- Satisfying performance
- Excellent handling
- Eye-catching exterior
- Busy ride
- Tight back seat
- Road noise
The 2016 Mazda 3 is one of the best-driving and best-looking small cars, with a more premium feel than its (now even lower) price might suggest.
Whether you're talking about the hatchback or sedan, the design, or the experience in the driver's seat, the 2016 Mazda 3 remains one of the most distinctive cars in the compact-car class.
While it might not grab as much attention as offerings from some larger brands, the Mazda 3 has a compelling combination of efficient engines, design flair, safety, value, and driving precision should earn it a place on almost every shopper's small-car list.
The Mazda 3 has its primary appeal in driving fun. Even though it's not the quickest, most powerful car in its class, the 3 is one of just a handful of driver's cars in the segment along with the Ford Focus and the VW Golf. You'll get satisfying performance whether you get the 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-4 or the 184-hp, 2.5-liter version, or whether you opt for the 6-speed automatic or the 6-speed manual gearbox. In any combination, they bring satisfying performance and better responsiveness than most compact cars.
Most aspects of the driving experience are very satisfying—the 3 is far more athletic than your typical compact car. We find the suspension and dynamics to be excellent in tight hairpins, although the steering doesn't feel as stable on-center in highway driving, and a lot of ride harshness (and noise) still makes its way into the cabin compared to other cars in this class.
The Mazda 3 is a standout in terms of styling and design, and its long hood and "cab-back" design really cast it in a different light compared to most other compact cars. A sweeping shoulder line slows gracefully along the body side, and a more slanted, fastback roofline on the hatchback ends in what we see as a somewhat softer, less distinctive rear-end treatment. At its best, this combination of the aggressive front grille, crisp edges, gentle curves, and hunkered-back cabin altogether makes the car look taut and sports-car influenced. At its worst, the Mazda 3 looks a little long-hooded—as if the hood of the Mazda 6 sedan had been grafted to the front of the smaller car.
The svelte, almost sexy proportions of the new Mazda 3 somewhat compromise its interior space. The front-seat area is spacious,and seats are supportive. Adult-size rear riders will find themselves pushed up against the headliner. In general, cabin trims and materials have improved, but there are still some cheap bits.
Mazda has also made big strides in the 3's infotainment offerings. The Mazda Connect system uses a large, colorful, high-contrast touchscreen that sits atop the dash (some might see it as looking like an aftermarket offering, but we like how it's up in the field of vision). Unlike the system in the larger Mazda 6 sedan and CX-5 crossover, with its laggy response, this system is quick with relatively easy-to-navigate menus that can be selected with the touchscreen or with the rotary Command Controller.
The latest Mazda 3 has been named an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, and all models are fitted with six airbags: front and side bags for each front-seat passenger, and side-curtain bags stretching the full length of the cabin. There also are several systems that use a combination of camera and radar-based sensing to assist and alert the driver in potentially hazardous situations. Grouped together under the name i-ActivSense, they include adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot monitoring system, lane-departure warning alert, and headlights that switch automatically between low and high beams. There's also a forward-collision warning system, which alerts drivers if the car is closing too quickly on an obstacle directly ahead. Mazda says that system operates at speeds from 9 to 92 mph. Finally, there's a new automatic emergency braking system, which monitors closing distances and will prepare the brakes and alert the driver if a collision appears imminent at speeds up to 19 mph.
Mazda improved the equipment in the Mazda 3, and it's done that again for 2016, with more features and a somewhat lower price in base form. It's offered in base SV, Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring models, with things like perforated leather upholstery, adaptive front lighting, and moonroof reserved for the top Grand Touring. All models now come with a rearview camera system, and two new packages allow you to add popular equipment to the Sport and Touring models, respectively.
Also available in the Grand Touring as part of the Tech Package is the i-ELOOP system, which uses a special system of an alternator feeding a supercapacitor that harvests electricity during deceleration and braking and uses it to power the car's electrical components. It makes only a small difference in EPA fuel economy, but could have bigger effects for someone who frequently drives in stop-and-go traffic.
We've seen some great overall mileage figures with the Mazda 3. Even with the 2.5-liter engine, relaxed daily commuting conditions should let you easily top 30 mpg.