In July, Mazda announced it was bringing a turbocharged engine back to the 3 sedan and hatchback. Our brains instantly lit up with memories of the MazdaSpeed 3 and thoughts of a new Subaru WRX competitor. The big surprise is that the new Mazda is neither. It doesn’t even come with a manual transmission.
The WRX and Speed 3 were maximum jerk cars. They were (are in the WRX’s case) only happy when aggressively handled and shoved through corners at the limit. With the 275-hp, front-wheel drive Speed 3 you needed sticky football receiver gloves to control the monstrous torque steer. But the new Mazda 3 AWD Turbo is based on minimum jerk theory. Allow us to explain.
It starts with jinba attai, Mazda’s “horse and rider as one” philosophy. “If we look basically at the most fundamental thing everybody’s doing when they move, we actually see a pattern in every human motion that’s captured overall in this minimum jerk theory,” says vehicle dynamics specialist Dave Coleman. “This is something they’re studying in robotics, trying to make robots move more like humans.”
The terminology comes from calculus. If you plot any human motion carefully, say, moving your hand from your computer keyboard to your mouse, the motion starts out slow, speeds up in the middle, and slows down at the end. It looks like a bell curve on a graph.
The first derivative of distance is velocity, that’s where the bell curve comes in. The derivative of that is acceleration—velocity’s rate of change. That graph looks like a wave, speeding up, then slowing. The derivative of that, is jerk.
“If we plot out that jerk curve and measure the area under that curve, we’ll see that every time somebody moves, their body is naturally trying to minimize that area. That’s where the term minimum jerk acceleration comes from,” says Coleman.
It works the same with your muscles when you make a turn. The first part of the turn is slow, then the middle is quick, and coming out is slow. Mazda studied how this impacts your neck and other muscles in cars with abrupt steering response.
“If we tune the car so it’s talking to your subconscious properly, we’ll see that you’re able to anticipate that motion, and you’re able to ramp up that activity in your neck muscle in a more natural way following that jerk curve.”
All of this is to say: the 2021 Mazda 3 AWD Turbo handles smoothly. The problem is that it might be too smooth for some, if they were looking for maximum jerk, like the Speed 3 or the WRX. That’s what I expected.
The new 3 also comes with Mazda’s G-Vector Control, which we dug deep into last year. Basically, as the wheel starts to turn, it pulls a teeny bit of torque from the front. That puts a little more weight on the front, making turn in a little more predictable. Besides a manual transmission, the enthusiast parts are there.
Instead, we get an extremely handsome hatchback that both looks and drives in a restrained manner. When going through a turn, there isn’t a bunch of minor adjustments. Just look, turn, and go.
The 2.5-liter turbo four–it also finds a home in the CX-9 SUV–delivers 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque on premium fuel. On regular gas hp drops to 227 and torque drops ten to 310 lb-ft. The only option for the transmission is the company’s Skyactiv-Drive six-speed automatic. The clever i-Activ all-wheel drive system talks with G-Vector Control and together they decide how much weight is on each tire, how much force each can withstand, and then send power. For instance, in a turn, the AWD system lets the front wheels do the work on entry (minus a touch of torque when GVC kicks in), and the rear wheel helps power out.
With the turbo engine, Mazda upgraded the MacPherson front strut and spring setup to carry the extra weight. The rear uses a torsion beam. In practice the suspension feels controlled but not tight. I felt a decent amount of roll around roundabouts, but less when speeding through a lane change. Here again, I would have personally liked it to be a little stiffer and more aggressive. However, the smoothness and directness that the company is known for comes through. Any Mazda (they’re all very good) handles better than 85 percent of the other cars on the road.
As for your daily duties, I had the car for just a weekend, but I did schlep both kids around, and made a run up north. The backseat feels big with two littles in the vehicle. And I did jump behind my seat to see how it felt. I had room; my knees weren’t bumping anything when the front seat was set up for me. But it was close. If a six-plus-footer was driving, things would be tight for adults in the back.
Standard safety features include radar cruise control with stop and go, smart brake support, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane keep assist and high beam control. Extras include a 360-degree monitor, reverse brake support, rear cross-traffic braking and traffic jam assist.
With the recent redesigns of its competitors (Nissan Altima, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra), the 3 is strangely the most boring looking, but you don’t need a bunch of baubles to be handsome. Give me a young Pierce Brosnan over a modern Johnny Depp. And I count driving feel three times more important than looks anyway.
In hatchback form the 2.5 Turbo model starts at $31,845, and with the Premium Plus package it will stretch a bit further north to $34,695. The sedan, meanwhile, starts at $30,845.
Source: Read Full Article