New Car Review: 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv i Grand Touring

Front 3/4 view of 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv i Grand Touring driving on two-lane road
The 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv.
Five weeks ago, we gave you our first impressions based on a very short (fewer than 100 miles) time behind the wheel of the Mazda 3 Skyactiv. Bottom line for the link-averse, it was all good things we expect from Mazda in general and the Mazda 3 in particular, with some promising gas mileage figures (we averaged 29.5 miles per gallon, the EPA estimates are 28 city, 40 highway).

The first car was a bare-bones stock model...zero options, with a price tag of $19,300 plus delivery charges.

This time around, things were different. Mazda USA's press folks sent an i Grand Touring model with Skyactiv. Base price $4,000 higher at $22,300...and there were options.

The 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv Grand Touring interior.

As much as TireKicker preaches the virtues of base vehicles (if nothing else, a great way to get the flavor of the vehicle itself instead of the add-ons), we have to say that spending the extra money makes one of our favorite cars even more attractive. The tester added the Technology Package...blind spot monitoring system, Sirius satellite radio, perimeter alarm, rain-sensing front wipers, bi-xenon headlights with auto-leveling, pivoting adaptive front lighting system and auto on/off headlights. Price tag for that package? $1,400. So, with the $795 for delivery, the bottom line on this Mazda 3 Skyactiv wound up at $24,495. And although that's very nearly 5 grand or 20 percent more than the one we reviewed in early January, it's exactly how we'd order one if we were buying.

Stepping up to the i Grand Touring from the i Touring model gets you the same basic underpinnings (2.0 liter, 155 horsepower 4, 16-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes) but brings a moonroof, center armrest, heated front seats, compact nav system with color display and color multi-information display to the party, along with an upgrade to a 265-watt Bose Centerpoint audio system. And, if you check "Dune" instead of "Black" on the interior color option box, the result is a pleasing two-tone that lightens and brightens the mood inside the car.

Rear view of the 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv.

Skyactiv, as we described before, is Mazda's solution to better gas mileage without the complexity of a hybrid system and with the payoff of improved performance thanks to lower weight, and a more efficient engine/transmission combo.

This time, we put a near-TireKicker record 840 miles on the Mazda 3 in our week at the wheel...and unlike our usual 60/40 mix of city streets and urban freeways, it was more like 80/20...and the 20 was in the worst stop-and-go freeway driving you're likely to encounter this side of Manhattan.

Our average? 33 miles per gallon. That's impressive when you figure that the EPA estimate is 28 city, 40 highway. Even our freeway miles weren't at highway speeds...or not many of them and not for long. So our entire 840 miles was the equivalent of what the EPA considers city....and we beat the estimate by 5 MPG...and equalled the EPA's combined fuel economy estimate.

It, like virtually everything Mazda builds, then, is an overperforming, underappreciated gem. The only fault we can find? The lack of a USB connection. Yes, it has Bluetooth and an auxilary jack, but those won't charge your iPod or iPhone, and in an 840-mile driving week, that comes in really handy. But neither you nor we drive 840 miles every week. And if we did, the Mazda 3 i Grand Touring with Skyactiv would be a terrific choice.