- Responsive powertrains
- Sporty profile, eye-catching sheetmetal
- Great handling
- Excellent gas mileage
- Premium feel, in some respects
- Tight back seat
- Busy ride
- Road noise
The 2015 Mazda 3 is one of the best-driving small cars, with efficient engines and smooth transmissions that help give it a more premium feel than its price would suggest.
The Mazda 3 is among the very best in its class, though it may not grab as much attention as offerings from some larger brands. Redesigned in 2014 with a fun, attractive new look, plus new features and more efficient engines, the Mazda 3 should be a mandatory inclusion on any shopper’s small, fun-to-drive, efficient list.
What's more, the improvements to the 3 come without disturbing what's been Mazda's primary appeal, particularly with this car's predecessors: driving fun. The 3 is one of just a handful of driver's cars in the segment, along with the Ford Focus and the VW Golf.
With all of that praise heaped on, there's one asterisk we mention before going further: The svelte, almost sexy proportions of the new Mazda 3 compromise its interior space somewhat. Provided you don't need a bigger car (like a Hyundai Elantra, which qualifies as a mid-sizer) the Mazda 3 should stay on your list, as it's one of the best entries in the compact segment.
The 2015 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. Adopting the automaker's Kodo "soul of motion" design language, first seen on the CX-5 crossover and Mazda6 mid-size sedan launched over the past two years, the Mazda 3 loses the creepy smile of the previous-generation car (or was that a smirk? We never quite knew) and takes on the brand's new blunt nose and five-point grille leading into thin, slanted, swept-back headlamps. 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 front-seat area is spacious, and seats are supportive; they have a new contour and afford more back and lateral support. In back, Mazda claims more knee room and shoulder room, but it feels tighter, in a fore-aft sense, than most other compact entries. The rear seatbacks are almost 2 inches higher, to improve comfort for back-seat passengers, which unfortunately pushes the heads of taller riders up against the cardboard-like contoured headliner in models with the moonroof. One feature that's unusual in a new car is the bottom-hinged "organ-style" accelerator pedal, which Mazda says is more comfortable for drivers.
The entire structure of the new Mazda 3 has been designed around the SkyActiv four-cylinder engine, which Mazda began launching in 2012 models. This highly efficient four-cylinder engine uses high compression, carefully tuned exhaust systems, and other refinements to provide power while extracting maximum efficiency from every drop of fuel without the added complication of hybrid systems.
The 2015 Mazda 3 offers two different variants of the engine, both of them smooth and responsive. A 2.0-liter version is rated at 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque, and a more powerful 2.5-liter version puts out 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. Each is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission. Overall, the Mazda3 is now at the head of the class with respect to powertrain performance.
The 3 gets retuned springs, shocks, and anti-roll bars to improve straight-line stability, and the automaker claims to have improved both cornering capability and ride comfort. It says the Mazda 3's stopping distances are among the best of all compact cars (all models get four-wheel discs). Precise electric power steering replaces the former electrohydraulic system; it could use some more feedback, but it is very well weighted. 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 latest Mazda 3, which was named an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ model for 2015, adds a number of electronic safety systems to the company's compact car line. Al 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-obstruction 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 Smart City Brake Support system, which monitors closing distances and will pre-tension the brakes and alert the driver if a collision appears imminent at speeds up to 19 mph. If the driver doesn't respond in time, the system will automatically brake the car to a stop. Another interesting feature available in the Mazda 3 is the Active Driving Display—an odd heads-up display with its own little screen. We had trouble keeping it aimed in the driver's line of sight.
Mazda has also made big strides in the 3's infotainment offerings. The Mazda Connect system uses a large, colorful, high-contrast touch-screen display 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 touch screen or with the rotary (iDrive-like) Command Controller. As of the 2015 model year, Mazda Connect is now standard on all but the base i SV trim level.
Mazda Connect controls a standard AM/FM radio and CD player as well as optional SiriusXM satellite radio, and includes a USB jack and auxiliary audio input port for connecting digital music players. The premium audio option is a Bose system with Centerpoint virtual surround sound. Voice control allows users to search among folders, find tracks, repeat, and shuffle them using spoken commands. Cars equipped with navigation can use the Internet to find destinations, while map and routing data are stored locally on an SD card.
