2017 Mazda 3
The Focus falls a bit shy of the Mazda in terms of safety. The Ford only merits an "Acceptable" rating on the new small-overlap crash test. The Mazda 3 gets "Good" scores and a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS, and five stars overall from the NHTSA. You can get a rear camera system in the Focus, while the Mazda 3 offers a blind spot warning system, among several other active-safety features.
Standard equipment on base models of both the Focus and Mazda 3 is comparable, with a few more tech features offered on the Focus, such as parking assistance. The Focus' MyFord Touch connectivity setup is nearly matched by Mazda's Harman-sourced Mazda Connect system. Both offer features like adaptive lighting, memory power seats, blind-spot monitoring, and premium sound.
Our overall ratings pick a clear winner. The Focus won our Best Car To Buy competition in 2012; and the Mazda 3 came very, very close to winning for 2014. Which one you choose comes down to priorities. If you love to drive and want the best-driving, gas-stingy small car, we can't think of a better vehicle than the Mazda 3 with either engine. But with the Focus—especially the high-performance Focus ST—you're getting one of the best-driving, best-riding small cars on the market.
The Mazda3 is a more well-rounded car for day to day duty, which is how it notched a 7.6 out of 10 on our overall scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)