The Mazda3 lineup, which includes a sedan and a hatchback, was designed to compete with segment stalwarts like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus. While it has always been a rewarding driver's car, a recent refresh brought a host of mechanical updates that give it world-class fuel efficiency, too.
The most significant change to the Mazda3 was the addition of a midgrade 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor that represents the first application of the Mazda's curiously named but effective SKYACTIV technology. SKYACTIV comprises a host of power and efficiency aiding tactics including a new four-to-one exhaust header system, redesigned piston cavities, multiport fuel injectors, a sky-high 13:1 compression ratios and reduced-friction internals.
The result of all that tech is 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, but most buyers will likely be more interested in the impressive fuel economy figures: SKYACTIV-equipped cars return 40 highway miles per gallon (along with 28 mpg in the city) with a six-speed automatic transmission. Six-speed manual-equipped cars return slightly lower 27/39 mpg figures.
The automatic gearbox of the SKYACTIV-equipped car was also new, utilizing a torque converter for smooth launches and low-speed maneuvers along with a multi-plate clutch for speedy shifts at higher velocities while also providing perfectly rev-matched downshifts.
Other changes recent changes include a redesigned front fascia that mitigates (but doesn't eliminate) the oft-criticized grinning grille of the outgoing car. Skyactiv models get a subtle set of blue accent rings around the headlamps, engine cover and unique badging. Mazda also took the little sedan to the wind tunnel and trimed the drag coefficient down to a slippery 0.27.
The interior hasn't evolved much, meaning that it still utilizes a wrap-around dash top that contains radio and climate control information as well as a small optional navigation screen, while materials and fit and finish are in the top half of the class.
Carryover engines include an entry-level 2.0-liter four that delivers 148 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 135 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. Mated either to a standard five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic, the motor returns 33 highway mpg and 25 mpg in the city (the stick only manages 24 mpg in city driving). The top-level mill is a 2.5-liter four makes 167 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 168 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm but slurps fuel at the rate of 20/28 mpg for the standard six-speed manual or 22/29 mpg for the optional six-speed automatic.
Comprehensive Equipment List By Trim Level
The Mazda3 sedan comes in five trim levels: Mazda3 i SV, Mazda3 i Sport, Mazda3 i Touring, Mazda3 i Grand Touring and Mazda3 s Grand Touring.
The entry-level Mazda3 i SV comes equipped with the 2.0-liter engine, power side mirrors and windows, a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and iPod input jack, cloth seats and 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps.
The Mazda3 i Sport adds air conditioning, remote keyless entry and power door locks.
The Mazda3 i Touring is fitted with the SKYACTIV engine and brings 16-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, two additional speakers for the sound system, steering-wheel mounted audio and cruise control buttons and Silver interior dash and door handle trim.
The Mazda 3 i Grand Touring makes the six-speed automatic transmission standard and also nets a moonroof, a Bose Surround Sound audio system, heated and leather-trimmed seats (power-adjustable in the driver's case) and leather door-panel inserts, a navigation system, a keyless entry and start system as well as heated side mirrors.
The range-topping Mazda3 s Grand Touring comes equipped with the 2.5-liter engine (with a 6-speed manual as standard) and adds 17-inch alloy wheels, halogen fog lamps, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual exhaust with chrome tips, a multi-information display and a rear spoiler.
Options are limited to dealer-installed items like a wing spoiler and, on the Grand Touring, a Technology package that includes self-leveling, adaptive bi-xenon headlights with an auto on/off feature, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a Blind Spot Monitoring system, Sirius XM Satellite Radio and an anti-theft system.
Regardless of trim level, the Mazda3 sedan comes equipped with dual front, side and side curtain airbags to go with traction and stability control systems and, of course, ABS.
Car shoppers looking at the Mazda3 will likely be interested in sporty handling, in which case the Ford Focus is a strong competitor. If fuel efficiency is a priority, all Hyunda Elantra models are rated at 40 MPG on the highway, while the Nissan Sentra provides a choice for price-conscious buyers.