|Positives: Exhilarating to drive at any speed, upscale interior that crushes the competition, less extreme sport mode than before, positively arresting in white with black trim|
|Negatives: Chintzy head-up display screen feels cheap. Rear seat room is tight.|
|Bottom Line: The Mazda3 sedan is excellent in just about every way you can think of, providing thrills for the driver, comfort for occupants, thriftiness at the pump, and pleasure for onlookers. We think it's the best small sedan you can buy today.|
You'd never guess the Mazda3 was an affordable sedan thanks to the way it rides, drives, and handles. The top 2.5-liter, 184 hp engine is now offered in both Grand Touring and Touring models, but even the 2.0-liter, 155 hp base engine is spirited. The 3's sport mode doesn't hold the gears as long in less aggressive driving, which is a good thing.
Ride Quality: The ideal balance of firm and comfortable, the chassis and suspension work harmonically to deliver great absorption as well as feel. It never felt unsettled or numb.
Acceleration: 0-60 comes in about 7 seconds even, which is pretty quick for a 4-cylinder non turbocharged vehicle but still midpack for the segment. The Skyactiv engine is peppy and responsive, and the 6-speed automatic in our tester shifted quickly. The two are well mated.
Braking: It'll come to a complete stop from 70 mph in about 170 feet, which is good but no longer class-leading. The brake pedal is progressive, and you can definitely push the car hard and stop confidently without any issues.
Steering: The 3 has some of the best steering of any car, and Mazda gave it ample feedback, something you don't see often anymore.
Handling: The 3 is light, remarkably well-balanced, and grippy in the turns. It's one of the best handling compact cars on earth.
The tech in the Mazda3 is very utilitarian and practical, if not visually stunning. Everything works pretty easily, and the presence of physical controls makes driving the focus and not fussing with in-car tech.
Infotainment System: Mazda's system could use more vibrancy and color, but the system is easy to read and menus are fairly simple. We wish some of the audio features were easier to decipher, but you get used to them after a few days.
Controls: Physical knobs for audio and climate are very good, as well as simple steering wheel controls. We love the Commander knob in the center console, which rotates, pushes, and toggles for easy in-car control of infotainment features.
We were blown away by how good the sedan looks in white. The 3 has clean lines, aggressive styling, and some seriously great darkened alloy wheels. This car always looks pricier than it actually is, and the stunning interior in Parchment White leather looks truly opulent.
Front: The Mazda3's front end is one of the cleaner looks on modern compact sedans, but it evokes sportiness with its wide grille and angular projector beam headlights. We love the contrasting gloss black side mirrors.
Rear: The back end is similarly clean and unobtrusive. The taillights nicely taper toward the center, and there's no overstyling we can find.
Profile: It's hard to tell the sedan apart from the hatchback from the front 3/4 view, but the profile of the sedan is distinct with the short rear end. It looks very sporty, especially with the tasty dark alloy wheels.
Cabin: Even better than the exterior is the near-opulent interior with the cream leather seats, and the airy feel. Materials are top-notch, and none of it really feels cheap except for the flip-up head-up projection screen. It should just project onto the windshield like the CX-9.
Mazda did a great job with the interior, but it could've sacrificed a bit of trunk space for rear seat room. Overall, though, it's a great place to spend some time thanks to a very well executed cabin.
Front Seats: Thin and attractive, they're way more comfortable than you'd expect. Leather is soft and supple, while the bolstering and cushioning are just about perfect. They could present a challenge, though, for wider occupants.
Rear Seats: It's really only good for two passengers, and the legroom is tight. The seats are well-contoured, but 6-footers will be challenged on longer drives.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Mazda3 is solidly built, and there were no rattles or squeaks. All affordable compact cars should be built this well.
Visibility: The only compromised visibility is the rearward view because of the tall parcel shelf and trunk.
Climate: The climate control system is very good, as are the heated seats. We're hoping the next-gen will at least offer ventilated seats.
The 3 gets near top marks for safety even with a tougher set of standards for 2018. Not only is it safe, there's also plenty of good safety tech to put owner's minds at ease.
IIHS Rating: It misses the Top Safety Pick+ rating due to "acceptable" headlights and LATCH ease of use. It actually gets "superior" accident avoidance tech and nails "good" in all crash tests.
NHTSA Rating: The NHTSA gives the Mazda3 the best rating of five stars in crash tests.
Standard Tech: The Grand Touring trim provides blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, tire pressure monitoring system, Smart City Brake Support, ABS with Electronic Brake Drying and Brake Assist, as well as Hill Launch Assist. It's a solid set for the money.
Optional Tech: The $1,600 Premium Equipment Package provides Smart Brake Support which works in conjunction with Smart City Brake to warn the driver of an impending collision, as well as automatically applies the brakes. There's also Mazda Radar Cruise Control, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist.
Small cars don't have to be brutal when it comes to gear storage in the cabin. The Mazda3 capitalizes on the limited space with smart options. The trunk is also bigger than you'd expect from the outward appearance.
Storage Space: The cubby in front of the shifter is a bit shallow but nicely angled and grippy to hold small items. The armrest and cupholder also work well, and both have doors for concealment.
Cargo Room: The Mazda3 has 12.4 cubic feet of space, and the load floor is flat and usable. It's smaller than the Civic sedan's 15.1 cubic feet and the Hyundai Elantra's 14.4.
Mazda's non-turbo mills are bastions of efficiency. In fact, their whole lineup performs very well when it comes to mileage. Even though we drove our car pretty hard, it came back with solid numbers.
Observed: 29.1 mpg
Distance Driven: 173 miles
Driving Factors: We drove it in sport mode about 90 percent of the time, so the near 30 mpg we attained was pretty impressive given our non-conservative driving habits.
The upgraded 9-speaker Bose system is good but not great. There's something about the system that just doesn't seem as full and crisp as other premium systems. At least it comes standard in Grand Touring trim, so there's no additional cost. We do wish some of the audio icons on the display screen were less cryptic.