A road trip from New Jersey’s Newark Airport back to Detroit at the wheel of the updated 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring 5-Door proves to to be not only fun, but also an educational endeavor. You can learn an awful lot about a car while covering 628 miles over the course of 8 hours and 53 minutes.

In past experiences with the third-generation Mazda3, I’ve always walked away impressed with its excellent handling capabilities, but the Mazda previously came up short in some other areas, including ride quality, cabin noise isolation and interior build quality.

However, for 2017 Mazda makes some revisions to address some of the 3’s weak points and bolster its technology offerings. Oh, and this is Mazda we’re talking about here, so of course they’ve also done some work to make the car even more fun to drive.

Updates for 2017 keep the Mazda3 at the top of the class.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Better handling and a big-block four

In typical Mazda3 fashion, my hatchback makes bombing through Pennsylvania’s rolling mountainous terrain a grin-inducing affair. Around downhill bends, the 3 hangs on tight in both dry and damp conditions with minimal body roll. Steering response is immediate, providing quick turn-in, which is also helped with the addition of new standard G-Vectoring Control (GVC) software in certain situations.

Taking into account readings from throttle and steering sensors, GVC slightly reduces the engine’s ignition spark to provide an unnoticeable amount of engine braking and shift weight to the front of the car. Loaded-up front tires provide a bigger contact patch and more front-end bite, enabling sharper turn-in.

Is this brief period of engine braking really not noticeable? Yes, I took back roads purposely trying to feel the technology at work, but the car’s behavior seems perfectly natural.

A smooth and powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Speaking of the engine, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque powers my test car. The larger of two available naturally aspirated powerplants in the 3, it’s a delightful four pot with stellar throttle response, linear power delivery and enough grunt to pull the hatchback up steep inclines with little trouble. Channeling power to the front wheels is a conventional six-speed automatic transmission featuring smooth, well-timed up- and downshifts.

Despite qualifying as something of a “big block” in an age of downsized, turbocharged engines, fuel efficiency isn’t too shabby: EPA estimates call for 26 miles per gallon city and 35 mpg highway. With the two tanks of gas used to complete the road trip, the 3 averaged 31.2 mpg, while later tanks consisting of mostly city mileage produce roughly 27 mpg with my heavy right foot.

Fresher looks and more comfortable confines

The Mazda’s tight handling isn’t a surprise, but a quieter and more comfortable cabin is. Thanks to 2017 changes that bring additional sound deadening, redesigned seats and upgraded materials, my hours on the road click by in relative comfort. Isolation from road and wind noise is much better than before, while the seats provide support in all the right places to keep me comfy and ward off fatigue.

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