the 2014 Mazda 3 and the 2014 Toyota Corolla are all new, and
each is rich in features unheard of in compact cars 10 years
ago. Here, the Toyota Corolla is shown in Los Angeles,
California, on October 1, 2013
are like toasters. Almost everyone, at some point, has owned one.
They do their job without drama. Only rarely do they burn you.
have traditionally played it safe in this segment, the automotive
equivalent of selling appliances: The products are designed for a
simple task, without much thought to style or fun. Compacts are
often a buyer’s introduction to a brand. The cars’ size, price
and practicality appeals to a wide swath of customers, whom
automakers hope to hook for more expensive purchases throughout
has played it safer here than Toyota with its Corolla, which despite
— or perhaps because of — its vanilla styling and squishy
handling has been the appliance of choice for about a
quarter-million people a year in the past decade.
Playing yin to
the Corolla’s yang has been the Mazda3, long marketed as the
fun-to-drive econobox, with edgier styling and class-leading
performance. This has worked less well for Mazda, which has remained
more of a niche player despite consistent praise from critics.
Toyota sells two or three times as many Corollas as Mazda sells 3s.
Toyota’s chief goal in the latest Corolla redesign was to inject
more aggressive styling and performance. Go figure.
meanwhile, has tried to edge its 3 more toward the mainstream,
upping practicality and efficiency without abandoning its sporting
Both the Mazda
and Toyota are all new for 2014. Consider yourself lucky if either
lands on your shopping list or in your driveway. In addition, each
reflects the growing competitiveness of cars in this segment. The 3
and the Corolla are each rich in features unheard of in compact cars
10 years ago. "It’s really been stunning to see how it’s
evolved," Mike Wall, an auto analyst at IHS, said of what a
buyer can get in one of these cars today. "It wasn’t that
long ago we were talking about crank windows," Wall said.
seats, blind-spot monitoring and touch-screen navigation systems are
common as automakers go the extra mile to please a growing customer
base. With all this change in the air, we grabbed a 2014 Mazda3 and
a 2014 Toyota Corolla to see how each balanced its past successes
with its future goals.
COROLLA: Messing with the Corolla formula represents a risk for
Toyota, which has sold 40 million of the compacts globally since the
model’s introduction in 1966. A quarter of those have been in the
U.S. alone and 4.5 million are still on the road today, according to
Corolla — now in its 11th generation — is now rolling into
dealerships. Toyota is hoping to reclaim the sales crown it lost to
the Honda Civic in 2012. Among the biggest changes is the
transmission, the first continuously variable gearbox the automaker
has offered in the United States.
essentially one-speed transmissions that don’t technically shift,
and they are increasingly popular across the industry as a
fuel-saving measure. But Toyota’s engineers built in artificial
shift points to avoid CVTs’ annoying tendency to make the engine
drone at higher revs, along with a Sport mode that elevates the RPM
levels where those shift points occur.
That makes the
transmission act like a crisp-shifting automatic without losing the
fuel-saving benefits of a CVT, an impressive feat. During my week of
testing the car, I averaged 25 miles per gallon in mostly city
Our test car
was the Corolla Eco. It uses the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine
as the base Corolla, but adds $1,100 to the price and offers a boost
in power — from 132 horsepower to 140 — as well as efficiency,
hitting 40 mpg in highway driving.
gave our $22,694 tester perfectly adequate power for daily driving.
When pushed hard, though, it lacked the Mazda’s strength and
refinement. The Sport setting did little to spice things up in the
change to the new Corolla is its size. You wouldn’t know by
looking at it, but the wheelbase of this 2014 model is roughly 4
inches longer, and the car itself is 2 1/2 inches longer. That
allows for a cavernous back seat, far outpacing its compact
competitors — including the Mazda — in rear space.
That made any
seat in the Corolla a good one, and the front seats mimicked the
shape of the supremely comfortable seats we recently tested in the
new IS from Lexus, Toyota’s luxury division. If only the Corolla’s
cloth fabric weren’t so abrasive.
comfort comes from the Corolla’s quiet, comfortable ride. The
doors close with a satisfying thud that is absent in Toyota’s
current Camry and RAV4 sport-utility vehicle. The smooth ride came
with some trade-off in handling, which didn’t match the sporty
feel of the Mazda. Rubbery steering didn’t help. But it certainly
handled well enough to please the vast majority of Corolla buyers.
get a lot of value for their money. Our tester came with a great
touch-screen navigation system with traffic alerts, a backup camera,
LED daytime running lights, a large moon roof and an eco drive mode.
