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BY Sherrice Gilsbach | autoweek.com
Summary: Available as either a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback, the Mazda 3 is a small car that offers great fuel economy and fun design at a fair price.
What is it?
The Mazda 3 replaced the Mazda Protégé for the 2004 model year. The second generation debuted in 2010. Mazda offers it as either a four-door, like our tester, or a five-door. For 2012, the 2010 design was refreshed to incorporate Skyactiv fuel-efficiency technology.
Skyactiv for the Mazda 3 consists of a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 155 hp, a six-speed automatic transmission and front-fascia modifications for improved aerodynamics. The Skyactiv engine is 4.4 pounds lighter than its predecessor. More importantly, it has a higher compression ratio that allows it to get more power and torque out of the engine, while direct fuel injection lets the engine use less gas when making that power.
Pricing for the Mazda 3 starts around $15,000 and reaches up to $23,000 for top trim levels. The trims range from the base level i SV, which has a 148-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, to the range-topping s Grand Touring, with its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 167 hp.
Our tester was the middle-of-the-line i Touring trim, with the Skyactiv 2.0-liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission. Other standard features on our tester included 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, a six-speaker AM/FM stereo with CD player, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Fuel economy is impressive, with an EPA rating of 28 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. In our test, we found these estimates to be accurate.
What’s it like to live with?
Our test vehicle represents the middle of the road when it comes to available content on a Mazda 3. The Touring trim is third in the lineup of six trims, and we thought, if satellite radio were thrown in, our tester would be adequately equipped for its $20,345 price.
The exterior is sporty and the high-shine, deep-blue Indigo Lights paint job suggested a high-quality finish. We appreciated the gaping grille and the sleek headlights but found that the sharply angled A- and C-pillars block visibility in blind spots and areas near the front-left and right of the car.
Inside, the Mazda 3 offered cloth-covered seating in light-beige and a fairly basic — but not cheap-feeling — center console. Steering-wheel controls came in handy for setting cruise control and thumbing through audio options. We found the seating, while not luxurious, to be comfortable over long trips.
Leather seating and more high-end tech gadgetry are available on the Mazda 3 in higher trim levels — if you’re willing to pay a little more.
Once we settled in and hit the road, we felt the Mazda 3 could really benefit from more off-the-line power. Merging into fast-moving traffic can require great skill, as the car hesitates to jump from 35 mph to 70 mph. When we reached cruising speeds, the Mazda 3 handled well and was pleasant to drive. Some road noise was present on the freeway, requiring raised voices in order to communicate with back-seat passengers.
Where did we think the Mazda 3 was really impressive? Its fuel economy. On freeway commutes, we averaged 37 mpg or more and were grateful for the reduction in gas-station stops.
Who should consider this car?
Any buyer looking for a fair value will enjoy the Mazda 3. The pricing is fair, lease options are available to further cut monthly payments and fuel economy is budget-friendly.
What other cars should I consider?
The Mazda 3 competes with the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra in pricing, features and fuel economy. This is a popular vehicle segment full of solid options, which makes deciding on one difficult for a buyer. We think the sporty styling of the Mazda 3 and the availability of the five-door hatchback help the car stand out among the rest.
Base price: $20,345
As-tested price: $20,345
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower: 155 hp
Torque: 148 lb-ft
Fuel economy (city/hwy/combined): 28/40/33 mpg
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