By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 8.2
Mazda's Zoom-zoom tag line isn't just a hollow advertising gimmick. It really does describe the attitude behind every car they build. Perhaps the best example of Zoom-zoom can be found in the 2012 Mazda3, a fun and efficient vehicle that's available as either a 4-door sedan or a 5-door hatchback, as well as a high-performance turbocharged terror dubbed the Mazdaspeed3. The various versions of the Mazda3 all offer great driving credentials, a long list of high-end features and appealing good looks. Oh, did we forget to mention the very affordable price tag? Yeah, the 2012 Mazda3's got that, too. This year, Mazda has restyled its popular compact car, toning down the awkward wide-mouth, grinning grille and adding new wheels and interior features. The most appealing new Mazda3 addition is the all-new Skyactiv 4-cylinder engine, a high-compression engine capable of producing 155 horsepower and a 40 mpg highway rating. With the 2012 Mazda3, you no longer have to sacrifice good fuel economy for a fun ride, or great high-end features for a good price.
Great gas mileage and an enthusiast-oriented chassis are fused with a premium interior and dynamite styling to form the 2012 Mazda3 sedan and hatchback. If you thought you couldn't have all this in a small affordable car, Mazda just proved you wrong.
If your next car must have all-wheel drive (AWD), the Subaru Impreza or Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart are better choices. Smartphones are killing in-dash (and on-windshield) navigation systems, and the Mazda3's tiny hard to use view screen won't convince you to ask for a reprieve.
The 2012 Mazda3 gets a freshened front face and a new instrument panel with a blue background and white lettering. Also new is the fuel-efficient 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine. Cars equipped with the Skyactiv engine are fitted with a choice of two new 6-speed transmissions, either manual or automatic. In addition, there are a number of equipment changes across the numerous trim levels.
Driving Impressions The beauty of the 2012 Mazda3 is that no matter which model you choose, it will be equipped with a fun to drive spirit. The variation comes in the rate...of acceleration and the tenacity of tire grip. The Mazda3's stiff body helps impart a feeling of solidity and safety. Mazda engineers focused their attention on making the Mazda3's body as stiff as possible and its suspension both agile and compliant. Models with the 148-horsepower engine offer spirited performance and good fuel economy, reaching 33 miles per gallon in the government's highway test. The new Skyactiv 2.0-liter pumps out 155 horsepower and achieves an astounding 40 mpg on the government's highway cycle. The standard six-speed manual is a delight, mirroring the marvelously fluid manual transmission found in the Miata MX-5. While the Skyactiv 2.0-liter engine delivers good performance, its not going to be winning any SCCA races. If you want the ultimate performance (not counting the turbocharged Mazdaspeed3), it's the s trim's 2.5-liter engine you'll be seeking. With 167-horsepower, this little 4-cylinder delivers strong acceleration and still gets reasonable good fuel economy. While carving up a twisting mountain road we found the driver-selectable stability and traction control granted us plenty of fun before stepping in to save us from ourselves. Our Grand Touring trim's front seats provided plenty of thigh and lateral support and the overall feel inside the cabin is one of sophistication and attention to detail. For the ultimate in performance driving, there is the 263-horsepower Mazdaspeed3, which features a performance suspension, sport seats and more torque steer than a front drive car has a right to.
Adaptive Front Headlamps
Mazda says this is the first application on a compact vehicle of the swiveling blue-white bi-xenon high- and low-beam headlights. (Bi-xenon means there are two headlights on each side – one for high beam and the other for low beam.) The inner beams can rotate up to 15 degrees in order to look deeper into dark corners. They are self-leveling to prevent dazzling on-coming divers.
Skyactiv 2.0-liter engine
Utilizing direct fuel injecting and with a 12.0:1 compression ratio, the Skyactiv engine is both powerful and incredibly fuel efficient. Better still, the Skyactiv engine runs on regular 87 octane fuel.
