The Mazda3 has been redesigned for the 2014 model year, and we recently had a chance to spend some time in an upscale Grand Touring version of the all-new model. Not only were we highly impressed with the 2014 Mazda3, we happen to think it's the best compact car you can buy today. Here's why.

Attractive Inside and Out

If you're like us, you'll be impressed with the latest Mazda3 before you ever get behind the wheel. The compact car boasts seriously attractive lines, regardless of whether you choose the hatchback -- like our test car -- or the sedan. In fact, we think the Mazda3 is the best-looking car in its class, which is a big deal, since the compact-car segment is hardly known for handsome styling or enticing design.

It's the same deal inside the 2014 Mazda3. While the interior styling isn't as attractive as the compact car's exterior, the Mazda3's switches and knobs are well-positioned and easy to reach. One tester, Tommy, also noted that several of the Mazda3's controls -- including the center-stack volume knob and the infotainment system controller -- felt especially expensive and high-quality when touched.

On the Road

While the Mazda3 certainly boasts a handsome interior and exterior, we especially enjoyed getting the small car on the road. There are two reasons for that: one, its handling. And two, its muscular engine.

Handling has always been a strong suit of the Mazda3. One tester, Ben, notes that the car is "extremely well-balanced," suggesting that you can always tell exactly where the line is between grip and no grip. That's high praise for a compact car -- praise usually directed at sporty vehicles rather than front-wheel-drive, economy-focused cars such as the Mazda3. Our website editor, Brian, agreed, noting that the handling is engaging and the steering feel is especially direct -- two qualities not normally associated with compact cars.

We're even more impressed with the Mazda3's engine. While we're used to excellent handling from Mazda, we were surprised by the powerful 184-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, which actually makes the small car feel sports-car fast. That's in contrast to the Mazda3's standard 2.0-liter engine, which we'd describe as merely adequate, though perfect for shoppers who care more about fuel economy than performance. In the words of staffer Ben: "What a difference this engine makes over the 2.0."

Our only problem with this engine: fuel economy. Unfortunately unavailable with a manual transmission, it's rated at 27 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway with the standard automatic. If your're anything like us, you'll often find yourself punching it a bit more than you'd like and seeing a figure closer to our observed 28 mpg. The base-level engine, which can reach 30 mpg city/40 mpg hwy, is certainly the one for shoppers interested in conserving fuel.

Featuring Features

We remain especially impressed with the Mazda3 for its almost ridiculous amount of standard and optional features. Some features are especially luxurious, such as the adaptive bi-xenon headlights or the rain-sensing wipers. But a few are downright opulent, including available adaptive cruise control and a forward-collision warning system that comes with automatic braking. Sure, many of these are optional extras, but the simple fact that they exist at all in a compact car such as the Mazda3 is mind-blowing.

The problem, of course, is that these features tend to drive up the Mazda3's price, as you might expect. As equipped, our test car came to nearly $30,000, and that's a lot of money for a compact car, even when it's as good as the Mazda3. Testers Ben and Dwight both mentioned that they could do without the Mazda3's Technology package, losing some of the cool features but keeping the price closer to $26,000 before taxes.

Our Take

In the end, it's hard to hate the 2014 Mazda3. Handsome styling, a high-quality interior and excellent road manners combine to make it one of the best cars in its segment. It's pushed to the top by its wide range of features and multiple excellent powertrains. No matter what you're interested in, it's hard to go wrong with the latest Mazda3.

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Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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