For 2015, Mazda has added standard equipment to most models and option packages in addition to bringing Mazda Connect to almost all models. The i Touring now includes a rearview camera and halogen fog lights, while the s Touring now includes a power sunroof. The s Grand Touring now includes a Homelink remote transmitter that's integrated into the rearview mirror.
Also notable is the fact that Mazda started offering the larger, 2.5-liter engine with the manual transmission sometime later in the 2014 model year, and it is now available on premium models as well. Those in search of more power will have to wait until Mazda announces its next MazdaSpeed3 hot hatch, which is expected within a year or so.
Thanks to the new SkyActiv engines, the Mazda 3 gets EPA fuel economy of up to 30 mpg city, 41 highway with the 2.0-liter, and even the 2.5-liter engine returns up to 28 mpg city, 39 highway. Among the various features contributing to greater fuel efficiency is the available 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. For now, this feature is only offered in the top-level Grand Touring trim with the optional Tech Package. It makes only a small difference in EPA fuel economy, but could have bigger effects for someone who drives in stop-and-go traffic often.
2015 Mazda MAZDA3
The 2015 Mazda 3 is a complete design expression, and that holds just as true whether you get the curvaceous sedan or hunkered-back hatchback.
Back for its second model year, the 2015 Mazda 3 remains one of the design standouts in its class. Its ‘cab-back’ styling, with proportions that evoke the look of a rear-wheel-drive car, really sets it apart other small cars.
Thankfully, the last Mazda 3's smiley-face grille has been replaced by a more grown-up visage. Mazda's new five-point grille sits in its place, with its top corners leading into thin, swept-back headlamps. The cabin is set further to the rear, making the profile dramatically different from the previous 3 and other compact cars. Designers stretched the hood, while the windshield pillars were moved almost 4 inches rearward—interestingly, this was done in part to accommodate the specially tuned exhaust system of the SkyActiv four-cylinder engine.This combination of the aggressive grille, crisp edges, gentle curves, and pushed-back cabin makes the car look taut and sports-car influenced. But it can also make the Mazda 3 look a little long up front—as if the hood of the Mazda 6 sedan had been grafted to the front of what’s otherwise a smaller car.
A shoulder line that sweeps along the body side ends in taillights with pointed ends. Hatchback models adopt a more fastback roofline, which culminates in a rounded-off hatch, sacrificing some cargo capacity compared to the outgoing model. Though distinctive looking in front, both the sedan and the hatchback ended up a little too rounded and generic in back. Although the proportions seem to work better for the sedan than the hatch, we'd likely still choose the hatchback for its superior flexibility.
The latest 3 adopts Mazda's Kodo "soul of motion" design language, which was first seen on the CX-5 crossover and Mazda 6 mid-size sedan. Although the front end might look blunt, this new design improves aerodynamics. Mazda says the five-door and sedan achieve drag coefficients of 0.275 and 0.255, respectively, which it says are best in class.
Mazda has designed a new driver-focused cockpit for the latest 3, with pedals and manual controls arranged symmetrically around the driver's centerline. The available Active Driving Display is a sort of head-up display. Its clear panel pops up from behind the instrument cluster when the car is turned on to show speed, turn-by-turn directions, and other critical information. The goal is to direct the driver's focus beyond the instruments and closer to the road ahead, while maintaining the best driving posture.
Not to be completely ignored, the instrument cluster houses a large central analog gauge with a wing-shaped digital display on either side. Regrettably, Mazda has succumbed to the use of glossy black trim for the center console and door accents, set off by satin chrome highlights. They look a bit cheap here and can also cause glare that is itself a driver distraction.
There are no design changes on the Mazda 3 for the 2015 model year.
2015 Mazda MAZDA3
The 2015 Mazda 3 is one of the best-driving frugal small cars -- although its steering falls a bit short of the greatness we've come to expect from the brand.
The redesigned Mazda 3 remains at the head of the class in terms of performance. 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, all bring satisfying performance and better responsiveness than most compact cars.
The combinations work so well because they were designed together, with an emphasis on responsiveness and fuel efficiency. Through its so-called SkyActiv initiative, Mazda has engineered, from scratch, a new engine family, plus an all-new six-speed automatic transmission and a new six-speed manual gearbox. Along with the latest versions of the Mazda 6 mid-size sedan and CX-5 compact crossover, the 3 is built on a platform that is lightweight, further aiding efficiency. The steering and suspension systems were redesigned at the same time with the same ends and without sacrificing driving enjoyment.
