The Mazda3, sedan and hatchback, has become a bestseller for good reasons. Good looks and superb driving dynamics make it a compelling front-wheel-drive compact.
The 2017 Mazda3 gets a handful of improvements that should make it even more competitive against rivals like the Volkswagen Golf, Honda Civic and Ford Focus.
The styling is freshened for 2017 with a new nose and hatchback tail, and the interior gets a slight once-over, including more sound insulation. Mechanically, there’s a new engine management system called G-Vectoring Control that modulates torque to the front wheels based on steering input, to reduce body roll and improve directional stability.
Base engine is a 2.0-liter four cylinder making 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. Higher models get a 2.5-liter making 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet. The engines are mated to either a 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission that makes the most of the power.
The Mazda3 was named Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS.
Fuel mileage for both engines is outstanding, rated by the EPA at 28/37 miles per gallon City/Highway, or 32 mpg Combined for the 2.0-liter engine with automatic, about the same for the 2.5-liter. Both engines have high compression ratios, but don’t require premium fuel like many other small cars with high-compression engines, Subaru to name one.
All-wheel drive is not available for Mazda3, however.
The 2017 Mazda3 comes in a choice of sedan and hatchback body styles in Sport ($17,845), Touring ($20,045), and Grand Touring ($22,545) models. A 155-hp 2.0-liter engine is standard, a 184-hp 2.5-liter is optional, with a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, all front-wheel drive.
Mazda3 Sport is equipped with air conditioning, cloth upholstery, rearview camera, Bluetooth, keyless ignition, steering-wheel audio controls, internet radio, 7.0-inch touchscreen, 16-inch wheels.
Optional safety equipment includes active lane control and automatic headlights.
The Mazda3 is distinctive on the road, for its cab-back design, its long hood making it look like an expensive car, along with the raked windshield, sweeping roofline and high tail, all maintaining the sleek, athletic shape of the hatchback. The shoulder line rises and meets pointy taillamps on a rounded hatch. The sedan looks more like a rear-wheel-drive car, than front-wheel drive.
The fascia is lower for 2017, and the pushed-up grille draws the eyes. The foglamps and signal lamps are smaller. At the rear, a new bumper gets rid of cladding around the tailpipe.
The material in the flimsy headliner and plastic door inserts looks like it came from the bargain bin, but the rest of the cabin materials shine.
The front seats are supportive and comfortable, among the best in the class, with lower cushions for longer legs. Cloth, upgraded cloth, leatherette (vinyl), and leather are available. The perforated leather in the Grand Touring is luxury level. Mazda recently redesigned the seatbacks for a more natural sitting position and more lateral support. We think it’s comparable in comfort to its competitors.
There’s 35.8 inches of rear legroom, not much. Rear-seat passengers might be cramped.
The cockpit is focused on the driver, as the controls on the instrument panel are arranged symmetrically around the driver. An available head-up display completes the efficiency for the driver. We like the electronic emergency brake.
There’s a lot of content for the price, especially the touchscreen, so maybe it’s asking too much for that content to be really good, in particular the infotainment. Mazda needs to run down to the Apple store and catch up on stuff.
The sedan offers 12.4 cubic feet of cargo space in its trunk, which gets laughed at by the hatchback’s 20.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat. It folds down to create 47.1 cubic feet of cargo space, about the same as the Chevy Cruze hatchback. It’s small SUV territory.
The standard 2.0-liter engine is reasonably perky, with a consistent and linear throttle pedal, but it has a high torque curve (max torque 150 lb-ft), so the power doesn’t come on strong until 4000 rpm.
The power in the 2.5-liter is more available at lower rpm, while the torque max is 185 lb-ft. The 2.5 liter never gets caught flat-footed. Literally, as throttle pedal is hinged at the bottom like the pedals of an organ (or a Mercedes-Benz).
A 6-speed manual gearbox comes standard with either engine. It snicks neatly and precisely between gears, and the clutch take-up is easy and clean. We also like the 2.5-liter engine with 6-speed automatic transmission because it shifts with paddles, and with the decisiveness of a dual-clutch transmission.
The ride is a bit busier than most compact cars, and a bit harsh. We’ve found it’s smoother with the standard 16-inch wheels and tires.
The electric power steering, like other steer-by-wire systems, does not enhance dynamic driving due to its lack of feedback to driver, and the electro-hydraulic system in the previous generation was better in that regard. The new system offers a strong sense of center at lower speeds and out of corners, but it doesn’t do well on oddly crowned roads, and it doesn’t track all that well at highway speeds, calling for frequent small adjustments to keep the car straight. (Some of that could be due to tires.)
We might argue that you can get more car for your money with a Mazda3 than just about anything. Functionality and reliability top the list that importantly includes style, comfort, economy and safety. Translated, that’s a quick 2.5-liter four-cylinder hatchback that brings home 30 mpg, attached to a 6-speed automatic transmission as sharp as a dual clutch, and wrapped in a super-stylish shape, especially in white.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.