|Positives: Thrilling but civilized driving manner, attractive from every angle, the best interior in its segment, easy-to-use infotainment.|
|Negatives: No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, cheap-looking head-up display, could use more power.|
|Bottom Line: Despite the fact that it's aging, the Mazda3 hatchback feels as fresh today as the day it emerged. Great to drive, great to sit in, and great to ogle, it's one of the best small cars in the business.|
Driving is what the 3 is all about, and Mazda stays true to their brand flavor. 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 3 is smooth and provides good road feedback. It strikes an excellent balance that never feels out of sorts, mushy, or harsh.
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 takes on curves like a champ. It's one of the best handling cars at this price.
The technology 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 a more vivid look, but the system is easy to read and menus are easy to navigate. We wish some of the audio icons were easier to decipher, but you'll figure them out after a few uses.
Controls: Physical knobs for audio and climate are very good, as well as simple steering wheel controls. The Commander knob in the center console is one of the best in the business and so easy to use while driving.
To some, the 3 sedan and hatchback look remarkably similar from certain angles, especially since the rear decklid of the sedan is very short. But the better of the two is the hatchback, because the longer greenhouse matches the long hood almost perfectly. It's more of a European shooting brake look than an American hatchback.
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.
Rear: The back end is nicely rounded with short rear glass. The taillights nicely taper toward the center, and the twin round pipes are an excellent touch.
Profile: It's hard to tell the sedan apart from the hatchback from the front 3/4 view, but the profile of the hatchback looks better proportioned.
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.
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 large pillars and short rear glass.
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's safety scores are near the top 2018. In crash tests, it does remarkably 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.
The 3 hatchback is bigger in back than its sedan brother, and the space is easy to access. We also like the interior storage options that are numerous though not huge.
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 5-door has 20 cubic feet of space with the seats up, and a big 47 cubes with the second row folded flat, which is bigger than the Chevy Cruze hatch and the Honda Civic hatch.
The 2.5-liter is definitely the more desirable of the two engines, and it still gets good gas mileage like its slightly more efficient 2.0-liter brother.
Observed: 28.4 mpg
Distance Driven: 116 miles
Driving Factors: We drove it in sport mode for the entire review, and we throttled it pretty hard. You'll get better numbers if your foot is lighter than ours. That being said, near 30 mpg is pretty good under these conditions.
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.