By Clint Williams
Green Right Now

Mazda doesn’t make any electric vehicles or hybrid models, but they are pretty darn serious about getting the most out of a gallon of gas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its most recent Light Duty Fuel Economy Trends report named Mazda Motor Corporation as the most fuel-efficient auto manufacturer in the U.S. with a fleet-wide adjusted fuel economy performance of 27.1 miles per gallon.

2014-mazda-mazda3_100433087_lThat performance is the result of what Mazda calls Skyactive Technology, a blend technologies that incorporate ultra-high compression ratio gasoline engines, super-efficient manual and automatic transmissions, lightweight chassis and body components, reduced rolling resistance and low-drag body styling. It is old-fashioned combustion engine refined.

The changes are evident in the redesigned Mazda3, a compact car that may be best in class. The same model in 2008 got an EPA-estimated 24 mpg in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway. Those numbers in 2010 inched up to 25/33 mpg.

The 2014 Mazda3 gets an EPA-estimated 30 mpg in city driving and 41 mpg in freeway cruising. We got an average of 38 mpg in a week largely comprised of fuel-wasting, soul-sucking stop-and-go commuter traffic.

And, best of all, the Mazda3 is fun to drive. Steering is precise, handling solid, and good-enough acceleration is provided by the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque.

The upgraded i Grand Touring model features heated seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, navigation system and a six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with manual lumbar adjustment. A blind spot monitoring system with rear cross traffic alert also is standard on all i Touring models. So, with all that, why don’t they spring for two especially handy gadgets: automatic headlights and automatic rearview mirror dimmer?

The 2014 Mazda3 earned a “Top Safety Pick+” distinction from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, making it one of only 22 2014 vehicles to earn a Top Safety Pick+ award.

The sticker price on the test car – again packed with amenities – was $24,785. The 2014 Mazda3 is offered in four trim levels – SV, Sport, Touring and Grand Touring, with prices starting at less than $17,000 for sedans and less than $19,000 for hatchbacks.

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