By Matt Degen
KBB Expert Rating: 9.2
Mazda reinvented its compact sedan and hatchback last year, and thanks to fresh design, new engine innovations, and class-exclusive technology and safety features, the Mazda3 became a formidable rival to competitors such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus. In addition to offering up to 41 mpg, the 2015 Mazda3 is among the most nimble and fun-to-drive cars in its class. The Mazda3 returns with beefed-up versions of its impressive telematics system and the availability of a manual transmission for its larger 4-cylinder engine, but you'll have to keep holding your breath for a performance-oriented Mazdaspeed version. While not as roomy or comfortable as a Nissan Sentra or Chevrolet Cruze, the Mazda3 offers a refined ride and high value.
If you're seeking a compact sedan or hatchback with fun driving manners, great fuel economy, and class-above looks and features, the Mazda3 is an excellent choice. That Mazda's compact car starts under $18,000 and retains its value very well is icing on the cake.
If roominess and comfort are priorities, you may be happier in a Chevy Cruze or Nissan Sentra. Buyers needing all-wheel drive should look to a Subaru Impreza, while alt-fuel fans should check out the Honda Civic (available in hybrid or compressed natural gas form) or Volkswagen Jetta (diesel or hybrid).
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The slick Mazda Connect infotainment system with a 7-inch screen is now standard on all but the base 2015 Mazda3 sedan. Making way for the new tech, the CD player is dropped as standard equipment in lower models. A manual transmission is now offered with the larger 2.5-liter engine.
The 2015 Mazda3 is both fun and fuel-efficient, thanks to Mazda's Skyactiv chassis and powertrain technology. With its enthusiastic engines and satisfying steering and brake feel, the Mazda3 is sportier...
... than nearly all its rivals. More impressive, though, is that this 5-passenger compact sedan and hatchback don't compromise ride quality or fuel efficiency for the sake of performance. The Mazda3 is satisfying to throw into corners, yet still compliant on the highway. The 6-speed automatic transmission is eager to downshift, and the 6-speed manual is rewarding to use. Drivers desiring extra oomph can get it in Mazda3 "s" versions, which have a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that offers 29 more horsepower than the standard 2.0. Driving position is very good in Mazda's compact car, and controls are easy to use. Visibility is also good, and the available blind-spot monitoring system is a surprising and assuring feature in this class of car.
MAZDA CONNECT INFOTAINMENT SYSTEM
Dash-mounted LCD screens with a rotary dial control below have been in luxury cars for years, but now one is in Mazda's compact car. The system that controls audio, phone, apps and more is easy to learn and use, and for 2015, it's standard in all but base Mazda3 sedans.
ADVANCED SAFETY FEATURES
Other features once reserved for luxury cars that are now in a Mazda3 include blind-spot monitoring and Smart City Brake Support, which can stop the car autonomously to prevent a lower-speed frontal collision if the driver doesn't apply the brakes.
The 2015 Mazda3's cabin isn't the roomiest in the segment, but it's among the best laid out. The well-shaped front seats keep driver and passenger snug. All models except the base sedan feature a dash-mounted 7-inch touch-screen display that is controlled by a rotary dial between the front seats. All controls are intuitive and easy to use. Rear-seat legroom falls on the low side, but there’s still room for two average-size adults, three in a pinch. All models except the base Mazda3 i SV sedan have 60/40-split folding rear seats. Mazda3 hatchbacks boast over 47 cubic feet of room with seats folded.
Whether as a 4-door sedan or 5-door hatchback, the 2015 Mazda3 stands out from other compacts with its knockout styling. The versatile Mazda3 hatchback is especially noteworthy for a design that should win over those who usually don't equate hatchbacks with style. Up front, the recast grille replaces the previous “happy face” with a more distinguished character, and repositioned A-pillars improve the driver’s forward sightlines. While the base SV and 3 i Sport Sedan come with 16-inch steel wheels, the other 2.0-liter cars all feature 16-inch aluminum-alloy alternatives that move to an 18-inch upfit on the 2.5-liter 3 s models.
2015 Mazda3 sedans are available in six trims, while the Mazda3 hatchback is available in five. The least-expensive Mazda3 is the i SV sedan, which includes air conditioning, push-button start and a 4-speaker AM/FM/USB/aux audio system. Our advice is to spend the extra $1,500 and at least step up to the i Sport, which includes the 7-inch command screen, 6-speaker audio with HD Radio and streaming services (including Pandora), Bluetooth connectivity, and cruise control. The high-end s Touring or s Grand Touring models bring the more powerful engine and faux leather seats (Touring trim) or the real thing (Grand Touring).
Most options for the 2015 Mazda3 come as you climb trims, and some are surprising in their value. The mid-grade i Touring, for example, includes blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and rearview camera – safety features that can cost thousands extra on luxury cars. Two technology packages are also offered, the first includes navigation, Bose premium audio with CD player, a power moonroof and dual-zone climate control. Exclusive to top-line s Grand Touring models is Mazda's i-ELOOP regenerative-braking system for better fuel efficiency, the Smart City Brake Support, radar-based cruise control, and lane-departure warning.
The 2015 Mazda3 offers two engine choices, both with a Skyactiv pedigree. The i models use a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes a healthy 155 horsepower. The 2.5-liter found in all s variants cranks out 184 horsepower. While the 2.0-liter is still a capable performer, it trades a measure of enthusiasm for better fuel-economy numbers – 41 mpg highway in the sedan and 40 mpg in the hatchback with either the 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. The 2.5-liter won’t stretch a gallon of gasoline quite that far, but notably amps up the car’s sporting character, and for 2015, it is now available with a 6-speed manual transmission for drivers seeking the most engagement.
155 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
150 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy:
Sedan: 29/41 mpg (manual), 30/41 mpg (automatic)
Hatchback: 29/40 mpg (manual), 30/40 mpg (automatic)
184 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm
185 lb-ft of torque @ 3,250 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy:
Sedan: 25/37 (manual), 28/39 mpg (automatic), 29/40 mpg (automatic w/i-Eloop)
Hatchback: 26/35 (manual), 27/37 mpg (automatic), 28/39 mpg (automatic w/i-Eloop)
While not the lowest-cost player in this intensely price-sensitive segment – that honor goes to the 2015 Kia Forte – the 2015 Mazda3 remains a solid value considering the content and character of its overall package. The base i SV Sedan starts under $17,750 and the entry-level 3 i Sport Hatchback starts below $19,750. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Mazda3 s Grand Touring Sedan and Hatchback ring in closer to $26,900 and $27,400, respectively. Adding the Technology Package's class-exclusive safety features and the i-Eloop system bumps the s Grand Touring's numbers an additional $2,600. Before buying, be sure to check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for their new Mazda3. In addition to having prices that are competitive with segment leaders like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, the Mazda3's resale value also stays in step with those two.