There's not as much of a difference between 2.0-liter ‘i’ and 2.5-liter ‘s’ models as you might think. The ‘i’ is plenty quick for most needs, and it’ll net you an extra mile per gallon or two overall. Both engines have the same personality and are very smooth all the way up the rev range. The 2.5-liter has one big advantage, though: It makes its peak 185 pound-feet of torque at 3,250 rpm, while the 2.0-liter makes 150 lb-ft at 4,000; as a result, the 2.5 feels noticeably stronger at the lower end of the rev range, which should make it an even better companion for the automatic transmission. One note: In two different test cars equipped with the 2.5-liter engine, we encountered a noticeably lumpy idle quality when the engine was warmed up.
The manual gearbox snicks neatly and precisely between gears, and the clutch takes up easily and cleanly. The optional automatic transmission shifts quickly, almost with the decisiveness of a dual-clutch system, but with more smoothness when you need it. The only odd thing we noticed in our test drive, when we encountered some low-speed hairpin corners, was how widely spaced first and second gear are. Cars equipped with the 2.5-liter and automatic get steering-wheel paddle shifters.
Neither engine is ever caught flat-footed, and the throttle pedal responds linearly instead of having a jumpy tip-in like some cars trying to promote a performance vibe. One feature that's unusual in a new car is the bottom-hinged "organ-style" accelerator pedal, which Mazda says is more comfortable for drivers. We agree.
The Mazda 3 also excels in general drivability. Its steering feels precise; there’s never excess body motion; and the four-wheel disc brakes (even on the base SV) are confidence-inspiring. Transmissions offer a nice set of ratios (except for the odd 1-2 gap we noticed in our automatic test car) that seem well-suited to the engine, including a very tall sixth gear that had the engine in our Grand Touring turning at an indicated 2,050 rpm at 70 mph.
When you want to drive quickly, you can hit the Sport button on 's' models for slightly more aggressive throttle response and delayed shifts for the automatic transmission. With it clicked, we also noticed that the stability control has a remarkably loose rein on overzealous driving styles; it’ll even permit a little bit of a slide—all in the name of fun, right?
The one major dynamic shortcoming is this new car's electric power steering system. Mazda put lots of engineering into an electrohydraulic power steering system for the last-generation car and nailed it, but we simply don’t think the new car’s full-electric system is as good. It’s one of the better systems in this class, and we really like the strong sense of center at lower speeds, out of corners, but it doesn’t do well with oddly crowned roads, or track all that well at highway speeds, requiring more fine adjustments than we would have liked.
2015 Mazda MAZDA3
Comfort & Quality
Seating and headroom is definitely a bit compromised for the sake of that swoopy roofline, and except for cabin noise the '3' has the look and feel of a more expensive car inside.
Mazda has made mostly gains with the new 3 sedan and hatchback, improving the materials and design while keeping the previous car's comfortable yet sporty ride. There were some steps backward, however, and they seem to have been made in the name of slinky design.
The Mazda 3 feels premium from the front seats forward, with materials that are a major step forward for Mazda—even in some cases better than what’s offered in the latest Mazda 6. But there are some disappointments as well; for instance, the interior surface alongside the front doors is soft touch, but alongside the rear doors it's a hard surface that mostly mimics the look but has a slightly different sheen and is just hard plastic (Mazda isn’t the only offender; it’s also done by Honda in the Civic, for instance). The headliner itself is another area of disheartening cheapness; in both top-of-the-line Grand Touring we spent time with, it felt like flimsy cardboard covered by a felt-like material, with the entire section a bit loose over the moonroof mechanism.
In theory, the Mazda 3 is a step ahead in refinement over the old car. The company has added sound-deadening material behind the dash, under the floor mats, and elsewhere. While engine noise is in the background most of the time, we think that there’s a bit too much road noise whenever the surface is coarse or imperfect.
By current compact-car standards, the ride is a bit busy (it would have been ahead of the class norm a few model years ago, but attention to ride refinement has transformed many on-a-budget offerings). You might call it ideal, but only if you've driven on smooth-surfaced Southern California roads. We still haven’t driven lower-level ‘i’ models with less aggressive wheels and tires, and we’ll update this impression when we have.
While a long hood and swept-back proportions make the 2015 Mazda 3 attractive on the outside, bordering on straight-up sexy, they end up limiting its interior space and utility. If you’re mainly planning to use the Mazda 3’s front seats, that might not matter; for the most part this compact-car family offers pleasing interior appointments, and even the look and feel of a premium-brand vehicle in some respects.
