New & Used Mazda Mazda3: In Depth
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Either as a sedan or a hatchback, the Mazda 3 compact-car family offers great driving dynamics and handling. As such, the Mazda 3 is essentially an entry-level car for those who like to drive.
Many small-car models do fall on the fun-to-drive side of the scale -- including the Ford Focus, the Volkswagen Golf, and even the Hyundai Elantra GT -- but the Mazda3 four-door sedan and five-door hatchback stand apart in feeling like they're designed for driving enthusiasts who have to keep frugal.
Cast a wider swath and you get the vehicles that people might cross-shop with the Mazda3--including the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, and even the Subaru Impreza.
And for a more detailed look at the Mazda3, including trim levels and pricing, see our full review of the 2014 Mazda Mazda3.
There are downsides, too. The Mazda3 has never been particularly quiet inside, and older models offer a harsh ride and interiors that can best be described as utilitarian. If you're feeling less charitable, that means grim and drab.The first-generation Mazda3 originally launched in 2004, and lasted through 2009. Its delightfully unconventional lines and tight handling put it head and shoulders above the Mazda Protege (and prior to that, the 323 and GLC) sedan it replaced, and it was an instant sales success. Base versions were fitted with a 150-horsepower, 2.0-liter four and a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, while “s” models upgraded to a 160-hp, 2.3-liter four with five-speed manual or automatic transmissions. For 2006, a Grand Touring model was added to the line as well.
The current models date back to 2010, but with significant updates for the 2012 model year. The 2010 Mazda3 sported more exaggerated styling than its trim, taut predecessor. For 2012, its 'grinning' expression of its front grille and air dam were given a new look with a softened grin and more flowing air dam, plus more body-color bodywork and a more refined interior. This current-generation Mazda3 lineup offers several advanced features not found on most of its competitors. They include rain-sensing wipers, bi-xenon adaptive lighting (on the Grand Touring model), and three-position memory seating on the power seats.
For hard-core enthusiasts, the MazdaSpeed3 model which can be found facing down Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Evo models (but with front-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive) at stoplight drags, is said to do 0 to 60 mph is less than six seconds. it fits a direct-injected, turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter four that pumps out 263 horsepower and comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox.
Two models were offered in 2010, each with a different engine. The base Mazda3 'i' model that year sported a 148-hp, 2.0-liter four, paired with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic transmission. The sportier Mazda3 's' had a 167-hp, 2.5-liter four with a six-speed manual as standard (the automatic was available too). Gas mileage ranked near the bottom of the compact class, with ratings as low as 22/29 mpg for the 's.'
The most significant 2012 upgrades were under the hood and enabled new fuel economy ratings of up to 40 mpg. A new Sky-G 2.0-liter four-cylinder, combined with all-new six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions, were completely re-engineered to bring performance approaching the 2.5-liter 's' models, with fuel economy about 20 percent better than that of the older 2.0-liter. Both of the previous engines remained available for 2012, though, with the 2.0-liter on the base 3 i SV and Sport and the 2.5-liter on 's' versions.For 2012, a blind-spot monitoring system was added to the Tech Package, offered on the Grand Touring. And the Mazda3 has the usual raft of options: a Bose premium stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, an iPod dock, satellite radio, and keyless entry, for instance.
The high-performance MazdaSpeed3 added 18-inch Gunmetal alloy wheels, a black rear roof inner spoiler, black rear lower valance, and black outer mirrors with turn signal lamps, all as part of a spruce-up for 2013. It's worth noting, though, that the hot-rod MazdaSpeed3 models have now been surpassed by the new Ford Focus ST in the sheer fun-to-drive and terrific-to-toss-around sweepstakes.
But more importantly, for 2013, Mazda gave the i Sport model the SkyActiv powertrains, making those highest-mileage models more affordable. It also made air conditioning standard on the base SV, and the i Sport got a USB port and the multi-information display. Upper trims earned some additional equipment as well.
The 2014 Mazda3 was an all-new car, and a pleasant surprise in all the ways that it allows top-tier driving enjoyment, impressive fuel economy, much-improved infotainment, and a style statement like no other in the compact-car segment. It was a well-deserved Best Car To Buy nominee as well. About our only complaint was that the svelte, almost sexy proportions and 'slung-back' silhouette cut too much into back-seat space.