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2015 Mazda3: New Car Review

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author photo by Autotrader December 2014

If you're looking for fuel efficiency in a small package but want to avoid the bare-bones look and feel of such a car, we'd like to direct your attention to the 2015 Mazda3. Not only does it offer upscale features such as leather, a navigation system and heated seats, but you can even get high-end luxuries such as a radar-based adaptive cruise control system that slows you down and speeds you up depending on the speed of traffic.

The Mazda3 is a lot of fun to drive, too. Its acceleration is excellent, especially with the optional 2.5-liter engine. The real fun comes in turning corners, where the Mazda3 boasts some of the best driving prowess around.

What's New for 2015?

The big news for 2015 is the addition of a manual transmission choice with the larger 2.5-liter engine on the GT trim, and a few more standard features are added to trims this year.

What We Like

Handsome styling; great performance; upscale luxuries; attractive pricing; excellent fuel economy

What We Don't

Slightly sluggish with the 2.0-liter engine; free standing infotainment screen looks a little cheap; infotainment interface can be slow and somewhat confusing

How Much?

$17,765-$32,000

Fuel Economy

The Mazda3 offers two engines. The base-level Mazda3i uses a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, which can be mated to a 6-speed manual or an optional 6-speed automatic. Gas mileage with the manual is 29 miles per gallon in the city and 41 mpg on the highway (29 mpg city/40 mpg hwy for the hatchback), while the automatic transmission boasts 30 mpg city/41 mpg hwy (30 mpg city/40 mpg hwy for the hatchback).

Opt for the 185-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, and you'll get improved acceleration without much of a gas-mileage penalty. Fuel economy for the larger engine is 28 mpg city/39 mpg hwy for the sedan or 24 mpg city/37 mpg hwy with the manual transmission. Pick the hatchback and mileage numbers drop to 27 mpg city/37 mpg hwy with the automatic or 26 mpg city/35 mpg hwy with the manual. Models equipped with the i-ELOOP regenerative braking system attain 29 mpg city/40 mpg hwy for the sedan and 28 mpg city/39 mpg hwy for the hatchback.

Standard Features & Options

The Mazda3 is offered in four trim levels. Base-level SV models are only available as sedans, while the Sport, Touring and Grand Touring are available on sedan or hatchback body styles. Shoppers also have the choice between two engines: Mazda3i models use the 2.0-liter, while the Mazda3s models use the 2.5. The Mazda3s is confined to Touring and Grand Touring trims.

The base-level, sedan-only Mazda3i SV ($17,765) includes push-button start, power locks, power mirrors, power windows, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, 16-inch steel wheels, a folding rear seat and a stereo with USB integration and an auxiliary jack.

Step up to the Mazda3i Sport ($19,265 for the sedan; $19,765 for the hatchback) and you get a few more luxuries. Such items include cruise control, Bluetooth, Mazda Connect and Bluetooth Audio, a split-folding rear seat and a CD player.

Above the Sport is the Mazda3i Touring ($20,415 for the sedan; $20,915 for the hatchback). The Touring model adds alloy wheels, a rearview camera, halogen fog lights, advanced keyless entry and start, a blind spot warning system, a rear cross-traffic alert system and heated side mirrors.

Choose the Mazda3i Grand Touring ($23,565 for the sedan; $24,065 for the hatchback), and you'll get heated front seats with premium vinyl upholstery, a power driver's seat and a rearview camera.

If you want the larger engine, there are two options. The Mazda3s Touring ($24,665 for the sedan; $25,165 for the hatchback) is equipped similarly to a Mazda3i Grand Touring, but with a few other luxuries. They include 18-in alloy wheels, xenon headlights, a power moonroof and a head-up display directly in front of the driver.

At the highest end of the lineup is the Mazda3s Grand Touring ($25,865 for the sedan; $26,365 for the hatchback), which offers luxury-car levels of equipment. Think rain-sensing wipers, adaptive headlights and true leather seats.

In addition to its standard features, many Mazda3 models offer options available on more expensive trim levels in the car's range. There are also several further options, including a regenerative braking system, adaptive cruise control, an automatic high-beam control feature and a forward-collision warning system.

Safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2015 Mazda3 its highest rating of five stars in all but the rollover test, in which it scored four out of five stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Mazda3 its best score of Good in every test category and as well as a Top Safety Pick award.

Behind the Wheel

With any Mazda3, the handling is crisp and well-balanced, especially for a small car. That's because Mazda engineers place an emphasis on the steering feel, even in a time when electronic power steering is the norm. The result is that the Mazda3 responds exactly how you'd expect in corners, with almost no understeer and very little drama in even the tightest turns.

Acceleration is also a strong point. While the 2.0-liter Mazda3 isn't especially fast, we also didn't find it slow. We're more impressed by the 2.5-liter engine, which feels truly quick.

Inside, the Mazda3 stands out for its high-quality materials and the sheer number of features. We're less than impressed by the pop-up infotainment screen, which looks a little flimsy, but most other surfaces are top-notch. Tall people will be pleased to discover there's a lot of headroom and legroom, both in front and in back.

Other Cars to Consider

Ford Focus -- Once a mediocre contender, the Ford Focus was recently transformed into one of the top compact cars around. Like the Mazda3, it's offered as a sedan or a hatchback.

Honda Civic -- The Honda Civic feels at home in the midst of the compact car segment. Base models aren't as sporty as the Mazda3, but the performance-oriented Civic Si will give any Mazda3 a run for its money.

Used Audi A3 -- For the price of a new Mazda3, you can pick up a nice 2010-2013 Audi A3 hatchback and have the choice of all-wheel drive or a diesel engine.

AutoTrader's Advice

Virtually every Mazda3 offers a long list of positive traits. Our favorite trim level is the Touring; it combines the big engine with everything you might want from a compact car -- and a few things you probably weren't expecting.

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Used 2015 Mazda MAZDA3 s Grand Touring Hatchback
Used 2015 Mazda MAZDA3
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Certified 2015 Mazda MAZDA3 i Sport Hatchback
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Certified 2015 Mazda MAZDA3 i Touring Hatchback
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Certified 2015 Mazda MAZDA3 s Grand Touring Hatchback
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2015 Mazda3: New Car Review - Autotrader