Saying goodbye to our long-term Mazda3 wasn't easy. Some wanted to hide the key fob to keep them from being able to drive away in the charming compact sedan that had been part of KBB's long-term fleet for over a year. But fair is fair, our time is up. So now that the 3 is gone, we have the opportunity to look back on our year with the good-looking, sporty Mazda known around the office as Trey.

One of the first things we discovered about the Mazda3 is that you don't have to spec one out at the "put every option on it" price of over $30,000 to get a car you can truly enjoy every day. This i Grand Touring model had a 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter Skyactiv 4-cylinder engine and a 6-speed manual transmission. It came with navigation (standard on all Mazda3 trims except the base sedan), heated front seats, heated power side mirrors, moonroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leatherette seats, cruise control, 9-speaker audio, Bluetooth, rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert -- and had an as-tested price of $24,060. Not only that, but with this engine and transmission, fuel economy is EPA-rated at 29 mpg in the city and 41 on the highway.

Manual makes it go

The engine didn’t have an overwhelming amount of torque, but it was still easy to have fun with the Mazda and its base engine. To get to speed in a hurry, we would wind it up and go, making good use of the manual transmission. But the engine was only part of the fun factor. While the Honda Civic is traditionally seen as the most fun compact car out there, the Mazda3 gives it a good run for its money. Steering is wonderfully responsive, and works with the sporty suspension to make any twisty road a welcome treat. The Mazda3 is one of those cars that can cause you to search for a fun stretch of road to drive on a Saturday morning before running errands.

This part of the Mazda3 was admittedly a mixed bag. The interior layout ensures that controls are in logical places and easy for the driver to reach. The Mazda Connect infotainment and connectivity system is easy to use, arguably better than similar systems found in much more expensive vehicles. And connecting to Bluetooth is easy.

The Practical Side

Here's where the other shoe drops: the Mazda3 isn't as practical as other cars in its segment. It has one of the smallest trunks in its segment, and rear-seat legroom isn't all that great. The interior is noisier than what you would find in other compact cars. And the navigation system does not have live traffic information.

However, fuel economy lived up to the EPA ratings, when taking into account how some of us drive (yours truly has a bit of a lead foot) and in what circumstances. It's easy to give into temptation and enthusiastically zip around town when not stuck in typical Los Angeles rush hour traffic. That combination certainly didn’t help our as-tested fuel economy, but the Mazda3 consistently gave us mileage in the high 20s. The lowest we saw was 25.7 mpg, the highest was 36.2. Our overall fuel economy averaged an impressive 30.8 mpg. Had we driven more on the open road, that average would undoubtedly be closer to the EPA's 33 mpg combined rating for this car.

The Bottom Line

The Mazda3 is loads of fun to drive, whether it has the excellent manual or the also-impressive automatic. It is the best-looking car in its segment. And you can get that, plus very good fuel economy, at a reasonable price. For those who want a sporty compact car and are willing to accept some trade-offs, the Mazda3 is an excellent offering. It has only been gone a short while, and the Mazda3 is missed.

See past reports on our Long-Term 2015 Mazda3...


Long-Term Update: Utility Closet

Long-Term Update: Navigating Mazda Connect

Long-Term Update: Infotainment Tips and Tricks

Long-Term Update: Powertrain

More 2015 Mazda3...

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