The 2012 Mazda3 sedan and hatchback share the same, feature-rich interior, highlighted by stylish instruments and soft touch surfaces. A 3-zone philosophy places all the vital controls in way that helps the driver focus on the road while operating the audio and climate control. For the most part, we like what Mazda has done with the Mazda3's instruments and dash, but the poorly placed screen displaying the HVAC and audio readouts has too many functions crammed into its small window. The optional navigation screen is also too small and difficult to understand, but that probably won't matter as most Mazda3 buyers will likely use their smartphones for navigation. S trim models get a multi-talented steering wheel that houses controls for the audio, cruise, navigation and Bluetooth. The available Bose audio system sounds fantastic. The Mazdaspeed3 gets a more aggressive set of bolstered front bucket seats and an LED turbo boost gauge.Exterior
The 2012 Mazda3 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback draw on the original 2004 Mazda3 for inspiration, but take its styling to a more dramatic place. A new front grille dissected by a wide black bumper strip and a new lower air intake help improve a weak spot on the previous year Mazda3's exterior. The Mazda3 features bold front fender flares straddling 16- and 17-inch wheels. Next to a conservatively styled Chevy Cruze or Toyota Corolla, the Mazda3 looks downright awesome, and Mazda's color palate blows its competitors out of the water. The s Grand Touring trim's available adaptive swiveling front headlamps are just one of the many Mazda3 features that are rare at this price point. You don't have to spend a lot to get a lot with the 2012 Mazda3 compact, because even the base model comes with 16-inch wheels, color keyed mirrors, and halogen fog lights. The Mazdaspeed3 expresses itself with an active front hood scoop, 18-inch wheels and ground effects.
The 4-door 2012 Mazda3 is available in six trim packages, starting with the base i SV, and moving upward with the i Sport, i Touring, i Grand Touring, s Touring and s Grand Touring. The trim levels for the five-door hatchback (or, if you prefer, wagon) are i Touring, i Grand Touring, s Touring and s Grand Touring. Even the base 2012 Mazda3 i SV sedan has impressive standard equipment, which includes electronic stability control, a tilt-telescoping steering column, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio, power windows and mirrors and variable intermittent wipers. The i Touring adds cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, power locks with keyless remote and Bluetooth connectivity. The i Touring and i Grand Touring trim gets the new Skyactiv 2.0-liter engine mated to 6-speed manual in the i Touring and a 6-speed automatic in the i Grand Touring. The s levels have the more potent 167-horsepower 2.5-liter engine, 265-watt Bose audio system, a power moonroof, Advance Keyless entry with push-button start, 17-inch alloy wheels, and dual-zone automatic temperature control. Grand Touring trims also feature navigation, leather seating surfaces, an 8-way power driver's seat, heated side mirrors and 5-position heated front sport seats. The Mazdaspeed3 comes only in the Touring trim.
The Tech Package available on Grand Touring trim includes auto-leveling Adaptive front HID headlamps, blind spot monitoring, rain-sensing wipers, and anti-theft alarm. The i Touring trim offers the Moonroof and Bose package containing a 265-watt 10-speaker Bose Surround Sound Centerpoint audio system and a power glass moonroof. The Mazdaspeed3 offers a Mazdaspeed Tech Package which is the same as Tech Package only with Advance Key and navigation added to the list.
Three engines and three transmissions are part of the 2012 Mazda3 lineup. The 4-door i models (SV and Sport) are equipped with a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that can be teamed with a 5-speed manual transmission or, except for the base i SV, a 5-speed automatic. The i Touring and Grand Touring are fitted with the Skyactiv 2.0-liter engine, which makes 155 horsepower and is mated to a new 6-speed manual. The i Grand Touring offers a 6-speed automatic. The more powerful s models have a 168-horsepower 2.5-liter powerplant paired with either a 6-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic. The Mazdaspeed3 uses a 2.3-liter gasoline direct injection turbocharged MZR engine good for 263 horsepower and 280 pounds-feet of torque. The Mazdaspeed3 is only available with a 6-speed manual transmission.
2.0-liter in-line 4
148/144 horsepower (Federal/PZEV) @ 6,500 rpm
135/132 lb-ft of torque (Federal/PZEV) @ 4,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/33 (manual), 24/33 (automatic)
2.0-liter Skyactiv 4
155/154 horsepower (Federal/PZEV) @ 6,000 rpm
148 ft-lb of torque @ 4,100 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 27/39 (manual sedan), 28/40 (automatic, sedan), 27/38 (manual, 5-door), 28/39 (automatic, 5-door)
2.5-liter in-line 4
167/165 horsepower (Federal/PZEV) @ 6,000 rpm
168/167 lb-ft of torque (Federal/PZEV)) @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/28 (manual), 22/29 (automatic)
2.3-liter turbocharged in-line 4
263 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
280 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/25
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the 2012 Mazda3 lineup starts around $16,000 for the base i SV. However, that figure rises to $17,600 for an i Sport sedan with a manual transmission and nears $18,500 for one with an automatic. The Mazda3 Skyactiv i Touring starts around $19,200, while the range-topping s Grand Touring models with the automatic transmission can approach $26,500. The Mazdaspeed3 starts around $25,000. To get the best deal, be sure to check the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price to see what consumers in your area are currently paying for the 2012 Mazda3. Also, click on the Incentives tab to see what deals the manufacturer is offering. Historically, the Mazda3 has maintained slightly above-average residual values. The 2012 Mazda3 is expected to do the same, remaining somewhat better in that area than the Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra and Chevrolet Cruze, but not quite up to Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Matrix or VW Golf levels.