The third-generation Mazda 3 rides on a wheelbase that's 2.4 inches longer, but the five-door hatchback model is 1.8 inches shorter overall; it’s also about 1.6 inches wider than the previous model. While Mazda touts increased front and rear shoulder room, as well as better rear knee room, the net effect is that the cabin feels a bit smaller than most other cars in this class, especially in back.
The front seats are very comfortable and supportive, with lower cushions that are long enough for taller drivers; and the nice, contrasting perforated-leather upholstery in the Grand Touring feels luxury-caliber. Mazda has enlarged the cushion of the driver's seat and completely redesigned its front seat backs to provide a more natural sitting position and increase lateral support.
In back, two six-footers will be able to get comfortable enough, provided those in front aren’t also tall. We’d advise against the moonroof, because it brings a very odd, scooped-out headliner that will leave taller passengers feeling like the roof is bowing around them. Rear occupants sit almost two inches higher than in the old car, but the way the rising beltline limits window space still makes it one of the more claustrophobic small-car experiences—especially in the hatchback.
2015 Mazda MAZDA3
Available active-safety extras and top-notch protection earn Top Safety Pick+ status for the 2015 Mazda 3.
The latest Mazda 3 has made a solid leap in safety, with an impressive list of standard features as well as some available active-safety items that go beyond what's usually on offer in an affordable compact car. It continues its predecessor's roster of high marks in safety testing, as well.
All Touring and Grand Touring models get Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert; as of the 2015 model year, 'i' Touring models now come with a rearview camera, as do 'i' Grand Touring and all 's' models.
Other available active-safety features in the 3 include Smart City Brake Support, which uses laser sensors to help anticipate a collision and activate emergency braking automatically (under 19 mph); Forward Obstruction Warning, which warns the driver of hazards ahead (at speeds between 9 and 92 mph); and a Lane Departure Warning System, which warns the driver when they're straying from lane markings. Automatic high beams and Adaptive Front Lighting are also available.
Outward visibility is surprisingly obscured in the Mazda 3. This is in part due to the upwardly curved beltline, but it also stems from the thick door pillars. And while the hatchback's blacked-out glass leads you to believe there’s a big window back there, the actual translucent real estate is quite minimal. So the rearview camera and items like the blind-spot monitor are helpful, even in this small car.
The 3 has been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and it's earned top 'good' results in all categories--including the new small overlap frontal test. As a result, it has been awarded the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ distinction for 2015. When equipped with the optional crash-prevention, the Mazda 3 also gets an 'advanced' front crash protection rating from the IIHS. Furthermore, the 3 achieves top five-star ratings in all of the federal government's crash tests.
2015 Mazda MAZDA3
In features, the Mazda 3 is in sync with rivals; although we think that tech-loaded Grand Touring models ring in as a great value for around $30k.
The 2015 Mazda 3 lineup continues to include a competitive list of features for the money—especially if you're considering one of the more affordable 'i' SV, Sport, or Touring models. Meanwhile, top-of-the-line Grand Touring models can be loaded up with some technology features that aren't typically found in this kind of affordable small car.
The first thing to know is that Mazda's trim combinations can turn into a bit of an alphabet soup; in addition to the four aforementioned levels, Mazda uses 'i' to designate the smaller engine and 's' for the larger one. Either engine can be paired with any trim level or body style, with the exception of the SV, which is limited to 'i'-engined sedans.
All models, even the base SV, include push-button start, keyless entry, air ducts for the rear-seat passengers, a tilt/telescope steering column, and power windows, locks, and mirrors. The SV Sedan has a one-piece folding rear seat, and it makes do with a four-speaker sound system with an auxiliary input. Curiously, SV models with the automatic transmission include a stripped-down version of the gauge cluster without a rev counter.
Sport models step up to some pieces of equipment that many shoppers won't want to go without: a 60/40-split folding rear seat, cruise control, Bluetooth, a CD player, and power mirrors. New for 2015, the 'i' Sport and 'i' Touring now come with the Mazda Connect infotainment system with navigation.
Touring models add alloy wheels, heated mirrors, a rear spoiler, a rear-seat armrest, premium sport seats, and some minor leather trim, as well as the Blind Spot Monitoring system with Rear Cross Traffic Alert. For 2015, Mazda has made the rearview camera and halogen fog lights standard here as well.
