Michigan's temperate summers and beautiful scenery are a welcome respite from the harshness of its winters, and staffers were keen to make the most of the good weather. The 2014 Mazda 3 was snatched up for several summer excursions, including a getaway to the beaches of South Haven on the state’s west coast. Summer is now fading, but our appreciation for the Mazda 3 is not.

Dressed to impress

Associate web editor Joey Capparella was at the helm of the 2014 Mazda 3 to and from South Haven, with two friends along for the ride. Although the hatchback didn’t immediately knock their eyes out, Capparella's passengers soon took notice of the Mazda's intuitive, well-designed infotainment system and attractive styling. “It looks like a Lexus, but better,” observed one, and we're inclined to agree. The Mazda 3 is highly styled compared to the outgoing generation, but the design works in a way that doesn't seem like the car is trying too hard to be cool.

Never lets us down

“It’s a shame that this car has been somewhat forgotten with the arrival of several new, high-performance cars into our Four Seasons fleet, because it’s still such a damn good car,” said Capparella. We had high hopes in the capabilities of the 2014 Mazda 3 from the outset, but it's impressive to see that when we get behind the wheel, its charm hasn't worn off. How has a mainstream economy car managed to stack up so well against the competition? It definitely helps that it has good looks and can comfortably accommodate a weekend's worth of beach gear in its 47.1 cu. ft. of available cargo space, but we always return to how good the 2014 Mazda 3 is to drive.

At low revs the Skyactiv engine is smooth, then turns punchy as you lay further into the throttle. The six-speed automatic transmission is crisp and responsive, as well. “The Mazda 3 manages to always stay in the powerband when you need it,” said Capparella. “I'm still looking forward to trying out this 2.5-liter engine with a manual transmission, but the automatic is really, really good.”

Like your favorite pair of jeans...which sometimes smell

Staffers jump in and out of many different cars during the workweek, and the instant familiarity of the 2014 Mazda 3 is welcome. The interior is neatly laid out, easy to use, comfortable, and responsive to inputs. “It's the only Four Seasons car I get into and feel completely at home in,” says road test editor Chris Nelson. “Like getting into your favorite pair of jeans, that familiarity is fantastic.”

Less fantastic was the distinct odor of gasoline that editors began to notice wafting inside of the 2014 Mazda 3. A swift sojourn to the dealer was in order. After confirming that we were not just imagining it--the car really did smell like gas--the dealer was still unable to identify the source of the odor. Technicians inspected the entire car from bumper to bumper, including the interior and each individual component of the fuel system. Then, as mysteriously as it arrived, the smell disappeared. We'd rather not jinx it, but here's to hoping the whole thing was just a fluke.

BODY STYLE5-door hatchback

ACCOMMODATION5-passenger

CONSTRUCTIONSteel unibody

BASE PRICE (WITH DEST.)$25,890

AS TESTED$26,185

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