The Mazda3 burst onto the scene a few years ago to critical acclaim. The following generation was popular and praised also. The third iteration arrived last year with less fanfare than most new cars, but probably deserves more attention than it has been getting.
The new 3 has not strayed from its fundamental principles of spirited driving and value. Many people might wonder if small cars have to be boring or flimsy, and Mazda has clearly found the answer: Never.
This iteration of the 3 comes in sedan and hatchback body styles and both come in three trim levels identical to the CX-5: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. I drove a Touring sedan that rang in at a hefty $25,695, but with a $1,000 dealer discount written in fluorescent orange on the windshield, bringing the car just within the $25,000 price cap.
Standard equipment at this price includes keyless entry and push-button start, 18 inch alloy wheels, heated “leatherette” seats, an “active driving display” (more on that later), and navigation among many others. Lesser models will come with smaller, less dynamic wheels, no navigation, cloth seats, etc. This model seemed loaded, but there is still a Grand Touring trim above this one that includes additional equipment. The little 3 I drove seemed to have everything most young people would be interested in regarding technology.
On the outside, the 3 has a sporty look, but with sufficient refinement to not feel too immature. The hatchback is arguably more handsome in profile, but the sedan is hardly an eyesore. The large alloy wheels and gray paint of my sedan tester worked really well, and would definitely set this car apart in a sea of other compacts.
The refined look and feel of the exterior translated to the interior, where all controls felt high quality and logical. The knob and control buttons on the center console, which control the navigation and stereo, were especially nice to feel and use, and operating the functions on the center screen was reasonably intuitive. As an added convenience, you can also touch the screen to control the systems if the knob seems cumbersome (but it won’t—it’s a nice setup).
Driving the 3 was easy and fun. The 184 horsepower four-cylinder engine is peppy and smooth, and the transmission’s manual mode and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters make the drive more engaging if anyone feels inclined to liven things up. Sight lines are clear, and the steering is direct and easy to anticipate. The new 3 will not break land speed records, but this car clearly provides the “zoom zoom” of the compact segment.
The “active driving display” offered on the Touring model is a small piece of glass that raises up and rests just above the instrument cluster at startup. The car’s current speed or navigation directions are projected onto the glass so that drivers never have to direct their eyes too far off the road to access essential information. It isn’t a selling feature that will steal away stalwart fans of Corollas and Civics, but it adds to the impressive list of features the 3 has that enhance driving. A blind spot warning system also adds to the safe operation of the 3 that other cars in this price range might not have.
It’s at the top end of the budget, but the 3 is clearly a noteworthy competitor in the packed area of vehicles around this price. If money is the holdup, the salesman also mentioned an additional $500 discount for college grads through a Mazda sponsored program, which could make that MSRP a little easier to swallow and make all the difference. The high end features and nice design (especially the interior, which echoes elements of current Audi cockpits) make for a compelling choice amid seas of more bland options.
Also available in hatchback form.