Up: Beautiful exterior/interior, fun to drive, love the gauges.

Down: More interior color options would be nice.

Neutral: This is 2013’s biggest, and most pleasant, surprise.

Mazda, more often than not, seems like a forgotten brand. The new 3 especially likes to dance on the fine line of “what type of car am I?. It has unorthodox pitfall of being a compact sedan that’s not quite as cheap as a Honda Civic and not quite as expensive as a BMW 3-series. There aren’t many other cars that fill that hole but if a first impression counts as anything, it seems like you can get almost a BMW for almost the price of a Honda.

The first thing Mazda has done was ditch the terrible everything of the old 3 and replaced it with a new car that looks fantastic. We’ll start with the outside. Mazda has rebranded all of their 2014+ models to have a distinguished chrome-lined grille that really lets them stand out from the competition. The new lineup has really helped Mazda tire-kickers understand without without having to ask what Mazda is and what they’re trying to be.

The 2014 Mazda3 carries over that same front fascia from the Mazda6 and CX-5 and also shares a lot of the same body lines. So you must be thinking, “Hm, so it’s just a smaller Mazda6?” Not quite. The 3 has a deeper grille and a shorter butt as well as a more unique “personality” if you will (You’ll get it when you see the two side by side). On top of that, it has kick-ass heads and tails and big ol’ 18″ rims to keep everything proportional.

Now everyone can agree that the outside looks great but its on the inside where all the magic happens. We had the S Grand Touring model and I must say, it did not fail to impress. All of the materials inside felt like very high quality plastics and there were lots of carbon-fiberesque accents so you know it’s good. The gauges also made me feel like I was in a much faster car. There was a large center tach with digital screens on both sides and a heads-up-display (HUD) that showed how fast I was going. You can also see gauges like that on cars that are on level: McLaren.

2014 Mazda3-16

Everything else in the Mazda3 felt like it was exactly where it belonged as well. The climate system was digital and the infotainment (man I hate that word) system is run by the dial system and not touch screen; which I prefer. The best part of the infotainment (ugh there it is again) system is that it works! Really well, in fact. Everything was easy to find and it was backed by a pleasant GUI (guided user interface) that didn’t look ugly for once.

So how did it drive? We had the 184 hp 2.5 liter SKYACTIV engine and it was pleasantly quick. If you’re a conservative driver, you will get right around 30 mpg’s while tootin’ around the city and more aggressive drivers will enjoy sport mode which increases throttle response and shift times. Both models give nearly 40 mpgs on the interstate so I recommend just opting in for the 2.5 liter because you get 30 more hp without any drawbacks. The only complaint I had, and it might not even be a complaint, is that the paddle shifters took a little too long to change gears. However, I can’t remember if I was in sport mode or not so it could be my own fault.

So, is it a BMW for the cost of a Honda? The answer remains the same: almost. Mazda’s new design success makes it instantly more desirable than a Honda Civic but will still struggle to convert the BMW snobs that think “Well, I can get a 3-series for slightly more.” But who cares, right? Mazda has grown into an identity of its own that can finally stand out from the crowd. The 2014 Mazda3 looks great, drives great, and, if presented with all three options, I’d take the Mazda.

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