As more and more consumers move from cars to small SUVs, it’s nice to see there are still a few economy cars out there dedicated to the thrill of driving. The 2018 Mazda3 is such a car. Loaded with great features at an affordable price, the Mazda3 also offers two fuel-efficient engine options, 4-door sedan or 5-door hatchback body styles and even a driver-oriented 6-speed manual transmission on every trim. Every bit as fuel-efficient and price-conscious as its best competitor, the Mazda3 impresses with its taut suspension, sporty good looks and upscale interior that offers small car lovers a bit more individuality.
The Mazda3 delivers outstanding fuel economy without sacrificing performance, especially with the larger 2.5-liter engine. The real fun comes in turning corners, where the Mazda3 boasts some of the best driving prowess around. Opt for the GT trim and you’ll have upscale features like leather, Bose audio and heated seats. Plus, you can order high-end technology, including a radar-based adaptive cruise-control system, which automatically maintains a safe distance between the Mazda3 and the traffic ahead.
What’s New for 2018?
For 2018, the Mazda3 gains Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support low-speed collision avoidance system as standard equipment. The 2.5-liter engine, a rear spoiler, an overhead console and illuminated vanity mirrors becomes standard on Touring trims, while the Grand Touring gains auto-leveling bi-LED headlights, LED taillights and LED fog lights. Some feature shuffling in the option packages round out the changes.
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; infotainment interface can be slow and confusing; firm ride with 18-inch wheels; still no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
The Mazda3 offers two engines. The standard engine is 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 28 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, while the automatic transmission returns 28 mpg city/37 mpg hwy. The 5-door 2.0-liter with the manual earns 27 mpg city/37 mpg hwy.
Opt for the 184-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, and you’ll have improved acceleration without much of a gas-mileage penalty. Fuel economy for the larger engine is 25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy with the manual transmission and 27 mpg city/36 mpg hwy with the automatic. Mileage numbers for the hatchback drop to 26 mpg city/35 mpg hwy with the automatic or 25 mpg city/33 mpg hwy with the manual.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Mazda3 is offered in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. Shoppers have a choice between a 4-door sedan or 5-door hatchback and manual or automatic transmissions.
The Mazda3 Sport ($18,970 for the sedan, $20,220 for the hatchback) includes push-button starting, a 6-speed manual transmission, Smart City Brake Support, power locks, power mirrors, power windows, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, 16-in steel wheels, a folding rear seat, a 7-in full-color touchscreen connected to a 6-speaker audio system with USB integration and Mazda Connect infotainment, cruise control, Bluetooth (including audio), a rearview camera and a tilt-telescopic steering column.
Above the Sport is the Mazda3 Touring ($22,014 for the sedan, $22,765 for the hatchback). The Touring model adds an automatic transmission (a 6-speed manual is optional), 18-in alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a rear spoiler, leatherette seating, a 6-way power driver’s seat, halogen fog lights, heated front seats, advanced keyless entry and starting, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert and heated side mirrors.
The Mazda3 Grand Touring ($25,070 for the sedan, $25,820 for the hatchback) adds perforated leather seating, dual-zone automatic climate control, bi-LED headlights, LED fog lights, Advanced Key keyless entry and start, Bose 9-speaker surround sound audio and a heads-up display.
Optional for the Mazda3 Sport (sedan only) is the Preferred Equipment package, which adds 16-in alloy wheels, heated side mirrors with integrated turn-signal lamps, premium cloth-trimmed sport seats, auto on/off headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert. The Touring’s Popular Equipment package adds a power sunroof, a Bose 9-speaker surround-sound system with Centerpoint 2 and AudioPilot 2, SiriusXM radio with a 4-month subscription, a rear spoiler and a shark-fin antenna (this package is standard on manual transmission cars). The Mazda3 Grand Touring offers the Premium Equipment package, again standard on manual transmission cars and optional on those with the automatic. The package includes navigation, adaptive cruise control, adaptive front lighting, auto high-beam control, a heated steering wheel, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition and a more advanced high-speed forward-collision warning system.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 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, plus a Top Safety Pick award.
Behind the Wheel
With any Mazda3, the handling is crisp and well-balanced, especially for a small car. Mazda engineers place an emphasis on steering feel, even in a time when electronic power steering is the norm. The Mazda3 responds exactly how you’d expect in corners, with almost no understeer and little drama in the tightest of turns.
Acceleration is also a strong point. While the 2.0-liter Mazda3 isn’t especially fast, we 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 flimsy, but most other surfaces are top-notch. Tall people will be pleased to discover that there’s plenty of headroom and legroom, both in front and in back.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Ford Focus — The Ford Focus remains a worthy competitor, offering more conservative styling but equally impressive audio and electronic features. Like the Mazda3, it’s offered as a sedan or a hatchback, and the turbocharged ST can blow the doors off a Grand Touring.
2018 Honda Civic — The Honda Civic feels at home in the compact-car segment. Base models are just as sporty as the Mazda3, but the performance-oriented Civic Si and Type R will give any Mazda3 a run for its money.
2018 Chevrolet Cruze — The Cruze is available as a sedan or hatchback, and features a better infotainment system and the option of a diesel engine.
Used Audi A3 — For the price of a new Mazda3 Grand Touring, you can pick up a nice 2015 Audi A3 sedan and get the option of all-wheel drive, a better interior and better performance.
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. However, for just a little more, the Grand Touring gives you everything you’ll need and opens the door to advanced driver assist features.