Accounting for nearly two-thirds of Mazda’s U.S. sales the 3 is vital to the company’s health. Despite being the old man in its ultracompetitive set the 3 offers a quality interior and a very athletic chassis helping to overcome whatever marketplace hurdles its demented-clown face may have placed in its path. Still cursed with that circus mug this 3’s midcycle changes are only barely noticeable inside or out. But there are significant updates here nevertheless as Mazda chases after efficiency-minded buyers with its new Skyactiv engine and transmissions.
Slotting between the aged less powerful 2.0-liter and the thirsty 2.5-liter naturally aspirated fours the new 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine produces 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Of greater note: The Skyactiv sedan is rated at the magical 40-mpg-highway mark—28 in the city—when paired with the new six-speed Skyactiv automatic; increases of 7 and 4 mpg respectively from last year’s 2.0 with a five-speed auto. Also wearing the Skyactiv branding is a standard six-speed manual that has been reworked into a smaller and lighter package. It features slightly shorter throws and reduced internal friction but forfeits 1 mpg in both cycles to the automatic. It still achieves a lofty 27 mpg city/39 mpg highway rating though up from 25/33 with a five-speed manual in 2011.
While others are off-ladling engine displacement and adding turbochargers active aero or other costly technologies in the name of fuel economy Mazda achieves its big mpg number with a 30-percent reduction in internal friction versus the base 2.0-liter’s and a high 12.0:1 compression ratio (a lower drag coefficient doesn’t hurt either). Paired with direct injection Mazda has combated the typical knock in high-compression engines through the use of special pistons. (Future iterations of the engine will increase compression to 13.0:1 and incorporate a 4-2-1 exhaust header to further improve the combustion process.)