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When Mazda first introduced their compact ‘3’ to the market in 2003, they wanted to offer a suitable commuter with upscale features and sports car-like qualifications. Competing against the giant three: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, & Nissan Sentra; it was no surprise it became an underrated car that everyone nearly forgot existed. That methodology however has followed this compact sedan for over 15 years making it one of the top, most enjoyable compacts to buy. And now, as we roll into its 4th generation, Mazda has taken note from the more premium brands by offering a compact car that no longer competes with the traditional economy branded opponents.

To say the Mazda3 competes against the giants now would be like comparing a certain three-star badge to the bow-tie brand. Like a well-dressed Italian, we can’t help but admire the new Mazda3’s crisp, suave lines as we get drawn in with its coy design. With an upscale presence, there is LED lighting all around from the head-, tail-, daytime- and even indicator lights. Available in both four-door and five-door functionality, the hatchback featured in this article complements many Alfa Romeo influenced design elements that makes it one of the best looking compact cars on the market.

For the entry level Sedan, pricing starting at $21,000, whereas the Hatchback comes in at a mere $2600 premium. As sports car progressive, all-wheel drive is seen as a more prominent solution for increased handling and performance attributes, and it would appear Mazda was copied on that memo. Getting a new taste of premium land, the Mazda3, for the first time is now available with four moving wheels at an additional $1400.

The all-wheel drive tactic here is very unique compared to the system that is used throughout their SUV’s. Their SUV’s uses a system that evaluates the weather and steering to determine how to distribute power more effectively. The Mazda3 on the other hand uses a lot more variations that is continuously calculating vertical load at each wheel according to speed, steering, yaw-sensor data, and acceleration. The goal is to provide more power to the rear wheels when it deems necessary.


Incorporating all-wheel drive into this little compact makes for a bit of a distinctive system. Adding nearly 120-lbs to the overall weight dampers acceleration and overall performance. Dropping the 2.0-liter engine for this new generation, we’re left with the more optimistic naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Up by two more horsepower, this 186-horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque scurries to 60-mph in under 7.5-seconds. While performance is relatively enjoyable and cohesive for its given stature and substance, it feels as if there is something missing – that extra punch perhaps we’d get from something like the Volkswagen Golf. 

Mazda’s enthusiasm and extended amount of engineering into the Mazda3 is far more advance than any given compact out there. And this is where things start to go awry. By offering AWD, the Mazda3 is by far more capable at handling a curvy, mountain road and making them more enjoyable by having the ability and confidence to go hard and faster into corners – even more so if it had just rained. But what’s the point? The Mazda3 is adequately swift, but not quick. Acceleration is smooth and linear, but not theatrical. Even the six-speed automatic transmission is rained in for efficiency with its clunky and unforgiving ways. It prefers the concept of shifting early and refusal to downshift when we really need it just to save a few pennies at the pump even though we only averaged 24.6-mpg combined. Sure, sliding the drive mode into sport can alter its mapping, naturally – but that shouldn’t have to be the case when making a turn at any given junction. So what’s the point in an advance performance all-wheel drive system in a car that carries a mere satisfactory powertrain?

Mazda is also known for their extremely well responsive, handling vehicles and the Mazda3 lives up to that expectation with proper feedback and continuous road mitigation leaving the driver feeling every corner through their fingertips. However, due to the steering calibration, daily driving is ruined with heavily boosted electric steering that is too heavily weighted and makes it annoying to move around at low speeds. The suspension is tends to lean towards to firm side as it provides an uncomfortable settlement within the cabin – it’s almost like it forgot it was supposed to be a suspension when it woke up in the morning.


From behind the wheel, everything feels more upscale than it should. With the use of metals and piano black materials corresponded with black leather and soft touch points, the Mazda3 comes across as a very premium high-priced car. Focusing a lot of attention for the driver, most of the design has been contoured around being driver focus; with the large, high-definition infotainment system slanted towards the driver seat, the dual-zone climate control well within a controllable reach, to the active driving heads-up display as part of the standard premium package on our top trimmed Hatchback.

Unfortunately, it would appear they focused too much attention onto the driver’s cockpit and forgot about the rest. While the dashboard divulges a sleek, striking profile, the passenger side showcases almost a debauched 1980’s knock off with a tall, lanky approach joining the glove box and a bizarre plastic slot design with integrated air vents. The back seats is hardly acceptable for a compact sedan as even a Honda Civic Coupe is more comfortable to sit in than the Mazda3. With our tester featuring nearly every option available, the driver seat was power adjustable, but the passenger side was not. The driver seat now offers memory seating, but appears to be an afterthought as the buttons are behind the steering wheel, out of sight. And while heated seats are practically the new normal, the blank button covers where ventilated seats would go feels like a valued engineered cost cut to keep pricing down. Even though our sampler was $31,930.

There is no doubt that this new generation Mazda3 carries all the right fierce components to make it a prodigious carriage. The more refined way to go is to drop the all-wheel drive and automatic transmission for the six-speed manual and three-pedals – sadly, the downfall is that the manual is only available on the hatchback in premium package form only.


Starting Price: $23,600
As Tested: $31,930


Horsepower/Torque: 186-HORSEPOWER / 186 LB-FT TORQUE
Fuel Economy: EPA RATED: 24-CITY / 32-HWY / 27-COMBINED
Fuel Range: 280 MILES
0-60 MPH: ±7.5 SECONDS








  1. Sounds like Mazda hit the mark in certain areas, and missed it in others. Overall a nice looking little compact with performance aspirations might satisfy folks who want to get away from those “big 3” that you mentioned. Love that paint color, too.

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