Before I get to the part that really matters (the drive, of course), let’s talk looks.
The revamped exterior design of the Mazda3, while not what I’d call a truly standout design, has enough of a unique approach with its lines to differentiate from the competition.
Inside, it’s not luxury-level fancy, but materials on the seating and elsewhere are higher-end than I anticipated in this level of vehicle. The leather-trimmed seats in my test ride were very comfortable for the driver and passenger.
Meanwhile, the rear seat leaves much to be desired. Rear leg and head room is about average for the segment, which I’ve always viewed as targeted mostly at people who don’t intend to have a lot of people in their back seat on a regular basis.
Design and user-friendliness of the tech setup/controls in the Mazda3 also remains a strong point. You can choose either a sedan or hatchback version of the Mazda3, with the hatchback offering more room for cargo.
The 2017 Mazda3 is tons of fun to drive due to a peppy power plant and a light frame (Mazda is well-known for trimming off weight on every part of the vehicle).
I was able to spend a few laps in a Mazda3 on a real live racetrack (Champion Motor Speedway at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan) and found it to perform quite well. Off the streets, it was truly in its element, with strong acceleration on long straightaways and great handling in the tight turns. Brakes, a key element where racing is involved as well as on the street, performed admirably (though I did smell smoke a few times, which was no doubt my fault for trying to overdo it on the track).
Even on the streets, the 2017 Mazda3 is generally more fun to drive that most or all of its small-car competitors. While the Focus, Elantra, Cruze, Civic and Corolla all have their high points in both ride quality and other areas, overall driving experience award would go to the Mazda3.
The base engine offered on the Mazda3 is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder option with 155 horsepower, and 150 lb.-ft. of torque. The second option is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 184 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque.
With both engines, a six-speed manual transmission is offered (a major bonus for those who prefer this, as many vehicles have been dropping manuals in recent years due to low demand). You can also choose a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Mazda3 is a front-wheel drive vehicle.
While the Corolla and Civic both average nearly four times the sales of the Mazda3, the takeaway for me from my time in the Mazda3 is that it really should be more popular than it is in terms of market share, based on how well their vehicles perform and react to the driver.
For all the fun it offers, the Mazda3 is actually quite affordable, costing slightly more than some small car competitors but a little less than others.
The base model starts around $18,000, and a decked-out top-of-the-line Grand Touring trim level Mazda3 will cost you just over $29,000. Where you fall on that spectrum depends on what you want to do with the car and what features you need.
FUEL MILEAGE, SAFETY
MPG in the Mazda3 is a respectable 26 city/35 highway and 30 combined.
Also, for a small car, you do get some safety features offered, including blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. A rearview camera comes standard on the Mazda3.
Based solely on its driving performance, the Mazda3 is in the discussion for best overall small car option. Add in a well-designed interior with above average materials and it’s hard to find another vehicle to beat it, though in the end it will all come down to taste and perhaps brand loyalty and whether people are willing to make a change (some Toyota or Honda or Ford diehards are not going to change their minds, as the sales numbers reflect).
Those who do choose to go over to the Mazda3 side of this battle will no doubt be happy with the choice, as this ride does a whole lot more than just get you from point A to point B.
Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.