The Mazda 3 is a premium car in a compact package. It's an affordable car that offers a pleasant interior environment, sporty handling, and useful space. Completely redesigned for 2010, the Mazda3 carries over into the 2011 model year with no significant changes.
Mazda3 comes as a four-door sedan or four-door hatchback.
The 2011 Mazda3 adds rain-sensing wipers, auto on/off headlights, bi-xenon headlights with auto-leveling, Adaptive Front lighting System, and LED rear combination lights to the Technology Package.
The Mazda3 is practical, with useful small items storage up front, as well as plenty of room for the front passengers. The back seat will fit two adults fairly comfortably, provided the front occupants aren't too tall. In both the sedan and hatchback, the rear seats fold 60/40 to create a mostly flat load floor. Flip the back seats down in the hatchback and you'll have lots of cargo room. With its sportier character, better looks, and more useful interior space, the hatch is our choice between the two body styles.
The Mazda 3 features a first-class cabin loaded with convenience features. Higher line models get a Multi-Information Display below the windshield that houses readouts for the vehicle information center, climate system, radio presets, and even the available navigation system. A unique cluster of buttons on the steering wheel controls these functions. The readouts are easy to see and the steering wheel controls work intuitively. The other controls are mounted high on the dash's center stack, and are also easy to see and use.
On the road, the Mazda 3 feels firm and composed, with moderate lean in turns. The steering is sharp and precise, and the brakes provide a linear pedal feel. The suspension deals well with most bumps, though large ruts can pound through with the available 17-inch wheels.
Two engines are offered. Mazda 3i models come with a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder that achieves an EPA-estimated 25/33 mpg City/Highway. We found it provides adequate power for most needs. Mazda 3s models offer a sportier driving experience with the more powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which delivers 167 horsepower and is available with a smooth-shifting 6-speed manual transmission or a 5-speed automatic with manual shift capability.
The Mazda 3 is an attractive car, assuming you can get past that big smile. Mazda says the grille design helps the Mazda3 slip through the air better while taking in sufficient air to cool the engine. Mazda says the bold grille is purposely polarizing to separate the Mazda3 from impassive competitors.
The grille is flanked by a pair of angled headlights that wrap around to the sides. Bi-xenon headlights are available with the Adaptive Front-lighting System, meaning they point into turns as the steering wheel is turned. It's a useful safety feature on dark country roads, helping the driver negotiate narrow roads and helping the driver spot pedestrians. Fog lights are found in prominent flared pods that fill out the front end and also help improve aerodynamics.
The headlights come to a point around the side of the car, where they meet up with prominent front wheel flares that surround 16 or 17-inch wheels. The base car gets steel wheels, while highline models have attractive alloy wheels. The fender flares direct the eye to a rising beltline that starts at the front of the door, bisects the door handles, and leads all the way to the taillights. This line has a stronger wedge shape on the hatchback. On both body styles, another character line is found just above the rocker panel, and it rises as it moves toward the rear wheel. Like the outgoing model, the hatchback features triangular rear side windows and a rear roof spoiler.
At the rear, the sedan has a rear lip spoiler. The hatchback features a five-pointed rear window that reflects the shape of the grille. The taillights wrap around the side of the car on both body styles. LED rear combination taillights are available. Mazda 3i models have single exhaust and s models have dual exhaust with bright tips.
Mazda3 is based on a premium Volvo-sourced platform. This structure was further developed beginning with 2010 models to make it lighter and stiffer. This was accomplished by using more high-tensile strength steel and thicker steel in key locations, adding gussets to areas such as the suspension mounting points, and employing a technique called weld-bonding to strengthen areas such as the door apertures. Weld bonding, which combines spot welding with the use of structural adhesive, enhances the unibody's flex resistance. The result is an even better handling car beginning with the 2010 models.
Much of the Mazda 3 appeal is the interior, which is first-class for a vehicle of this size and price. Mazda completely redesigned the cockpit for 2010, taking an approach based on human-machine interface studies that places controls and readouts in two key zones.
Controls most frequently used, including the radio and climate dials and buttons, are placed high on the center stack, where they can be most easily accessed. Readouts for the vehicle information center, climate system, radio presets, and even the available navigation system are found in a Multi-Information Display that is located just under the windshield. Mazda says it chose this location because it is very close to the driver's line of sight, making it easier and safer to check those readouts. Note that only s models have the Multi-Information Display.
The readouts in this display are controlled by a small grouping of six buttons on the right side of the steering wheel. It's a unique approach, but it works well. The buttons are set right by your right thumb and you don't have to look far from the road to see the readouts. When the navigation system is ordered, the screen is quite small, making it harder to read than most others, which are usually mounted on the center stack.
