Let me start off by saying that I am a fully certified automotive tech who works for a dealership (NOT Mazda). I purchased this vehicle as a college graduation present to myself.
After spending months researching new cars, test driving, and crunching numbers, I finally decided on a Mazda3 Hatchback. I absolutely love the look of the car, both inside and out. It looks like nothing else on the road. I special ordered my '14 Hatchback in Meteor Gray Metallic with a 6-speed manual transmission.
The car drives quite well. The 2.0L 4 cylinder is completely gutless until about 3,000 RPM. I have not tested the full acceleration of the car (the engine is still a bit new to be put under such a load), but have found that for everyday driving it provides adequate power. I average 38.9 MPG.
The 6-speed transmission shifts smoothly and the throws are just right. Heel-toe downshifts are made easy by the floor mounted gas pedal, however I have found that the electronic throttle in this car has a significant delay. I quickly adjusted to this however and have just about gotten the hang of where each gear meets the engine speed.
The suspension blends performance and comfort perfectly as far as I'm concerned. I drive about 85% on rural backroads in my small hometown. The other 15% is pretty evenly split between highway and city. The suspension soaks up the choppy backroads very well, and the independent rear suspension isn't easily upset by a mid-corner bump (unlike the torsion-beam set-up in my Corolla). On the highway, the car transforms itself into a sedate cruiser. 6th gear is high enough to allow engine speeds of only 2400 RPM at 70-75 MPH, and the car simply floats over uneven highway pavement. I will agree with many reviews that the car does exhibit a good bit of road/tire/suspension noise, but not enough for me to complain about. Handling on those twisty backroads is spot on. This car just hunkers-down, stays flat and tears its way through corners. Handling is also surprisingly neutral up until the limit where some light understeer gradually begins.
I would describe myself as a spirited driver, but I do not beat on my cars, nor do I drive them exceptionally hard. I'm clearly not driving it like a race car, or I wouldn't be averaging nearly 39 MPG!
So you're probably expecting me to say that even though I had some issues that, this car is still the best thing I've driven. But the truth is I'm actually a little disappointed. From the way this car was described in every automotive publication, I guess I just expected so much more. Maybe it's just me though, I suppose there is only so much a car can deliver (especially one that is still a compact economy car after all.) But, coming from an '06 Corolla with an automatic transmission and crank windows, this car should have blown my socks off, and put quite simply: it didn't.