After 37 months it is time to say good bye to my 2012 BWM 328i and say hello to a Mazda3 hatch at Tarn Aeluin. Although I found the BMW 2012 328i a reliable and steady commuter throughout my lease, there was just something missing for me in the car’s spirit and performance. After a long search and look at many different cars and options the Mazda3 5-door Grand Touring S was my choice.
What? You’re Kidding, right? A Mazda3?
LOL – yeah seems odd, right? My current BMW is pretty cool, but the reality is that I never quite felt like it fit me – its a bit too fancy, its too big for me, it really lacks the performance punch and personality that I prefer, and finally it just didn’t make sense to buy out the lease for $28K when the car has 45K miles on it. Once the decision was made to not buy out the lease then a full blown car hunt was on.
Here We Go Again – the Car Hunt is On
As with all my previous car hunts Two Germans and a Swede, Driving the Saab Turbo-X, Many Options and Not a Lot of Time – Along Comes a 328i, 1500 Miles on a 2012 BMW 328i], I start this hunt with requirements:
- Manual transmission – a near absolute must have for me. 4-wheel drive would be great.
- $50K was an absolute maximum and really I wanted to go no where near that number.
- Smaller size than my current ride; better gas mileage is great too. A hatchback would be great.
- Must have a feeling of sport, fun, and style…does not necessarily have to be the fastest car off the line.
- Tech: must have great tech including bluetooth, decent audio system, nav is great, but not required.
- Safety: I drive a lot in a crazy area so 5-star is great, airbags and all that.
- Oh yeah – black exterior and a sunroof!
I think those are the big hitters. Basically I want something sporty, that feels less stuffy, looks cool, can get up and go, and that I can rely on as a daily commuter on my 60-70 miles a day that I drive. There are a number of things that I don’t like about my BMW that I will be looking at:
- Shifting – the shifter is very notchy and has a pretty long throw. The clutch pedal is very stiff and requires quite a stomp.
- Underpowered HVAC – cold in the winters and hot in the summers.
- The locking system has never been that satisfactory to me. Forget to hit the button inside and you can’t get into the rear seats. PITA.
- Electronic steering lacks feel – a known issue in the 2012’s
- Engine – eh…its ok, but really for the price it is a bit underpowered…but decent MPG of 30.9 over the 45K miles.
- Horrible wipers – never seen such a crappy set of wipers thunking and clunking around like a turkey in its death throws.
- Uncomfortable seats – they are really quite hard and unforgiving.
- Paint…its grey…hate it…hate hate hate.
Its not all bad though – I do like much of the interior, the headlights, the handling, and the tech in the car..but you can read my reviews listed above.
Cars in Left In Scope
With all that said above: smaller, good tech, sporty/fun/personality, et al. I created a list of the following cars to look at:
- Nissan Juke Nismo RS
- Ford Focus ST
- VW Golf GTI/R
- Audi S3
- BMW X1
- BMW 228/M235x
- Porsche Cayman (2014)
- Mazda3 5-Door Grand Touring S
That’s an interesting list of cars, but there are a few candidates missing, most notably anything from Subaru. I hate their sedans and sadly the WRX is no longer available in a hatchback. Boo.
Taking a Look – Thoughts on the Cars
To start off I looked at the Nismo – funky car for sure. No manual option and really too much SUV-ish for me. Price is great for this car, but the wife hated it. I didn’t test drive it…got the look and knew not to push it.
My son and I went to the NYIAS and checked out the Ford Focus ST – pretty sweet car with really a great set of features. It has a highly respected engine and a manual transmission. There’s no 4WD option, but that’s ok. What it came down to was styling – the interior just wasn’t for me. The vertical lines and stuff – ick. Also – Synch…from all the people I asked I just didn’t want to deal with the issues with it. Also – it seems like waiting for the RS with its 4WD would be the thing to do, but I can’t wait.
I’ve owned a Golf in the past – the last year of the VR6 based GTIs. Great car. I took a look at the new GTI. The exterior styling – or lack of styling – is a shame. Inside the car is light years ahead of the car I had, but outside its just awful. Performance of the car is great and the pricing is great as well, although it starts to add up with options. What I would really like is the Golf R, but unfortunately the R with paint color options, a sunroof, and a stick will not be available until October 2015. That sucks. Too bad.
At a dealer event I checked out a few BMWs with my son. The X1 looked interesting and we test drove it, but my son objected. He said “Dad, its just a mini version of Mom’s car.” Hmmm…yeah true. Nice car, but he’s right. I think in general it didn’t really meet my performance expectations, my size desires, or really my “spirit and funk” desire. Beautiful car – drives and performs like a 3-series. I did peek at a M235x and that is a really nice car – with a stick shift too. A convertible with black exterior and….um brown seats. At $47K I just can’t see that working – and it had only 2 doors. Yeah so I passed on that, just more than I want to spend and not practical.
Similarly I flirted with getting a used Porsche Cayman, but as a daily commuter it just does not make sense. Its too similar to my 911 and with no back seat…it just doesn’t work. No 4WD and its difficult to find a manual in good shape, low miles, and with the color options I want. Too bad. I think the Cayman in its current design is the sexiest looking car on the market today.
The Audi S3 is a great car. Smaller than my current car, great design, 4WD Quattro – and amped up for performance. Sunroof and black on black. Its definitely on the high side at $47K (depending on options). One problem – no stick. Ugh. I tested the auto and this is a killer car stick or not. The tech in the car is great too as is the styling. In particular the HVAC styling is really cool with the vent designs they have.
The Mazda3 was one I considered when my Saab was wrecked (see above links), however at the time the car had that awful clown face thing going. Mazda itself was also spiraling down into oblivion. Since then the clown is gone and Mazda has seen a rebirth after getting free from Ford. We went up and looked/drove an auto and manual car. The auto was terrible. I was really impressed with the manual. Snappy short throw shifts and a smooth clutch. It is not going to compete, even with the 184HP engine, against a GTI, but really I found it more fun to drive. I am not quite sure why, but the suspension, steering, and stick seem to work better together. Combined with the much better styling – really the current Golf has no style at all – really made me think I should get the car.
Over the next few weeks I thought about it – I’ve never owned a Japanese car – and played with the configurations on-line. After looking thru the option packages and such the Mazda struck home as a best mix of performance, features, price and value. You can get a top of the line, loaded with everything Mazda3 for under $30K and it meets all my requirements. SWEET!I Got the car fully loaded.
Picked the Mazda3 up today and put 50 miles on it. Super happy! Some quick things I already like about the car:
- The exterior is just great with all the flowing lines and the long hood. Nice black paint!
- Shifting and suspension are just great with a sport feel that is not spine rattling.
- Technology: its got everything tech – radars, backup cameras, bluetooth, nav, blind spot warning, etc.
Seats: better than expected! Perforated leather – enough bolstering, but still comfortable. Almost as good as my Saab seats…almost. Wipers – silky smooth. Decent engine sounds – not very much at the exhaust…might need an upgrade there. Might also need an upgrade on those wheels…black or a dark color would be better.
Here’s a set of images – yeah it is still winter here so its already dirty. There’s also a hatch spoiler stuck in transit. That will get installed this week sometime. Ok I couldn’t resist and did wash the car – the last few images are after a wash.
Love the shape of the hood and the windshield…shooting brake type of look.
One little detail piece is the hatch spoiler. Its hard to get a good pic, but here’s a few shots. Really like this part of the appearance package:
With the price I got and the savings vs. a more expensive car, I have a bit of extra for features and parts for my 911 project car 🙂 As with other posts – I will follow up with more details on the Mazda3’s driving experience at about 1000 miles.