Five First Impressions: New Mazda3 2.5 Grand Touring

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If you’re Mazda, you should be screaming and shouting about your cars.

You should be making passionate pleas to those who think modern cars are boring and all the fun is gone. After all, they can even make an enormous three-row SUV at least somewhat entertaining. If life were fair, there’d be a Mazda3 on every corner, because it’s a relatively inexpensive car that’s still fun to drive in every situation.

Instead, Mazda made a bunch of changes this year to its compact entry in the hopes of chasing a more premium clientele. I’ve been driving a 2017 Mazda3 in 2.5-liter Grand Touring trim. Here are some other thoughts about it.

Never change

Mazda gave the 3 a mid-life facelift for 2017, but I dare you to spot the changes. Apparently the grille, headlights and rear bumper were changed, but apart from the lights, it’s hard to tell a 2016 and 2017 version apart even when placed side by side. That’s fine, because even though the current 3 debuted nearly four years ago, it still looks good and more expensive than its rivals.

Odds and ends

The refresh budget was clearly spent mostly on the interior, where the 3 feels a little more grown-up than before. But while the CX-9 got upgraded gauges, the 3’s dials and infotainment screen still feel dated. And the redesigned center console means my elbow no longer has a comfortable spot on the armrest.

Joy of driving

Go for the standard six-speed manual on this s model with the 2.5-liter four, however, and your right arm will be plenty entertained. The shifter is still a joy to use and the 3 is a very happy car. Somehow, Mazda can make a mainstream car that makes even afternoon commutes in LA tolerable.

Ease of use

Part of that joy comes from how easy the 3 is to drive. It’s pretty impossible to stall it, even if you’re a terrible manual driver. Every new driver should learn on this car.

Attack hatched

But the 3’s not the only hatch game in town anymore. The 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback is wonderfully refined and efficient, and costs roughly the same as the Mazda. So does the Chevy Cruze Hatch, based on the surprisingly refined sedan. Skip the optional automatic transmission to avoid hitting $30,000, but the 3 can get far from cheap.

Still, it’s always a blast to be in this car and a reminder it doesn’t have to be a hot hatch to be a fun hatch. What questions do you have about the 2017 Mazda3? Sound off in the comments.

Photos: Zac Estrada, Mazda

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