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2018 mazda Mazda3

Mazda's compact Mazda3 sedan has always been a rewarding driver's car. It stands out with Italianate styling and numerous technology options not typically found in entry-level vehicles. Factor in segment-leading fuel efficiency and a refined interior, and the new Mazda3 sedan makes a compelling case for best-in-class honors.

Those seeking a more spacious bodystyle can also opt for the Mazda3 hatchback.

Recent changes
For the latest model year, Mazda gave the 3 a redesign that brings updated styling, more tech features, and additional standard equipment.

Overview
After being stuck in the styling doldrums for decades, the compact segment has finally started to produce some lookers over the last few years - witness the tasteful Kia Forte and the curvaceous Hyundai Elantra. Even as the competition steps up its game, however, the Mazda3 sedan stands out with a look all its own.

Appearing more like a product of Modena than Hiroshima, the Mazda3 sedan blends a long hood with sinewy surface details, narrowed headlights and Mazda's bold five-point grille. As with the larger Mazda6, its A-pillar touchdown point - where the base of the windshield meets the hood - is farther rearward than the norm, creating balanced, rear-wheel-drive-like proportions.

Life aboard
Things are more businesslike but still stylish inside, where upmarket materials and optional high-tech extras foster the feeling of a more expensive vehicle. Passenger room is ample up front, while rear seat space is decent but not enormous by class standards.

Reflecting the sedan's driver-focused mission, the instrument cluster consists of a single analog gauge - a speedometer in base models in a tachometer in more overtly-sporty trims - flanked by a pair of small displays that provide supplemental information.

To help the driver to better keep his or her eyes on the road, the Mazda3 sedan can be optioned with an Active Driving Display system. A variation of the head-up systems typically found in luxury vehicles, it projects vehicle speed, navigation directions and other important info onto a pop-up screen behind the instrument cluster.

The optional navigation system features a tablet-style seven-inch screen that looks slightly aftermarket, but the display does integrate useful features such as the ability to read out emails and text messages along with Facebook and Twitter updates through a Bluetooth-connected smartphone. The setup also allows the driver to send reply text messages using short fixed phrases, and compatibility with internet apps like Aha radio are part of the package as well. All navigation and infotainment functions are controlled an iDrive-like rotary knob positioned on the center console, though redundant buttons on the steering wheel and dashboard give users alternate means of controlling the electronics.

Along with expected options like leather upholstery and a premium Bose stereo, buyers can also spec upscale goodies like radar-based cruise control, a forward-collision warning and prevention system, and adaptive headlights.

Powertrains and handling
The Mazda3 sedan was designed around Mazda's SKYACTIV engineering philosophy, which seeks to improve performance and efficiency - without adding significant cost - by optimizing existing technologies to decrease weight and improve aerodynamics.

As a result, the car knifes through the air with a drag coefficient as low as 0.255 Cd for certain models. Despite higher levels of safety and convenience equipment, curb weight is also down slightly compared to the previous model.

Entry-level Sport models are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 150 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, while the better-equipped 3s gets a more spirited 2.5-liter four with 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm.

A buttery-smooth six-speed manual comes standard, while a six-speed automatic is offered as an upgrade. Uniquely, the auto utilizes 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.

Fuel economy checks in at 28 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg in a combined cycle. These figures place the 3 near the top of its segment.

With sporty suspension tuning and precise, informative steering, the Mazda3 sedan is one of the best-handling rides in its competitive set. It also delivers an accommodating ride over potholed, maintenance-neglected roads.

G-Vectoring Control (GVC), an all-new, Mazda-exclusive technology, uses the engine in conjunction with the steering, throttle inputs and suspension to provide sharper chassis control.

Standard and optional equipment
Mazda offers the 3 in three trim levels named Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring, respectively.

The list of standard equipment includes steel wheels, cloth upholstery, floor mats, a 60/40-split rear seat, piano black trim, a three-spoke urethane steering wheel, a six-speaker sound system, Bluetooth connectivity, a seven-inch touch screen that runs Mazda's infotainment system, and remote keyless entry.

Buyers have several option packages to choose from. Offered on the Sport, the preferred equipment package adds features like alloy wheels, heated mirrors, blind spot monitoring, automatic headlights, chrome-look trim, and sport seats.

The Bose/moonroof/satellite radio package adds -- you guessed it -- a nine-speaker surround sound system, SiriusXM satellite radio, and a moonroof. Easy, right?

Finally, the premium equipment package for the Grand Touring bundles adaptive headlights, navigation, a Homelink transceiver, a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, and traffic sign recognition, among other features.

Occupant safety
All Mazda3 sedan models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.

Key competitors
The Mazda3 sedan is aimed at the best the compact segment has to offer, namely the well-rounded Chevrolet Cruze, the popular Toyota Corolla and the high-tech Honda Civic Sedan.