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PREVIEW: 2014 MAZDA3 --Zoom with connectivity

Mazda3 adds wider stance and loads of tech features

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2014 Mazda3

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The new Mazda3 was revealed in New York City.

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NEW YORK -- Under a cloak of secrecy that's extremely rare in the automotive industry, given the frequency of spy shots and leaked information, Mazda brought the world to New York City to witness the birth of what might be the most important new-model launch in its history -- the all-new Mazda3.

Around the world, the Mazda3 and Mazda6 combine to account for half the company's total sales volume -- the Mazda3 accounts for 50 per cent of Mazda Canada's sales. Obviously, getting the Mazda3 half of the tag team wrong was not an option.

Now in its third-generation, it has grown up stylistically and lost the polarizing smiley-faced grille. Still available in both sedan and five-door hatchback models, it now adopts Mazda's sharp Kodo (Soul of Motion) design language and as such, it shares many of its styling cues with the recently released Mazda6.

The swoopy look is supported by the well-filling 18-inch wheels (base models wear 16-inchers) and bold fenders. It all comes together to give the 2014 Mazda3 a planted stance that really does speak to Mazda's zoom-zoom philosophy.

The exterior flair flows gracefully into the redesigned cabin, where there is a raft of new technology. A new infotainment system, which works in conjunction with a smartphone, provides an Internet connection and communication functions that include reading emails, tweets and Facebook postings aloud using text-to-voice technology, and can do so while the vehicle is in motion. The new navigation system now stores its data on an SD card. This makes updating the maps as simple as popping the card out and inserting it into a card reader, connecting to the Internet and updating the information. For the customer, this is far easier than having to return to the dealer for an update.

The planted theme is also found in the 3's new dimensions. While slightly shorter and lower than the outgoing car, it is 40 millimetres wider and benefits from a lengthy stretch in the wheelbase -- at 2,700 mm, it is up 60 mm. This gives the Mazda3 a 100-mm advantage over the current Toyota Corolla and a 30-mm advantage over the Honda Civic.

The larger footprint promises to keep it at the head of the compact class from a handling perspective. Since its introduction, the Mazda3 has been the benchmark for its go-kart-like driving characteristics because of its balanced platform.

On that note, the new platform is stiffer (up 30 per cent compared to the outgoing car), which gives the reworked suspension a better base of operations. The Skyactiv body design also shaves the mass of the Mazda3 by 90 kilograms (European specs), which can only further the handling cause.

The Skyactiv theme touches the mechanical side, too. In North America, the Mazda3 will be offered with 2.0-litre and 2.5L Skyactiv-G engines teamed with six-speed manual and six-speed automatic Skyactiv transmissions. The 2.0L engine delivers 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, about the same as the current Mazda3 GS Skyactiv. However, the larger engine produces a healthy 184 hp and 185 lb.-ft. of torque, an increase of 17 hp and 17 lb.-ft. compared to the outgoing Mazda3 GT and its 2.5L engine. More importantly, the new 2.5L Skyactiv-G engine develops better torque (up 10 to 15 per cent) in the low and mid-ranges.

At the world premi®re, Mazda was silent on the possibility of the much anticipated 2.2L turbodiesel finding its way under the 3's hood -- but don't bet against it.

The latest Mazda3 also adopts a broad array of safety technology. Under the i-Activsense umbrella, the system uses radars and cameras to detect potential hazards and assist the driver in avoiding them. Blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning are new, as is high-beam control -- it automatically switches the headlights between high and low beams according to conditions. Also new is Forward Obstruction Warning, which monitors the vehicle ahead and warns the driver visually and audibly if the potential for a crash exists. If the crunch is unavoidable, Smart City Brake Support softens the impact by applying the brakes.

Finally, the Mazda3 will earn smart cruise control. As well as maintaining the driver's desired speed, it maintains a predetermined distance behind the vehicle ahead. The latter will be a late introduction to the Mazda3 in Canada.

While pricing was not announced, it should remain close to current levels, meaning a starting point around $16,000, with the Mazda3 topping out around $27,000.

As for the Mazdaspeed3, well, there were many big grins when the name was mentioned, so expect it to be added to the portfolio shortly.

-- Postmedia News

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