The rivals keep getting better, but for those who enjoy driving, the Mazda3 remains at the top of the small-car class—thanks most to its great steering and suspension tuning, but also now to its new fuel-efficient yet responsive powertrains.
The new Ford Focus is probably the closest rival to the Mazda3, but its steering isn't quite as nicely tuned and weighted, and its PowerShift automatic transmission isn't as deft and refined.
The Honda Civic used to be more of a rival, but it's been redesigned for 2012 as a softer and more plainly-styled model.
The Chevrolet Cruze is about as far from the Mazda3 in look, feel, and purpose as you could get; it's only offered as a sedan so far and rides more like a smaller version of a large sedan than a nimble small car.
The Corolla and Elantra are also at the soft end of the scale, but it's the Elantra that's the current class standout; for those who don't value excitement behind the wheel, the Hyundai simply offers the most car for the money.
|2012 Mazda MAZDA3Browse Used Listings||2012 Chevrolet CruzeBrowse Used Listings||2012 Ford FocusBrowse Used Listings||2012 Honda CivicBrowse Used Listings||2012 Hyundai ElantraBrowse Used Listings||2012 Toyota CorollaBrowse Used Listings|
|18 MPG City / 40 MPG Hwy||25 MPG City / 42 MPG Hwy||26 MPG City / 38 MPG Hwy||22 MPG City / 41 MPG Hwy||28 MPG City / 38 MPG Hwy||26 MPG City / 34 MPG Hwy|
|Gas I4||Gas I4||Gas I4||Gas I4||Gas I4||Gas I4|
|Compact||Midsize Car||Compact||Compact Cars||Midsize cars||Compact|
|4-Door Sedan Manual i SV||4-Door Sedan LS||4-Door Sedan S||4-Door Manual DX||4-Door Sedan Manual GLS (Alabama Plant)||4-Door Sedan Manual L (Natl)|
|Front Wheel Drive||Front Wheel Drive||Front Wheel Drive||Front Wheel Drive||Front Wheel Drive||Front Wheel Drive|
|4 Door Sedan||Sedan||4 Door Sedan||Sedan||4 Door Sedan||4 Door Sedan|