One weakness: The Corolla is among the few compacts fitted with
less-expensive drum brakes, rather than discs, at the rear wheels.
Toyota did a mighty good job improving this Corolla, which will no
doubt continue to place high on sales charts. It fails to hit the
standard set by the Civic, but it’s close. Sporty? No. But it’s
sportier. That’s a start.
its introduction in 2004, the Mazda3 has earned applause from
critics and driving enthusiasts alike. The general public doesn’t
hate it either, as the 3 has far outsold anything else Mazda makes.
But its sales
are still just a drop in the bucket for the high-volume segment;
consider that in the U.S., Toyota sells more Corollas every year
than Mazda sells vehicles in its entire lineup.
So for this
third-generation 3, Mazda looked to juice sales and broaden its
appeal by injecting more technology, safety and efficiency. It
worked. Although the 3 costs a bit more in a class where every
dollar counts, those willing to spare the money will be treated
previous generations, the 3 comes in either sedan or hatchback form
with two four-cylinder engines offered. We tested a loaded $24,785
Grand Touring sedan with the smaller engine — the one Mazda
expects more buyers to grab.
155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque out of 2 liters, besting
the Toyota and making the 3 pull and sound strong no matter how hard
you lean into it. A six-speed automatic transmission ripped off
crisp, well-timed shifts. With an EPA rating of 30 mpg in the city
and 41 on the highway, we averaged 26 mpg in a week of mostly city
driving, a virtual tie with the Toyota Corolla.
powerplant plays well with the sharp handling, carried over from
previous 3s, and is still the best in this class. Ride quality is a
bit on the firm side. But where the 3 really shines is its safety
and refinement. Mazda says it used luxury compact sedans like BMW’s
3-Series as benchmarks for its interior. That’s a common line in
less-expensive segments (no one aims down), but in this case it
and a wonderfully straightforward touch screen have an Audi-like
quality to them. They’re even nicer than what you’ll find on the
larger Mazda6 sedan. Leather covers the heated seats, steering wheel
another win. As mentioned, all 3s have four-wheel disc brakes,
unlike the Corolla. And the Grand Touring model we tested came with
blind-spot monitoring and a cross-traffic alert on the backup
camera. The Corolla’s only trump card in safety was its eight air
bags, compared with the Mazda’s six.
But the 3
trails the Corolla in interior space. Although the wheelbase on this
new Mazda has grown 2.4 inches, the rear seat is tight on legroom
for tall people. The Mazda’s passenger volume and trunk space are
And the extra
goodies on the 3 aren’t free. The model we tested was about $1,000
more than a similarly equipped Corolla. But the price difference is
With its unmatched handling, refinement and safety features, the
Mazda3 gets the edge in our comparison test despite its higher
represents a huge leap forward for Toyota, and it makes good on the
company’s promise to build more exciting cars. It also offers more
comfort and space — attributes high on compact buyers’ lists.
But this isn’t enough to overcome the Mazda’s advantages.
The 3 jumps to
the top of the compact segment with the Honda Civic and should be on
anyone’s shopping list — even those of people who just want a
COROLLA LE ECO PLUS:
Times’ take: A smartly improved update to a classic economy car
type: Four-door compact sedan
1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine; front-wheel-drive
Continuously variable transmission with Sport mode
—Zero to 60
mph: 9.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver magazine
economy rating: 30 mpg city, 40 highway
Capable transmission; quiet and spacious cabin; strong value
Safety lags behind peers’; still a bit dull to drive
excluding destination charge: $16,800
Times’ take: Sets the standard for driving fun; now safer
type: Four-door compact sedan
2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, front-wheel-drive
Six-speed automatic transmission
—Zero to 60
mph: 8.3 seconds, according to Edmunds.com
economy rating: 30 mpg city, 41 highway
power; impressive refinement; bonus safety features
—Lows: A bit
more expensive; smaller interior than peers
excluding destination charge: $16,945