Kelley Blue Book's long-term Mazda3 sedan came to us with the standard 155-horsepower, 150-lb-ft 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and 6-speed manual transmission. It's a combination we have been very happy with, for a number of reasons. First and foremost is its value for the money. With the engine choices in the Mazda3, it isn't a question of getting either the fuel-efficient base engine or the fun uplevel one. For us, the base engine offers plenty of entertainment on the road, while yielding impressive fuel economy of 29 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. And while you might think choosing the automatic transmission would be a fuel-economy penalty, it isn't: Mazda's most popular combination in the sedan, the 2.0-liter and 6-speed automatic, actually nets better fuel economy around town by one mpg and the same 41 mpg on the highway.

However, the 2.0-liter engine doesn't have a lot of torque, something that becomes clear when you are accelerating onto the freeway or are trying to pass someone. The upside is that, as we explained in our expert review of the 2015 Mazda3, "The 6-speed automatic transmission is eager to downshift, and the 6-speed manual is rewarding to use." That transmission, whichever one you prefer, helps a lot, but in a 2015 Mazda3 i SV, you'll pay about $1,000 more to get the automatic, or just under $18,000 versus just under $19,000.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2015

Another way to get more power is to step up to the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, a move that adds 29 horsepower and 35 lb-ft of torque. This engine certainly ups the fun factor, but it comes at a price. Fuel economy drops four mpg city and highway with the manual, and drops as much as two mpg city/highway with the automatic transmission. In addition, with the 2015 Mazda3, if you want the 2.5-liter engine, it isn't available with the least expensive i SV trim. You have to step up to the better equipped s models, and the least expensive way to get into a 2015 Mazda3 would cost just under $25,000 with the 2.5-liter is with the manual transmission, and almost $26,000 with the automatic. (There have been some trim level changes for 2016, but opting for the larger engine still costs about $7,000 more.) As far as we're concerned, the 2.0-liter engine is the best combination of fun, fuel economy and value, but Mazda offers an option with more gusto for those who want better passing power.

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

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