Once upon a time, Ford and Mazda were inseparable pals, with the former owning a big, fat chunk of the latter. Those days are over. Corporately divorced, the companies have gone their separate ways, and the 2014 Ford Focus is a distinctly different vehicle from the 2014 Mazda3, even if they're both aimed at the same type of car buyer.
Before we dive into the details to determine which of these compact cars is better, let's review the changes for the 2014 model year.
2014 Ford Focus Changes
Aside from cosmetic changes designed to make the affordable SE trim level more appealing, Ford makes no changes to the 2014 Focus in advance of a thorough refresh that's coming for the 2015 model year.
2014 Mazda3 Changes
Mazda has completely redesigned the Mazda3 for 2014, making it more fuel-efficient, more technologically advanced and more stylish all at the same time.
Ford has been having a tough time of it with Consumer Reports; people don't like the optional PowerShift automated manual transmission installed in the Focus, and the standard and optional infotainment systems offered in the Focus haven't been met with much approval, either. As a result, this model has scored poorly for overall reliability since it was last redesigned for the 2011 model year. A similar trend is evident in quality ratings from J.D. Power.
Both market-research organizations publish favorable ratings for the 2014 Mazda3. The trouble is that they are based entirely on how the previous version of the Mazda3 performed in various surveys and studies, and they don't reflect any of the substantial changes made to the redesigned 2014 model.
Based on the predictions published by Consumer Reports and J.D. Power, we'll give the nod for reliability to the Mazda3, with the caveat that as new data specific to the redesigned 2014 model is released, the situation could change.
Ford sells the Focus in multiple permutations, ranging from the performance-tuned ST model to the Focus Electric model, which runs purely on electricity. The majority of 2014 Ford Focus models are equipped with a 160-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that returns between 26 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, depending on transmission and equipment.
Mazda offers a choice between two 4-cylinder engines in the 2014 Mazda3. Versions of the car with an "i" designation have a 155-hp, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that gets 29 mpg city/41 mpg hwy, depending on transmission and body style. A 184-hp, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is installed in versions of the car with an "s" designation. Again, depending on the transmission and body style, a Mazda3 s returns 27 mpg city/39 mpg hwy.
While both the Ford Focus and the Mazda3 deliver impressive fuel economy, the Mazda is the mpg champ.
If safety is a primary concern in choosing a new small car, know that both the 2014 Ford Focus and the 2014 Mazda3 provide class-leading levels of crash protection. Each car earns an overall rating of five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calls each car a Top Safety Pick.
The difference is that Mazda offers a laundry list of collision-avoidance technologies for the Mazda3, and when the car is equipped with these options, it gets a Top Safety Pick+ rating by the IIHS. Therefore, it also gets a thumbs-up from us as the safer of the two models.
The 2014 Ford Focus is available with two features that Mazda doesn't offer for the Mazda3. The first is Ford's MyKey technology, standard on all versions of the Focus except the S Sedan. Using MyKey, parents can program seat-belt usage, stereo usage and speed limits for when young drivers are behind the wheel. If you've got a teenager at home, MyKey is a compelling reason for purchasing a 2014 Focus.
In addition to MyKey, the Focus can be optioned with an Active Park Assist feature. This upgrade helps to parallel park the car by automatically steering into the space while the driver operates the transmission and the foot pedals. That's nice, but not really necessary.
While it's true that the Mazda3 doesn't offer features equivalent to these, it can be equipped with numerous high-tech options that are commonly available only for more expensive vehicles. In addition to offering access to Facebook and Twitter, the Mazda3 can be fitted with rain-sensing wipers, LED running lights, LED taillights, automatic high-beam headlights and a sophisticated Active Driving Display that provides a heads-up look at critical information. Mazda also offers an i-ELOOP regenerative-engine braking system for the Mazda3, which converts braking energy into electricity that can then be stored to power vehicle accessories and, in turn, reduces fuel consumption.
Beyond these technologies, the Mazda3 is available with numerous safety-related systems including Mazda Radar Cruise Control with forward-obstruction warning, a lane-departure warning system, a blind spot monitoring system, a rear cross-traffic alert system and an adaptive front lighting system. Smart City Brake Support is also optional for the Mazda3, automatically braking the car at low speeds to avoid collisions with pedestrians, other vehicles or stationary objects.
Clearly, the 2014 Mazda3 is the more technologically advanced small car. Just keep in mind that the sticker price rises to nearly $30,000 when you add all of the extras.
Neither of these compact cars will cost you much money to own, according to Consumer Reports. With that in mind, though, ALG predicts that the Mazda will retain more of its value over time.
Don't rush out to the Mazda dealership just yet, though. Ford is aggressive with rebates, offering up to $3,000 in cash to consumers. Leasing a competitive product? Ford will toss in another 500 bucks. Alternatively, you can take advantage of $1,000 in rebates combined with low-rate financing.
Currently, rebates are not available for the Mazda3, unless you're a current Mazda owner who can take advantage of up to $750 in loyalty cash. Mazda is, however, offering lower interest rates than Ford to people who are financing.
You'll pay less for a new Focus, but it will also be worth less when you want to sell it or trade it in. Due to that lower ALG depreciation rating, lease rates on the Focus are not as favorable as the Mazda. Plus, the Mazda can be financed at a lower interest rate. Even though the Mazda3 is the more expensive proposition in the short run, we're declaring it the victor over the long run.
With the debut of the redesigned 2014 Mazda3, this small, independent Japanese automaker utterly schools its former overlord Ford when it comes to building a compelling small car. We enjoy driving both of these vehicles and are inclined to recommend either of them, but for the 2014 model year, the Mazda is the smarter choice.