There's a reason for the Toyota Corolla's enduring popularity. It didn't get to be the best-selling car in history without delivering exactly what buyers need: affordability, economy and reliability. For many consumer, there's little reason to look elsewhere for daily transportation.
The Mazda Mazda3 has been on the market barely a decade, so there's no rock-solid reputation to fall back on. But with its spirited driving characteristics, does it really need one in order to woo buyers?
Where Corolla Excels
The Toyota is a quiet, smooth performer that's roomy for its class and screwed together well. Words like nice and dependable come immediately to mind, and who could take issue with that? Parents can feel safe sending their kids off to college in a Corolla, and its easy drivability makes it a natural choice for the average commuter.
All models carry a 132-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder matched to a five-speed stick or four-speed automatic. Options are plentiful in the upper trim levels, and even the base model comes with standard power windows, locks and mirrors.
The Mazda's Approach
The sprightly Mazda3 carries out the brand's mission to provide some fun for the driver in all of its models. Horsepower starts out at a healthy 148, and goes up to 167 in upper-trim models. Firm suspension tuning and communicative steering provide athletic handling that's easy to appreciate in everyday driving.
Mazda deploys quality materials throughout the interior, so there's little evidence you're riding in an economy car. Buyers with things to carry can opt for a rather attractive hatchback variant.
What Matters Most?
Everyone knows by now that the Corolla is a stellar commuter car. It delivers economical transportation exactly as promised and is hospitable enough to live with for years.
The Mazda3 is one of the few econo-sedans that offer engaging road manners combined with a civilized environment inside. It trails the Corolla in ride comfort, but pays you back in the form of sweeter handling.
Our Verdict: Mazda Mazda 3
Although it's not likely to catch the Corolla in sales, the Mazda3 impresses us with its sporting nature and genuine fun factor.