Mountain Wheels: The Mazda3 is both safety and sporty | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: The Mazda3 is both safety and sporty

As some of you may have seen last week in a story about the guy who writes car stories, I recently had the misfortune of being plowed into from behind while driving a compact vehicle — and luckily I was not on the receiving end of the growing population of full-size trucks we're now seeing in Colorado and beyond.

While I was rattled for a bit, it did give me pause as I considered the safety, visibility and practicality of ordinary-sized automobiles in a world where a Ford F-250 crew cab has become as commonplace as a V.W. Beetle in Mexico City.

The secret, even with a well-rounded and highly rated vehicle such as today's model, the 2017 Mazda3, is to stay vigilant, as it seems that careless and cavalier are often accentuated as driving attributes as people move into larger vehicles.

Mazda3 has always been a highly acclaimed and pleasant choice for those seeking a sporty smaller car, and the round of updates for this most recent version of the 3 go a long way in producing a more comfortable and technologically advanced vehicle.

Underneath all that sheet metal, the newest move is to adopt a vehicle dynamics program to better integrate all the systems — chassis, transmission, engine — and produce a more harmonic experience. They've also included a vectoring control system to mess around with the steering and powertrain system and shift the load to the front wheels, upping the grip and improving what is already pretty sports car-inspired handling, as well as smoothing the transitions. (Remember last week's donor car, the MX-5 Miata? We are very much in the same ballpark here, though my 3 had two more doors and a back seat.)

Other safety modifications for the 2017 — available as a four-door and a sportier five-door hatchback, the latter being my preference — include smart city brake support (an automatic braking system which might have helped the person who plowed into me in jolty city traffic). There's also improved blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts, plus the now ubiquitous lane keep assist program (which, in Mazda's case, leaves an awfully bright orange "system off" light in the instrument panel, if you opt not to use it), with visual aids added to the rudimentary but functional head-up display on top of the dash — they call it the active driving display, which is now in color. Mazda3 also gets its own version of the German luxury cars' traffic sign recognition technology, using a camera to re-display stop signs and such for added warning. It remains interesting to see how quickly the big-budget car tech hits regular-priced vehicles nowadays; my pretty-well-equipped 3 got all the safety gear, plus a premium package including navigation, LED headlights and running lights, for a total price of $26,880.

Recommended Stories For You

Maybe I hadn't noticed it before, but that navigation system also intuitively lists your cross-street location or even the names of those impossible-to-discern subdivision housing developments, on the top of the display.

The fancy new headlamps give the car a stylish Jaguar-inspired look; a new radiator grille and chromed lines over the fog lights also make the 3 seem a lot like the posh Jag XE, if you're into that kind of thing.

Interior changes are largely cosmetic, save for an electronic parking brake and an optional heated steering wheel; interior trim is now all piano black plastic and nickel satin details.

Your biggest choice, besides the number of doors, might be the engine; I was quite satisfied with highway pull of the larger 2.5-liter four cylinder, which puts out 184 horsepower, though you can also go with a 2.0-liter version with the more traditional 155 horses. Mileage is not incredibly different between the two (37 MPG highway in the 2.0-liter, 34 or 36 MPG in the 2.5, depending on the transmission), so I would heartily endorse the bigger engine if you'll be climbing the passes on a regular basis.

If price is your main objective, and it often is in this category, maybe consider the 2.5-liter-equipped five-door Touring model, which gets 18-inch wheels, the basics of the safety suite and a six-speed automatic transmission, all starting at $23,445.

Step up a bit and you can grab bits such as a moonroof, a great-sounding nine-speaker Bose surround-sound system and even a body-colored rear deck lip spoiler.

2017 Mazda3 4-Door Grand Touring

MSRP: $23,145; as tested: $26,880

Powertrain: 184-HP 2.5-liter four-cylinder: six-speed manual transmission

EPA figures (combined/city/highway): 29/25/34