The stylish, fun-to-drive Mazda3 has always been a hidden gem. But after years of playing second fiddle to stars such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, the all-new 2014 Mazda3 is finally ready to take center stage. If you think economy cars force you to compromise, the new 3 will make you think again. Here are five reasons why the 2014 Mazda3 should be your number one.

Frugal Yet Frisky

Looking to save money on gas? How's 41 miles per gallon strike you? Whether you get the 6-speed automatic or the sporty 6-speed manual, the Mazda3 delivers fuel economy of up to 41 mpg hwy with the 2-liter engine. Believe it or not, this little motor packs a punch, too: If you wind it out to redline, it's strong and smooth all the way. For those who want even more power, the 2.5-liter engine is nearly as frugal, yielding up to 39 mpg.

Premium Interior

Compact cars aren't supposed to be upscale, but the Mazda3's cabin breaks the mold. The dashboard materials are first-rate, and the sleek gauges and controls wouldn't look out-of-place in a BMW. That goes for the steering wheel, too, which is both attractive and sporty. Not bad for a so-called economy car.

Impressive Technology

Most Mazda3s come standard with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, but that's expected these days. What's unexpected is the available 7-inch touchscreen display, which also comes with a classy control dial behind the shifter. It reminds us of Audi's MMI setup. Indeed, the volume knob next to that control dial is right out of Audi's playbook. You can also get adaptive cruise control and even a 9-speaker Bose audio system.

Two Body Styles

Although most rivals are sold only as sedans, the 3 comes as either a sedan or a versatile hatchback. Although the hatchback costs more, it can haul 47 cu ft of stuff, which is more than three times the sedan's trunk capacity. But the sedan looks better than ever, and its lower price may seal the deal. Either way, it's nice that Mazda lets you choose.

Engaging Handling

Who says compact cars have to drive like appliances? Not Mazda, that's for sure. The 3 is so capable and responsive, it's like having an economy car and a sports car in one. In fact, it feels a little like a pint-sized BMW 3 Series. Once you get behind the Mazda3's wheel, you can't help but notice the cool, confident way it goes down the road.

AutoTrader Says

Is the 2014 Mazda3 the best economy car money can buy? With all those improvements on tap, it's definitely in the conversation. You have to try Mazda's stylish new star for yourself.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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