The Mazda3 sedan and hatchback models just got considerably more sensible for 2012—if you choose one of the trims that are equipped with new fuel-saving Skyactiv powertrains, that is.
With a direct-injection Sky-G 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood, Mazda3 i Touring and Grand Touring models have plenty of pep yet return EPA figures of up to 40 miles per gallon on the highway. With this new engine come two all-new transmissions: a six-speed automatic that brings a sportier driving feel than most automatics, or a great new six-speed manual gearbox that encourages you to have fun after driving the kids to school—especially when considering that the 3 models have an athletic driving feel, strong brakes and, by far, the best steering feel of any small car.
The rest of the models in the Mazda3 lineup—the basic Mazda3i SV and Sport, and the stronger Mazda3s Touring and Grand Touring—get carry-over engines that aren’t quite as fuel-efficient, so we strongly recommend those Skyactiv models.
But as much fun as the Mazda3 is to drive—and as much as Mazda has increased the gas mileage numbers of some of the lineup for 2012—the 3 still isn’t a great pick from a purely practical, family perspective. And that’s why we rate it just a 6 out of 10 here at FamilyCarGuide.
Front seats in the Mazda3 are very supportive and comfortable. Back-seat space is decent, but entry and exit through the somewhat narrow rear door openings can be a bit harder. You can flip the seatbacks forward and end up with a low, flat cargo floor—especially usable and versatile when you have the hatchback. But for families, comfort and harmony matter a little bit more, and the 3 definitely compromises some interior noise and comfort for its ‘zoom-zoom’ appeal. It still has more road noise inside the cabin than most other small cars, and some might be turned off by the rather drab, hard plastics of the interior.
Skyactiv Touring models are the heart of the model line and sticker around $20k. But if you want a really well-equipped car—with tech features that aren’t ordinarily found in a small car—get the Grand Touring model with the Tech Package and you’ll find items like bi-xenon adaptive lighting, blind-spot monitoring, and Bose surround sound, all for about $25k.
For more, including in-depth details about performance, plus full specs and pricing, see The Car Connection’s full review of the 2012 Mazda3.