Driving to and from San Bernardino twice on back-to-back weekdays is certainly not something I would sign up for. The Hell Patch that is the eastbound 91 freeway from Anaheim Hills to Riverside would be enough to turn anyone into a permanent passenger train commuter, if only there was a passenger train that followed that route. Making the trip (times two) during the height of summer only added to the dread.
But make it I did and, to be honest, it wasn't that bad. Leaving Orange County each day just after 9 a.m. and making sure I was on the road home by 4 p.m. at the latest, I only really encountered brief bumper-to-bumper traffic about once going either direction. For four trips, my total time on the road was 4.5 hours at the most. It was, dare I say, enjoyable.
I have the 2018 Mazda3 to thank for that. As it was a media test vehicle, it came with a full tank. Getting EPA/DOT fuel economy of 26 miles per gallon in the city, 35 on the highway and 30 combined, the Grand Touring five-door sipped the petrol slowly, leaving a quarter tank by the time my Inland Empire adventure was over. Bottom line: I never so much as pulled into a gas station before the kindly deliveryman came to drive the Mazda3 away. It's smog and fuel economy/greenhouse gas ratings are both respectable at 7 (with 10 being best).
Meanwhile, I rode in comfort thanks to these standard features: leather-trimmed sport seats (including a six-way powered driver seat with lumbar adjustment), automatic climate control, push button ignition (and keyless entry), electric power-assisted steering and dynamic stability control. Indeed, the Mazda3 is among the cars the Japanese automaker (with North American headquarters in Irvine) has been outfitting with G-Vectoring Control, which improves stability, increases traction and just plain makes it easier on the driver (and passengers).
Despite being in a four-cylinder, I never felt as if I was being blown to the shoulder like a speck of dust, even when alongside big rigs heading up the 15 toward the Cajon Pass. The 2018 Mazda3 has a Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter engine that, in the Sport mode, pushes out 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. It kept with the Mazda mission of making cars that are fun to drive.
Yeah ... great, but you still need in-cabin entertainment lest the bleeding of Yorba Linda into Corona into Norco into southern Ontario into western Fontucky drives you crazy. I was able to bounce around the channels of the SiriusXM satellite radio—which is included with the standard Bose nine-speaker Centerpoint audio system that comes with AM/FM, Pandora, AHA, Stitcher Audio and two USB inputs—without taking my eyes off the road.
My conclusion was that even though this column began by being solely devoted to electrics, hybrids and other alternative fuel vehicles, the 2018 Mazda3 would make a great commuter car for those who simply must buy gasoline (lest those poor ol' oil barons starve).
Besides the comfort, power and fuel economy, it's also a head turner with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED fog lights, a touch-open moon roof, a roof-mounted shark antennae, a gloss black grille, a body color rear hatch spoiler, dual exhaust with bright outlets and LED daytime running lights and taillights. For these and all the other standard features mentioned or otherwise, you're looking at a manufacturers suggested retail price of $24,945, which is pretty affordable compared to other rides in the Mazda3 class.
My test ride's Soul Red Metallic exterior paint job, which no doubt helped when it came to the Looks Department, was among the optional equipment, which also included the cargo mat, a rear bumper guard, scuff plates/door sill trim plates, the navigation system, paddle shifters, an adaptive front-lighting system, smart brake support, Mazda Radar cruise control, auto-dim rearview mirror, heated steering wheel and lane keep assist and departure warning. Those pushed the price tag up to $28,020 MSRP.
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One other extra I forgot to mention: traffic sign recognition. That, along with your speed limit and icons for any cars getting too close pop up on a clear shield the rises into place atop the dash board and in front of the driver. To see it clearly, I had to push my driver seat so far back and in recline that I could feel my grip starting to slip on the steering wheel. I don't know if the display window is positioned for shorter people or if I needed to spend more time with the owner's manual to figure out how to better adjust it to my preferred seat position. I mostly wound up ignoring it.
My only other knock would be with the rear area on the other side of the hatchback door—or what would be the trunk in other vehicles. It looks fairly roomy from the photo, no? Well, those looks are deceiving, or at least they were when I tried to pack four metal chairs back there. I could not remove the lid so that the chairs would fit, nor could I get the rear seats to lie flat enough to create a larger cargo area. If I were not in a rush—or, again, spent more time with the manual—perhaps I would have figured it out. It's never been a problem with other vehicles I have tested. Blame it on Hell Patch sunstroke.