By Matt Degen
KBB Expert Rating: 9.1
Anyone who thinks a compact car can't be stylish, fuel-efficient, value-oriented, technologically advanced and a hoot to drive hasn't met the Mazda3. Mazda's small sedan and hatchback are all those things and more. While it has long stood out as the athlete among rivals such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra, the 2016 Mazda3 is hardly a one-trick pony. Yes, it has some of the finest driving dynamics this side of an Audi, but the Mazda also outpaces competitors in efficiency with up to 41 mpg and tech features like radar-based cruise control and automatic emergency braking. The Mazda3 isn't as roomy as a Corolla or Nissan Sentra, but it's a standout in just about every other way.
The Mazda3 is like that beautiful person who also happens to be smart, charming and fun. We suggest getting to know that kind of person at a dinner party the same way we recommend putting the Mazda3 at the top of your small-car consideration list.
No car has everything. As much as we endorse this one, you'll have to look elsewhere if you want all-wheel drive (think Subaru Impreza), or a hybrid or diesel powertrain (VW Jetta). If rear-seat space is a priority, check out the Corolla or Sentra.
KBB Expert Ratings
With the i SV exiting stage left, the i Sport is now the base model in the 2016 Mazda3 lineup. It arrives with a $600 price cut, to $18,665, and the addition of a standard rearview camera. Also new are trim-specific equipment packages for Mazda's compact sedan and hatchback.
The 2016 Mazda3 is both fun and fuel-efficient thanks to Mazda's Skyactiv chassis and powertrain technology. With a peppy engine and satisfying steering and brake feel, the Mazda3 is among...
... the most fun-to-drive cars you can buy for under $20,000. More impressive, this 5-passenger compact sedan and hatchback don't compromise ride quality, fuel efficiency or practicality for performance. The Mazda3 is a joy to throw into corners, yet is still compliant on the highway. The 6-speed automatic transmission is eager to downshift, and the 6-speed manual is among the best. For extra oomph, you can get the Mazda3 "s" versions, which have a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that offers 29 more horsepower than the standard 2.0 engine. KBB staffers of all shapes and sizes like the driving position in Mazda's compact car, and its controls are easy to use. Outward visibility is good, and the blind-spot monitoring system is a welcome option.
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. Collectively called Mazda Connect, the easy-to-learn system controls audio, phone, apps and more. Best of all, it's standard in the 2016 Mazda3.
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 Mazda3's cabin isn't the roomiest in the segment, but it's among the best in layout. The well-shaped front seats keep driver and passenger snug. All models now feature Mazda Connect – a dash-mounted 7-inch touch-screen display and control dial between the front seats. Other dials and buttons for climate and audio are also intuitive and easy to use. Rear-seat legroom is on the low side, but there’s still room for two average-size adults, three in a pinch. All models have 60/40-split-folding rear seats for further versatility. Mazda3 hatchbacks boast over 47 cubic feet of room with seats folded.
Whether as a 4-door sedan or 5-door hatchback, the 2016 Mazda3 has knockout styling. The versatile Mazda3 hatchback is especially noteworthy for a design that should win over those who usually don't equate hatchbacks with beauty. Up front, the Mazda3's grille replaces the “happy face” seen on the previous generation with a more distinguished character, and repositioned A-pillars improve the driver’s forward sightlines. While the base Mazda3 i Sport Sedan makes do with 16-inch steel wheels, the other 2.0-liter cars feature 16-inch aluminum-alloy alternatives that move to an 18-inch upgrade on the 2.5-liter 3 s models.
With the basic i SV sedan gone for 2016, the Mazda3 is now offered in five trims. We applaud Mazda's decision to make the Mazda3 i Sport the new entry model because it's surprisingly well-equipped. Standard features include the Mazda Connect infotainment system with 7-inch screen, 6-speaker AM/FM/HD Radio audio with USB input and Bluetooth phone pairing and audio streaming, rearview camera, push-button start and cruise control. If you go one trim higher, the Mazda3 i Touring adds features such as blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, halogen fog lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers and premium cloth seating.
The higher-end Mazda3 s Touring and s Grand Touring models come with a more powerful engine, 18-inch wheels, power driver's seat, and premium interior material (Leatherette for s Touring, real leather for s Grand Touring). Other options include navigation system, 9-speaker Bose audio system with satellite radio and CD player, heated front seats and a moonroof. Exclusive to top-line s Grand Touring models is Mazda's i-ELOOP regenerative-braking system for improved fuel efficiency, the Smart City Brake Support automatic braking system, radar-based cruise control, forward-obstruction warning and lane-departure warning.
The 2016 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 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 as far, but notably amps up the car’s sporting character. Manual-transmission lovers will love the fact that Mazda offers an excellent one in both the sedan and hatchback, and with both engines. All Mazda3 models are front-wheel drive.
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 mpg (manual), 28/39 mpg (automatic), 29/40 mpg (automatic w/i-Eloop)
Hatchback: 26/35 mpg (manual), 27/37 mpg (automatic), 28/39 mpg (automatic w/i-Eloop)
Mazda isn't offering the former sub-$18,000 Mazda3 i SV sedan for 2016, but we don't see that as a negative. The better-equipped i Sport sedan is now the entry model, and it has had a price cut, with a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting at $18,665. The Mazda3 hatchback starts at $19,365. These starting prices are higher than a base Toyota Corolla and Kia Forte, but remain in line with the Honda Civic. The 2016 Mazda3 s Grand Touring sedan and hatchback with automatic transmission start at $26,615 and $27,315, respectively. Adding the Technology Package and the i-Eloop fuel-saving system bumps the s Grand Touring's numbers an additional $2,600. Check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for their new Mazda3. We predict the Mazda3 will hold its value well in coming years, but not quite match that of the Subaru Impreza.