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Mazda3 Grand Touring in some ways outshines awardwinning Mazda6
<p><strong>Mazda3 Grand Touring in some ways outshines award-winning Mazda6.</strong></p>

Mazda3 Follows in Mazda6 Footsteps

The latest installment in our series on 2014 Ward&rsquo;s 10 Best Interiors highlights the new Mazda3, which uses new technology, great value and snappy good looks to win the brand a second consecutive interiors trophy.

Sibling rivalry can be a powerful motivator. The younger sister always wants to step out from her elder’s shadow, and the older brother can’t stand to be outdone by his junior.

When both are overachievers, there’s peace in the valley.

Such is the case with the Mazda3, whose interior is a spitting image of last year’s award-winning (and larger) Mazda6. Even the color schemes of both interiors evaluated were nearly identical: almond and black, with red accent stitching and judiciously applied metallic trim.

Not to play favorites, but the Mazda3 Grand Touring in some ways outshines the Mazda6, which already represents perhaps the finest mainstream midsize interior available in the U.S.

Drop down to the compact segment, and the Mazda3, which benefits from an extra year in the product-development oven, crushes its rivals and shows its older brother a thing or two about new technology with an easily navigated 7-in. (18-cm) central display screen that looks like an iPad Mini.

On the style front, the 5-door Mazda3 plays up its sportiness, with carbon-fiber trim on the doors and steering wheel and black inserts in the seat bolsters.

Factor in a $26,495 base price for this top-of-the-line model ($30,415 as tested with $2,600 technology package), and the Mazda3 remains a good value, one that gives Audi and Mercedes intenders something to ponder.

“From the gauges to the back seat, this is very clean, classy design,” WardsAuto editor Drew Winter writes on his score sheet. “Even material on the back of the seats feels buttery smooth.”

Other features not expected in an entry-level car include a head-up display, in-dash navigation and active-safety features such as blindspot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Mazda got the details right, too: On both sides of the car, the instrument panel flows neatly through the “kings joint” into the door trim; the headliner material is woven and high-quality; seams and joints are tidy; the painted sillplate uniquely blends brushed aluminum and glass; the second row offers three head restraints for enhanced occupant safety.

At night, the metallic tachometer/speedometer glows beautifully in a ghostly shade of gray, except for the red ring surrounding the gauge.

Ergonomically, the Mazda3 is spot-on once again, thanks to a multifunction controller placed in the center console within easy reach near the driver’s right hip. A few buttons surrounding the big metallic dial takes the driver quickly to radio, navigation, phone and other menus. A smaller volume knob is ideally placed next to the large controller. The mind figures it all out quickly.

Between this human-machine interface and the ample controls on the steering wheel (including voice activation), the only reason to reach for the instrument panel is to change the temperature or turn on the seat heaters.

Can Mazda keep this streak alive when the redesigned Mazda2 arrives later this year?

Too early to say, but the subcompact needs some improvement.

Give the brother a hand.

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