Mazda3: Fun-to-drive and affordable.
Small cars have been taking it on the chin these past few years as the market continues to shift to crossovers. Mazda is well represented in the SUV market with three distinct models in the subcompact, compact and midsize range.
Yet, this automaker hasn’t abandoned cars and shows no signs of doing so. Indeed, the delicious MX-5 Miata roadster/convertible is nearly new, while the handsome midsize Mazda 6 is refreshed for 2018. That leaves the compact Mazda3, available in two body styles: a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback.
2018 Mazda3 Sedan and Hatchback
Mazda offers it sedan/hatchback model in three trims: Sport ($18,970/$20,220), Touring ($20,965/$21,715) and Grand Touring ($24,020/$24,770). Prices include an $875 destination fee. Add $1,050 for an automatic transmission.
My test model was a Mazda3 Grand Touring hatchback. The sticker price came in at $27,920. At this trim, you have eight colors to choose from. Mine was an attractive Snowflake White Pearl Mica, costing $200. Two other paints incur an extra charge as well: Soul Red Metallic and Machine Gray Metallic ($300). Although I’m not especially a fan of white paint, I like how it looks on this hatchback. Besides, it helped make my photos look great!
Other significant upgrades included the automatic transmission and the Grand Touring Premium Equipment Package — bringing in high beam control, lane departure warning system, lane-keep assist, radar cruise control, smart brake support, and traffic sign recognition.
Engines and Transmissions
Not every manufacturer offers multiple engine and transmission choices in this segment. Count Mazda among those that do.
The standard engine comes with the Sport model only: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, generating 155 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 150 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 RPM. Touring and Grand Touring models are motivated by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, making 184 horsepower at 5,700 RPM and 185 pound-feet of torque at 3,250 RPM. Yes, both engines bang out more power than certain equivalent models, thanks to the “SKYACTIV” technology, which supplies higher compression ratios and other advantages.
Credit Mazda with sticking with manual transmissions when so many manufacturers have dropped them or make them available on the base trim only. The front-wheel drive Mazda3 comes with a six-speed gearbox across the product line or a six-speed automatic transmission. Sadly, my tester came with the automatic and paddle shifters, but I managed somehow….
With three trims to choose from and a handful of packages, there are several ways to build your Mazda3. However, take note of the base Sport trim and all that it has to offer. Indeed, this model comes equipped, not stripped.
I’ve seen far more expensive car with standard features that aren’t much better than what the Mazda3 offers and that’s a credit to Mazda. Indeed, one of the standout features of this vehicle is its standard 16-inch alloy wheels. Again, that’s alloy — not steel wheels. And that’s an important consideration when shopping for a new car. The base or Sport trim also comes equipped with halogen headlights, daytime running lights, power-folding side mirrors and dual exhaust tips.
Inside, you’ll find power windows and door locks, a tilt-and-telescopic steering column, push-button start, cruise control, cloth seats, air conditioning and a seven-inch color touchscreen display. That display is part of the MAZDA CONNECT infotainment system with a six-speaker audio package, HD Radio, two USB inputs, an auxiliary audio jack and such apps as Pandora, Stitcher and Aha.
The Sport is also the only model with the base 2.0-liter engine. On the safety front, you’ll find a rearview mirror and low-speed brake support. An available Appearance Package ($1,750) brings in an aero kit with a brilliant black front air dam, side sills, door mirror caps and a rear diffuser.
The main upgrade at the Touring level is the 2.5-liter engine. You’ll also find automatic headlights, heated side mirrors and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Inside, Mazda adds keyless entry, a six-way power driver’s seat with manual lumbar support, imitation leather seats, dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and heated front seats. Among safety items, the Touring adds blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
Besides the available Appearance Package, Mazda offers a Bose/Moonroof/Satellite Radio Package ($1,500) featuring, you guessed it, a nine-speaker audio system with a power moonroof and satellite radio.
3. Grand Touring
The top-of-the-line Grand Touring model adds numerous high-end features, including Bi-LED headlights with automatic leveling, LED daytime running lights, LED fog lights, LED combination lamps and a shark fin antenna.
Mazda also adds all the items from the Bose/Moonroof/Satellite Radio Package, brings in an analog tachometer and speedometer along with perforated leather-trimmed seats.
Besides the Appearance Package, a Premium Equipment Package ($1,600) adds such items as high beam control, adaptive front lighting, a heated steering wheel, paddle shifters and navigation. You’ll also find a host of driver-assist features, including lane departure warning, lane keep assist, radar cruise control, brake support and traffic sign recognition.
On the Road
The Mazda3 has a reputation for being a driver’s car. That reputation was evident throughout my week with this little cruiser.
Personally, I’ve always preferred larger rear-wheel drive vehicles to take on my many romps through the central North Carolina countryside. Cars like the Ford Mustang, Jaguar F-TYPE and the BMW 4 Series have provided much enjoyment down through the years. That said, size matters when it comes to fun and several small cars such as the Subaru WRX, Volkswagen Golf R and the Ford Focus RS have also been a blast to drive.
Still, all three are all-wheel-drive models and pricey ones too. Where can you get an inexpensive, yet fun-to-drive front-wheel-drive model? From Mazda, of course.
The Mazda3, especially in hatchback guise looks like a road maven with its tightly pulled together layout. And especially so from the rear where its “almost” fastback design hints at great things to come.
What I like best about the Mazda3 (or at least with my test model), is that this hot hatchback never fails to impress. The only drawback was my test model came with the automatic transmission. I cannot supply an honest assessment of how the manual operates (i.e., shifting, clutch uptake and the like). But I will say the 3 offers ample power, weighty steering and superior handling.
The twisty (and in places hilly) back roads about 50 miles south of me is where I put the Mazda3 through the paces. The chassis is firm and that promotes drivability, especially as you enter every curve and pull out again. The Mazda carves curves with precision; you won’t find yourself fighting with the steering wheel nor braking in an effort to maintain control. Give yourself some freedom by shifting into manual mode and fingering the paddle shifters. Take note of the engine throttle and find your sweet spot as you shift to your heart’s content. The Mazda complies, sending feedback through the steering wheel and to your hands.
Who said inexpensive transportation has to be boring? Not Mazda. And certainly not with the Mazda3. If pricing is a big concern to you, a sub-$20,000 ride is within reach. Usually, I recommend shoppers avoid the base trim, but in this case the Sport model comes with many amenities shoppers prize.
Still, my pick here is the Touring edition for the simple reason it has the most powerful engine. Combine a solid chassis with handsome looks, a potent engine and your choice of transmissions, and you’ll come away with a compact model that aces the fun factor.
See Also — Update by Halves: 2017.5 Mazda 6
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