Mazda 3 i models have acceptable power from a stop, with little difference between the manual and automatic transmission. SKYACTIV versions have more power. The s models are stronger overall, with manual-transmission versions feeling quicker than their automatic counterparts. Any s model has sufficient passing reserves. The automatic is smooth and responsive.
The MazdaSpeed is very quick.
In Consumer Guide testing, 3 i Sports with automatic transmission averaged 29.2-30.7 mpg with slightly more highway driving than city use. We have had no opportunity to measure fuel economy with a SKYACTIV version, but its EPA numbers are up over the regular i models' by 2-7 mpg. Manual-transmission 3 s models averaged 28.1-28.8 mpg with more highway driving than city use. Another manual-transmission 3 s averaged 21.0 mpg in mostly city driving. Our extended-use 3 s Grand Touring with automatic transmission averaged 26.1 mpg over the course of its 15,717-mile evaluation. A MazdaSpeed averaged 19.6 mpg in mostly city driving. Mazda 3 i and s models use regular-grade gas; the MazdaSpeed 3 requires premium.
Non-MazdaSpeed versions are among the best in class. These 3s exhibit near-premium levels of comfort and composure. Base i models have 16-inch wheels, which exhibit the best overall ride. The s versions have 17-inch wheels that don't absorb bumps quite as well, but the difference is negligible. MazdaSpeed is much tauter, but is livable.
The s models are also among the best in class, but i versions are no slouches either. Any 3 is confident, exhibiting little body lean, though i versions have more than s models. Steering feel is accurate and responsive, and the brakes have excellent pedal feel and control.
MazdaSpeed versions are among the best-handling front-drive cars available. Despite having more than 260 horsepower on tap, the Speed is able to minimize torque steer by modulating engine power and torque transfer. The system largely works, but we do notice a bit of wander in all-out acceleration.
Engine noise under full-throttle acceleration and some coarse-surface tire thrum are the biggest sources of ruckus. Wind noise is well suppressed. The hatchback's open cargo area generates a bit more resonance than the sedan. MazdaSpeed's low-profile tire racket and sporty exhaust note are tiring to some testers.
Audio and climate controls are simple to decipher and logically arranged. They're also completely separate from the optional navigation system, a plus. In all models, the gauges have two light settings for the instrument panel and major controls, which are governed by a button in the gauge cluster.
Textured and padded surfaces are found in most places where occupants are most likely to see and touch them. The cloth and leather upholstery look and feel nice for the class. Hard molded plastics are found on lower panels, but they don't look cheap.
No different than the previous-generation 3. The sedan's trunk is useful, with low liftover and sufficient height. The more-versatile hatchback includes a handy rear cargo organizer. The hatchback's liftgate rises high enough to clear the heads of taller folks. All 3s have 60/40 split rear seat backs that fold almost flat. Interior storage is decent, with a good-sized center console box, an average-sized glovebox, and door pockets.
VALUE WITHIN CLASS
It's little wonder why the Mazda 3 is the brand's best-selling car. It boasts a stable ride, solid cabin appointments, a versatile hatchback body style, and a fun-to-drive character unmatched by most like-priced rivals of any size. The raucous and powerful MazdaSpeed can be rewarding to drive. 3 is available with several unexpected features, including steering-linked headlights and dual-zone automatic climate control. For everything they offer, the the Mazda 3 i and s models are our Best Buy picks.