The look and feel of the dash would be appropriate in an entry-level luxury car. The dash is made of a nicely grained soft-touch material, the plastics that are used are sturdy and attractive, and s Sport and Grand Touring models get electroluminescent gauges with red numbers on a black background. Plus, the Mazda3 is offered with several features you'd expect in a much higher priced car. The goodies include a thumping Bose Centerpoint surround sound system with 10 speakers, leather upholstery, driver's seat memory, heated front seats, automatic climate control, push-button starting, and Bluetooth cell phone connectivity. That's premium equipment at compact car prices.
Small items storage is plentiful, with a nicely sized center console bin, an average-size glovebox, and two cupholders behind the shifter.
The front seat has plenty of head and leg room, and the s model's sport seats provide good support in turns. The rear seat has enough space for adults provided those up front aren't too tall. Those seats fold 60/40 to create a mostly flat load floor.
In the sedan, the trunk has 11.8 cubic feet of space. The hatchback has 17 cubic feet of space, and that can be expanded considerably with the seats down. Given the hatchback's sportier character, better looks, and more useful interior space, it's our choice between the two body styles.
The Mazda 3 is a fine handling vehicle. The feel is firm and composed, with moderate lean in turns. The steering is sharp and precise, and the driver feels connected to the road.
The suspension on the base models deals well with most bumps. Larger ruts, however, can feel harsh, especially with the s model's 17-inch wheels.
The brakes on both models have a linear pedal feel. The Mazda 3s has larger brakes and we prefer the additional confidence of larger binders.
The Mazda 3i model's 2.0-liter engine produces 148 horsepower, which will be adequate for most needs. Drivers can get the most out of this engine with the standard manual transmission. With the flexibility of five gears, the optional 5-speed automatic transmission works well with the 2.0-liter engine.
Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 25 mpg City/33 mpg Highway with the manual and 24/33 mpg with the automatic.
The Mazda 3s features a larger, more powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, also used in the Mazda 6, rated at 167 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. This engine delivers the type of power we expected in performance hot hatches just a few years ago. That's not to say it's a powerhouse, but it does provide the type of grunt that makes it fun on twisty mountain roads. Thanks to dual balance shafts, it's smooth, too, and fuel economy is pretty darn good at 22/29 mpg with the automatic and 21/29 mpg with the manual.
Drivers will have the most fun with the 6-speed manual transmission. The shifter isn't as tight or as precise as in the wonderful MX-5, but it is easy to shift, with relatively short throws and a natural clutch feel. Those who choose the 5-speed automatic get a manual shift mode, but no steering wheel paddles.
The Mazda3 is an attractive, premium small car at a reasonable price. Recently redesigned, it boasts a strong structure for good handling. The Mazda 3 costs more than its direct competitors, but it offers a sportier character and amenities normally reserved for luxury cars. We like the hatch for its sportiness and the utility and cargo space it offers. If you're looking for a compact, be sure to include the Mazda3 on your shopping list.
Kirk Bell filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com.
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|Build & Price|
2013 Mazda Mazda3$13,888 | 35,613 mi
2013 Mazda Mazda3$13,990 | 44,630 mi
2013 Mazda Mazda3$13,997 | 38,165 mi
2013 Mazda Mazda3$14,500 | 30,124 mi
2013 Mazda Mazda3$14,911 | 36,999 mi
2013 Mazda Mazda3$14,977 | 36,372 mi
2013 MAZDA MAZDA3$15,555 | 15,278 mi
2013 Mazda Mazda3$15,795 | 34,986 mi
2013 Mazda Mazda3$16,995 | 37,347 mi
2013 Mazda Mazda3$17,988 | 14,727 mi
2012 Mazda Mazda3$13,995 | 39,425 mi
2012 Mazda Mazda3$14,201 | 26,937 mi
2012 MAZDA MAZDA3$14,994 | 24,347 mi
2012 Mazda Mazda3$15,495 | 18,598 mi
2012 Mazda Mazda3$17,401 | 36,113 mi
2011 Mazda Mazda3$13,899 | 61,953 mi
2011 Mazda Mazda3$14,685 | 49,374 mi
2011 MAZDA MAZDA3$14,995 | 12,103 mi
2011 Mazda Mazda3$14,997 | 32,614 mi
2011 Mazda Mazda3$15,491 | 28,403 mi
2011 Mazda Mazda3$15,495 | 37,916 mi
2010 Mazda Mazda3$13,401 | 25,057 mi
2010 Mazda Mazda3$13,999 | 45,251 mi
2010 Mazda Mazda3$15,994 | 22,863 mi
2008 Mazda Mazda3$8,725 | 109,871 mi
2008 MAZDA MAZDA3$10,995 | 116,555 mi
2007 Mazda Mazda3$8,950 | 113,006 mi
2006 Mazda Mazda3$5,996 | 139,087 mi