2015 10:23 AM
Welp, the idea is to see how far I can get in Street before I get bored and jump to STF---with the catch that it kinda depends on how/when suspension parts are developed. Bars are no problem…everything else is.

foreshadowing: some new tires are out in a size that will work for both HS and STF…so I know those are on the ticket.

Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, February 11, 2015 11:06 AM
I think skyactive is gonna prove to be pretty hard to mod.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015 3:07 PM
Jesus. 100 miles a day....
You must really love your job.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015 6:33 PM
I'm glad you like it, and I'm sure it's a great car, but it's just...... ugly. Don't feel bad, I have a few Subarus and none of them are attractive.
Per Schroeder
Per Schroederlink
Thursday, February 12, 2015 2:57 AM
@Cartechs: You do what you gotta do.
@Fabrik8: I agree--it's not the most attractive shape, especially in this coupe version. That said, amongst its awkward lines, it's got some neat design bits that make you think the designers weren't all smoking crack.
Friday, February 13, 2015 1:30 AM
Are there any upgrades from the Mazdaspeed 3? It looks like a similar chassis.
Friday, February 13, 2015 11:23 AM
Unfortunately its not the same car as the last gen Mazda3, the basic principles of macpherson front multi link rear is the same, but its inherently a different design.
Per Schroeder
Per Schroederlink
Friday, February 13, 2015 11:36 AM
Yes, it is like comparing a Toyota to a Mazda, as the previous generations shared much of the platform with the Ford Focus and Volvo S40. This is a completely new chassis that's on the same architecture as the 6 and CX-5 and is a completely Mazda-only platform.
Friday, February 13, 2015 2:20 PM
Per have to looked at Corksport? They seem to have a few things for the new Mazda 3 already.
Sunday, February 15, 2015 7:19 PM
A good set of wheels really changes the look of the car. I think the factory upgrades make the car look fantastic. But anyways, that's just in the looks department.
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