Add the Touring Technology Package to the ‘i’ Touring, and you get items that are all included in the ‘s’ Touring and Grand Touring: dual-zone climate control, an overhead console, illuminated vanity mirrors, and, new for 2015, a power moonroof.
The 'i' Grand Touring models get a long list of upgrades that include vinyl ('leatherette') upholstery, automatic climate control, a power driver's seat, the moonroof, and front heated seats. There’s also upgraded Bose nine-speaker audio, plus satellite radio and HD radio.
Step up to the 3 's' Touring, and along with the larger, 2.5-liter engine you get the Active Driving Display, steering-wheel paddle shifters, LED running lights, halogen fog lamps, bi-xenon headlights, larger 18-inch alloy wheels, and a Sport mode button for automatic-transmission models.
At the top of the lineup is the 's' Grand Touring model, which gains perforated leather upholstery, the moonroof, bi-xenon headlamps with Adaptive Front Lighting, and rain-sensing wipers. For 2015, Mazda adds Homelink transmitter functionality to the auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Adaptive Front Lighting and rain-sensing wipers are included in the 's' Grand Touring, while if you add the Technology Package you get a long list of additional active-safety features (detailed in the Safety section)—plus the i-ELOOP system and active grille shutters, which together increase EPA-rated fuel efficiency modestly.
Models equipped with the Mazda Connect infotainment system, which for 2015 includes all but the SV sedan, can connect a smartphone via Bluetooth for expanded capability. Mazda Connect uses the Aha system from Harman to handle Internet apps. Text-to-voice technology lets the system read e-mail and SMS messages aloud through the car's audio system, as well as display short messages on the touch-screen monitor. Users can select from among pre-set replies and have the system send them. The system will also read updates from Twitter and Facebook, and a Shout audio function lets users choose among responses. The system's software can also be updated, meaning features can be added in the future without having to swap out physical hardware.
The navigation system is clear and straightforward, and we like the point-of-interest (POI) integration. However, when we were moving along, it wouldn’t let us pan over to an alternate destination while we were using the map view—a function that you have in nearly every other system.
The display is crisp, colorful, and high in contrast, and it’s quick and responsive, with no lag whatsoever—a big improvement over the system in the Mazda 6 and CX-5. The layout of the menus is better, too, and you can either navigate through them on the touch screen or use the Command controller to move between the tabs and screens.
Our biggest complaint is that it doesn't remember where you left off in the menu structure. For instance, if listening to the radio and seeking through stations, restarting the car (or just answering a call) forces you back to the home screen. Also, you can't simply use the forward and back buttons on the steering wheel to tune—they appear to be for media selection only. Overall, though, we'd say that Mazda Connect is right on the mark, and most users are going to like its interface and its redundant controls.
2015 Mazda MAZDA3
Overall, the 2014 Mazda 3 lineup shows that going frugal can still be fun.
The 2015 Mazda 3 returns competitive fuel economy with its larger engine, while the base four-cylinder beats most cars in the class.
Both engines offer a very high (13:1) compression ratio, as well as direct injection, variable valve timing, and a host of other measures that are aimed at saving fuel while maintaining responsiveness.
Mazda 3 'i' sedans (which use the 2.0-liter engine) achieve EPA ratings of 29 mpg city, 41 highway with the manual transmission, or 30/41 mpg with the automatic; hatchback models lose 1 mpg on the highway.
3 's' models, which come with the larger, 2.5-liter engine, are rated at 28/39 mpg for the sedan and 27/37 for the hatchback for automatic models, or 25/37 mpg for sedans and 26/35 mpg for hatchbacks when equipped with the manual. The Tech package available on the automatic 's' Grand Touring model boosts the hatchback's mileage up to 28/38 mpg, and puts the sedan at 29/40 mpg.
Those elevated numbers come from the Tech Package's i-ELOOP regenerative engine braking system and active grille shutters. Simply put, i-ELOOP stores electricity in capacitors to run the various electrical systems. The electricity is supplied to the capacitors by the alternator, which runs only when decelerating and braking so as to remove any drag from the system when engine power is needed.
We managed more than 27 mpg over about 160 miles; and of that, about ten miles were crawling along in rush-hour gridlock and another 30 miles were driving very quick on mountain backroads, with the revs high. Even with the 2.5-liter engine, relaxed daily commuting conditions should let you easily top 30 mpg.