When new cars offer themselves up for a test every week, they can drift from memory like the morning mist on a sunny lake.
Some linger, though, and leave traces of sense memory — the secure, bound-in feel of a well-bolstered seat; the quick sharp blip of an engine matching revs on a downshift; the tense grip of rubber on asphalt as tires fight for traction in a fast corner.
Obviously, I still have the 2016 Mazda 3 on my mind.
Mazda’s compact 3 is among the most frugal and exhilarating small cars built. This year, it also joins a short list of cars to experience a substantial price drop, the addition of new standard features notwithstanding.
Mazda sorts the 3 by body style — sedan or hatchback — and engine size. Mazda 3i trims are powered by a 155-horsepower four-cylinder engine; Mazda3s’s by a 185-hp 2.5-liter four.
This year, the base 3i Sport sedan adds an express driver’s window, power door locks, power folding exterior mirrors, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, air conditioning with pollen filter and 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks.
They join an already healthy standard-features list which includes remote keyless entry, cruise control, a 7-inch touchscreen with knob-based controller, map lights, six-speaker sound system and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity with voice controls.
All Mazda 3s get a backup camera this year, and a $600 reduction cuts the price of the 3i Sport sedan to $17,845.
Mazda 3i buyers can also access a newly available Preferred Equipment group. It brings automatic on/off headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, sport seats, rear-seat armrest with cupholders, 16-inch alloy wheels, bright beltline trim, heated body-color rearview mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
A loaded Grand Touring — leather, navigation, nine-speaker Bose sound system — tickles $30,000. My tester included the nifty-but-not-necessary Appearance Package and stickered at $30,270.
Some features — a head-up display, adaptive headlights and adaptive cruise control, for example — are unique in the segment.
Pair the smaller engine with the excellent six-speed automatic transmission, and the sedan returns exceptional EPA numbers; 34 mpg combined (29 city/40 highway). The six-speed stick draws down those numbers to 33/29/40.
My hatch ran the larger engine, with automatic, and was rated at 31/27/37.
Have I mentioned the 3 is a blast to drive? If there’s another car that better marries efficiency, comfort, utility and affordability with a penchant for play, I want to drive it.
And that applies to every 3 sold, not just a one-off, big-bucks trim. The 3 trades in solid fundamentals, instead; thrifty and eager powertrains, a driver-centric cabin and steering and suspension systems that are communicative and responsive.
Inside, high-quality materials, well-weighted switchgear and an intuitive knob-based control system are the equal of any in the class and superior to most.
From where I sit, the hatchback’s utility is particularly appealing, but sedan partisans will find plenty to like, as well. Especially savvy sedan buyers eager to save a buck or two.
2016 Mazda 3 Five-door Grand Touring
Vehicle base price: $17,845
Trim level base price: $26,495
As tested: $30,270
Options included metallic paint; Mazda Mobile Start; door-sill trim plates; front bumper guard; front air dam; door mirror caps; rear hatch spoiler; rear bumper skirt; side sill extensions.
EPA rating: 31 combined/27 city/37 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified