Ford Focus Vs. Mazda Mazda3Enlarge Photo
For those who like to drive, but are frugal-minded, there's plenty of good news. Compact sedan and hatchback models have very quickly evolved over the past several years, shedding their staid appearance and miserly demeanor for something much more interesting--including more better-trimmed interiors, and feature sets appealing for those who do long commutes. And the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus are at the head of that pack for those who put the priority on driving enjoyment.
Both models are offered in a choice of four-door sedan or five-door hatchback body styles. At least in profile, these two vehicles look quite different, with the Focus (which was all-new for 2011) a little more rakish and the Mazda3, which was just redesigned for 2014, is decidedly curvier. All around, from the long, finely detailed headlamps, along the creased flanks and all the way to the equally stretched taillamps, the Focus offers a little more to catch the eye inside and out. On the other hand, the Mazda3 has the more adventurous profile, with details that are both neat, athletic, and sophisticated.
There's even more of a sharp contrast between these two models inside. Mazda3's interior is sporty in appearance and follows Mazda's new, upscale, and somewhat European look and feel; on the other hand, the Focus interior feels more overtly sporty, as well as obsessively detailed throughout, with some nice surface sculpting and a nicely tailored look for the entire interior that makes it feel a class above. The one issue we have with the Focus interior, though, is that its dash tends to rob front-seat space for the driver and passenger.
The Focus and Mazda3 both perform well, with a sportier driving feel than you'll find in most other compact sedans and hatchbacks in this size and price range. But it's Mazda's attention to the fine details here that makes the Mazda3 the enthusiasts' pick for now--even if their numbers might not show a clear winner. Whether you get the 2.0-liter in-line four or the 2.5-liter version, and whether you opt for the six-speed automatic or the six-speed manual gearbox, these combinations all bring satisfying performance and better responsiveness than most compact cars. And we think these powertrains simply work more precisely and responsively than what's offered in the Focus. In fact, Mazda has coordinated all the tactile qualities of the driving experience better than those in any other car in this class; the accelerator responds evenly; the brakes feel confident; and you're likely to be satisfied whether you get the six-speed manual gearbox or the six-speed automatic transmission.
2014 Mazda 3 'i' models (with the 2.0-liter engine) return EPA ratings of 29 mpg city, 41 highway with the manual transmission, or 30/41 mpg with the automatic. Models with the 2.5-liter engine do nearly as well; and that's without electing the Super Fuel Economy (SFE) package as you have to do with the Focus to get 40 mpg.
Inside, in both of these model lines, if you're willing to pay a little more, you can get excellent, more supportive sport seats up front. Back-seat space is about the same, although the swoopier roofline in the Mazda now places it at a disadvantage. Top models of the Focus, like the Titanium, get a rich, premium feel inside; we also think that top models of the Focus are a bit better hushed for road noise.
Neither the Mazda3 nor the Focus is a perfect ten for safety, but they're both very well equipped. The Focus does also did manage to earn top scores in every category from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), as well as the IIHS Top Safety Pick designation. The 3 has been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and it's earned excellent 'good' results in all categories--including the new small overlap frontal test. And that's given it the new IIHS Top Safety Pick+ distinction for 2014. You can get a rear camera system in the Focus, while the Mazda3 offers a blind spot warning system, among several other active-safety features.
Although standard equipment on base models of both the Focus and Mazda3 is comparable, we think that with this year's redesign the Mazda3 has gained a slight edge. The Focus has MyFord Touch, Ford's sophisticated voice- and touch-screen-based system for connectivity with smart phones and media players (plus climate controls), outclasses the interface in the Mazda3. It also offers a full-featured (and easier to use) navigation system, plus available Park Assist. But features like bi-xenon adaptive lighting, memory power seats, blind-spot monitoring, an available head-up display, a simpler touch-screen interface, and a ten-speaker Bose surround sound system certainly make the Mazda3 no technology slouch whatsoever.
Our Overall Rating numbers for these two models are very close; and here even more than usual it comes down to priorities. If you love to drive and want the best-driving, gas-stingy small car, we can't think of much better than the Mazda3 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.
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|from $15,843||from $16,474|
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