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Test Drive – Mazda 3i Grand Touring 4-Door

By TheTechDad

If you regularly visit tech web sites or pick up tech magazines on newsstands like I do, you can’t fail to notice how automobiles are taking up more and more review space. That’s not because tech reviewers are suddenly more interested in sedans than smartphones; it’s because today’s automobiles are crammed with electronics and gadgetry. Whether you’re a designer, manufacturer or consumer, it’s no longer just about styling and what’s under the hood – it’s navigation systems, in-car entertainment, Bluetooth capability, and more.

Last week I had the opportunity to test drive the 2012 Mazda 3i. Like many other manufacturers that have invested heavily in technology over the last few years, Mazda has taken the opportunity to completely transform its brand. From the SKYACTIV technology that has revolutionized engine and transmission design to safety features like Blind Spot Monitoring, Mazda has been winning accolades for innovation and originality.

The Grand Touring model that I drove came in eye-catching Sky Blue Mica with a black leather-trimmed interior. The sporty exterior was complemented by 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and a matt black wrap bar just above the front grille. Other nice touches included a blue floor-illumination welcome light and a fully power-adjusted driver’s seat. The car is built to carry 5 passengers, although three adults in the back on a long journey might be pushing the limits of comfort.

The 2-liter 4 cylinder engine delivered plenty of power for a car of its size and the 6-speed automatic transmission came with a manual shift option for extra control when needed. Although the engine appeared to occasionally rev on ignition, it quickly settled down and pull-away was always smooth and under control. The car felt solid and stable when cornering and braking, and the lines of sight added to the impression of a safe and secure driving experience.

Miles per gallon for the Grand Touring model are listed as 28 urban/40 highway but it felt like I was getting much more. (That could be because I have recently been driving a Jeep, which seems to need filling up every other day.) That highway number is especially encouraging for long trips, as is the surprisingly large cargo space.

The Mazda 3i Grand Touring model comes with a built-in GPS navigation system. The compact (read small) map screen is housed in a recessed area just above all the other displays. The controls sit on the right-hand side of the steering wheel, which takes a bit of getting used to. The navigation screen can also be used to display other information, such as time, temperature and fuel economy. There is a still smaller display to the right of the navigation screen, which indicates the radio settings.

The Grand Touring model comes with an awesome 10-speaker 265-watt Bose Centerpoint surround sound system. There is an auxiliary-audio input jack, as well Bluetooth capability for hands-free phone use or paring with other enabled devices. Safety features include front air bags, front side-impact air bags and that Blind Spot Monitoring system, which is available as an option on the Grand Touring model.

And now for the best news: the Mazda 3i starts at just $15,200 for the SV model, climbing to $22,550 for the Grand Touring model described in this review. If you are looking for a reliable, fun-loving car that has more than its fair share of high-tech goodies, then the Mazda 3i is a great place to start.

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