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
By sadak on Wednesday, January 14, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 42,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "power, handling, reliability, value"
Cons: "shifting, rear motor mount"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I cannot be happier with my Speed. Only necessary modification is a improved rear motor mount. I track the car in High Performance Driving Classes and regularly pass cars costing 3 times as much."
4 people out of 9 found this review helpful
By Kim on Wednesday, January 14, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 51,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Reliable, stereo system is amazing-so many options"
Cons: "Weight (very light)"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I LOVE my Mazda! My only complaint is how light it is; when the wind blows, my car drifts. Other than that, it drives well, handles great, it is roomy front and back of the car, and is great on gas!"
3 people out of 4 found this review helpful
By mctabbykat on Tuesday, December 30, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 51,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Good value for the money; 6-speed is fun to drive"
Cons: "Fit & finish and missing a few basic features"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I'm pretty happy with my 2011 Mazda3 hatchback. It's been 100% reliable so far. Only minor issues with fit & finish and some features that would have been nice to have. Re: fit & finish - rattling in passenger-side door, sounds like a BB rolling around in the door itself; console makes clicking noises, like hot plastic cooling off; all seats are a bit squeaky. Features - no indicator to know if fog lights are on; no indicator to know if engine is running hot (I guess you have to wait for it to start smoking!). I added a remote car starter (kind of a pain in a manual but worth it in the winter). I think I'd like to graduate to a MazdaSpeed for my next car :-)"
9 people out of 14 found this review helpful
By Zoom-zoom Rocket on Monday, December 29, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 50,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "SUPER fun to drive, GT is well equip & priced well"
Cons: "Not a lot of leg room in the rear"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I recently traded in a 2003 Toyota Sequoia for my 2012 Mazda 3 GT Hatchback. If you're considering this vehicle I highly recommend it. I was considering another Toyota but the value of features included in the Grand Touring model blows ALL competition out of the water. My Mazda 3 is fully loaded with the 2.5 liter engine, trading down from a full sized SUV, the features definitely make it feel worth it. Not to mention the Mazda 3 has cut my monthly gas expense by well over half and honestly this car feels much more zippy than my V-8 did. If you're on the fence make the leap. This car is super fun to drive and extremely well equip."
1 person out of 3 found this review helpful
By feefingirl on Sunday, November 30, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 27,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "decent lease price, great mileage, reliable"
Cons: "technology features "glitchy", dont lease - buy!"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"I'm not an "image" buyer so practically speaking, this car operates and handles perfectly. Had minor accident- all damaged panels replaced so its pristine. Mileage is outstanding, averages 37 hwy. Blue tooth/device technology is "glitchy". Too low to ground and bottom gets scraped a lot."
9 people out of 19 found this review helpful
By ladydriver on Wednesday, October 29, 2014
I owned and sold this car
Reason: cut personal expenses
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"The positives on this car are numerous. First off the drive-ability and performance were excellent. A nice suspension made for great control on the road. We tended to get around 32 MPG. It was great for long road trips with a nice comfy interior, we could play music or audio books through pandora with the bluetooth, make and recieve phone calls while maintaining focus on the road, and turn on the cruise control for those long stretches of empty highway. There was plenty of space in the trunk, so we could always fit our christmas tree in the back if we put the seats down. We never had any major mechanical issues over the 4 years we owned it, and we never even had to do the brakes. The one and only complaint that we had was that visibility was not great, there are blind spots that can make it tricky to merge or back up without turning around in your seat. But that is merely a side effect of the sporty styling of the body."
12 people out of 18 found this review helpful