Like the Kia Forte I drove last week, the Mazda3 is one of the best offerings in the affordable compact car segment. The Mazda3 is the sportiest and most fun to drive in this competitive segment.
The five-passenger Mazda3 received a makeover for the 2014 model year and got some tweaks in 2015, 2016 and 2017. It’s available in two body styles, hatchback and sedan, and Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims. The Mazda3 is only available with front-wheel-drive. Starting prices range from $17,845 to $24,945.
Two powertrains are available. The base model has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. The Touring 2.5 and Grand Touring trims have a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 184 hp and 185 lb.-ft. of torque. A six-speed manual is standard on most trims, and a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters is available.
With either engine, you’ll enjoy peppy handling and quick acceleration, responsive steering and good brakes. The Mazda3 stays planted through corners and there’s plenty of zip for freeway merging and passing. The ride is surprisingly smooth for a more performance-oriented car. Bumps and potholes are barely noticeable. In short, the Mazda3 is a daily driver that makes you enjoy being behind the wheel.
Fuel efficiency is above average for the class. EPA ratings for my tester are 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway for a combined rating of 30 mpg. I got 33.5 mpg during my week with a mix of city and highway driving.
The interior boasts a nice fit and finish, with plenty of soft-touch materials. The dashboard has a clean design. Seats are comfortable and supportive but are on the firm side. The front seats offer good leg- and head-room. There’s not as much room in the back seat as in some rivals but two average-sized adults will still be fairly comfortable there. Some road and wind noise is noticeable but not overpowering.
Navigation and audio functions are controlled through the user-friendly Mazda Connect system, which is similar to the systems used by Audi and BMW. This infotainment system is uses a seven-inch touchscreen and a control knob on the center console. It responds quickly to commands. Making phone calls and entering addresses with voice commands worked well.
Every Mazda3 comes standard with a rearview camera. Many driver assistance technologies are included on the upper trims or available as options. Traffic sign recognition is new for the 2017 model year which helps you make sure you’re obeying the speed limit! The Mazda3 gets top safety ratings from NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The Mazda3 sedan has 12.4 cubic feet of storage in the trunk, which is on the small side for the segment. The hatchback has 20.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats, and 47.1 cubes with the rear seats folded, which are about average for the class. The rear seat folds 60/40 for versatility in hauling larger items and passengers.
The sportiest of the bunch in the competitive compact car segment
Excellent fuel efficiency
User-friendly infotainment system
Excellent safety ratings from NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Back seats not as roomy as some rivals
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available
My tester starts at $24,195. Cargo mat is $75. Scuff plates are $125. Premium Eq Package is $1,600 and adds Led headlights with automatic on/off, LED daytime running lights, LED combination taillights, adaptive front lighting system, Mazda navigation system, auto-dim HomeLink rearview mirror, paddle shifters and heated steering wheel. The 1SP I-ACTVS Safety Package is $1,100 and adds high beam control, lane departure warning system, lane keep assist, smart brake support, Mazda radar cruise control and traffic sign recognition. Delivery fee is $835, bringing the grand total to $27,930.
The Mazda3 offers sportier handling and a more user-friendly infotainment system than many rivals, along with an attractive interior that’s more upscale than the MSRP would suggest. Agile, stylish, and economical, the Mazda3 is a top contender in the crowded affordable small car segment.