By Andrea (AZ) on Saturday, December 07, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 27,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun to drive, good gas mileage"
Cons: "Tire cupping, dashboard warping, small navigation"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"I bought a 2012 Mazda 3 i Grand Touring with the tech package in November 2012. The good stuff: I have a long commute to work each day and this car is a lot of fun to drive. It's a spunky car that can make sharp turns and can do U-turns easily within 2 lanes. The car handles really well overall. The surround sound Bose system sounds great and is definitely a nice touch if you love to listen to music. The blind spot detection is a very useful tool also. Gas mileage is pretty good; I get about 35mpg with combined city/highway (and I drive it like a race car driver). Headlights are nice and bright and move with the car while you go around turns (this isn't as useful as it seems it would be but it's kinda neat). The not-so-good stuff: The first summer I had the car (about 7-8 months after purchasing it) the dashboard warped and came disconnected from the top display. This was covered under warranty but of course the concern is what's going to happen this upcoming summer when the car is no longer under warranty. Plus, that's pretty cheap that the dashboard warped. For some unknown reason the inside of my visors turned pink and had to be replaced. The visor clip on the driver's side cracked and also had to be replaced. I had the tires rotated a few weeks ago and now have loud road noise and vibration. Turns out, the way the suspension is set up on the Mazda 3 it is common to get inside cupping on the back tires and when they're rotated to the front you get the loud road noise. My husband is looking into changing the cambers but I'm a little annoyed that anything needs to be changed on a 1 year old car. The navigation is really small, difficult to read and use, and in my opinion is basically useless. If I need navigation I usually just use my phone. I don't use navigation very often so this isn't a big issue for me but is worth noting. Overall I really enjoy the actual drive experience, the horsepower, the gas mileage, surround sound Bose system, and blind spot detection. I am not very impressed with the quality of the car yet but am hoping that this car proves me wrong in the upcoming years."
By Jill (NY) on Saturday, November 30, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 3,500overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Good car for the value"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 7
"I bought my car in August. I was looking for something reliable with good gas mileage. I'm 23 and did not want a car that high schoolers drive, yet can't afford a luxury vehicle. This car is a nice medium of what I wanted. The interior is pretty with the blue dashboard lights and I love the outside look of the car. One drawback is that this car kind of feels like a toy car. It just doesn't feel like a safe vehicle. The interior is mostly plastic thin material and the seats aren't that comfortable. Overall it handles well and looks nice and is affordable. You get what you pay for. Also, when merging onto a highway the RPMs go up to ~ 4 when you try to speed up. I feel like I have to slam on the gas to get the car to actually GO."
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful
By GE (FL) on Friday, November 29, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 24,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"This is my second Speed3 in a row. First was silver. This one is black. The best car I have owned in 45 years. Practical. Large enough that I can put 2 bikes in the back with room left over for luggage. Gets 31 MPG all day long on my 1,000 mile trips. Change oil every 6,000 miles and buy new tires every 30,000 miles. That's it for maintenance. Fun to drive. Turbo provides plenty of get up and go. Excellent handling/steering. Great sound system. Cool leather/cloth interior. Simple the best practical and fun to drive car hands down in the last 5 years."
2 people out of 2 found this review helpful
By Jk (CT) on Saturday, November 23, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 69,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I bought his car brand new in 2009 when this generation first came out to replace my rx-8 primarily to get better gas mileage. The car has been surprisingly more fun than I expected. The handling of the car is excellent for a front wheel drive. Mazda did a great job of making the driver feel connected to the road. Though I do wish it had a little more power, the fuel economy is really what I bought the car for, and I have seen over 31 mpg highway and typically 28 city/highway combined. While it is not a sports car it is certainly fun enough to keep me happy during my commute and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun to drive commuter car."
By Elena (LA) on Monday, November 18, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 51,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Gorgeous interior, speed, so fun to drive"
Cons: "not much room in back for adults/growing kiddos"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"It's beautiful on the inside and handles sooo well. It's very reliable, I take very good care of it and have NEVER had a single issue with it. The engine is amazing, I don't have to worry about putting the pedal to the metal. When I say go it goes and the some, love that! The Bose sound system is incredible, I'm a music junkie so I am very satisfied. Really wish I didn't have to get a bigger car :("
1 person out of 2 found this review helpful
By Topdog on Monday, November 04, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 11,135overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 7
"Great road handling and comfortable interior. Has all the bells and whistles you could want. My only complaint is the gas mileage never reached what I expected.Good on road trips, but maybe 18 MPG in town."