2016 Mazda Mazda3

Starting MSRP: $17,845 - $26,495

Estimated MPG: 29 city / 41 hwy

2016 Mazda Mazda3 Review

Driving an affordable vehicle that offers incredible fuel economy doesn’t have to mean sacrificing excellent driving dynamics or good looks. The fun-to-drive 2016 Mazda3 boasts up to 41 mpg highway, a spacious comfortable interior, and a sporty exterior that is easy on the eyes.

By Chris Brewer
Last Updated 05/03/2016

Very few vehicles share the Mazda3’s “have your cake and eat it too” approach to value and performance. The relatively inexpensive compact car, available as either a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback, pleases enthusiasts with nimble handling and excellent acceleration. It also earns a nod from those primarily concerned with maximum miles per gallon.

The Mazda3 is available in five trim levels and with two engines. Trims modified with the letter “i” are fit with Mazda’s Skyactiv 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Models modified by the letter “s” receive Mazda’s Skyactiv 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Either engine can be mated to a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.

2016 Mazda3 models include i Sport, i Touring and i Grand Touring. Mazda 3 s models are limited to s Touring and s Grand Touring trim levels.

Exterior

Exterior
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The 2016 Mazda3 makes a bold styling statement that sets Mazda’s compact car apart. It’s an elegant Japanese model that draws a few styling cues from its European competitors.

The Mazda3’s bold grille accentuates an aggressive front fascia and attractive large drawn back headlights. The long sloping hood, with its distinct fender lines that roll along the entire body, flows into a nicely angled windshield. The line smoothly exits the rear, punctuated by an attractive and sensible rear spoiler. While the sedan and the hatchback certainly have their own personalities, the primary lines remain basically the same.

My top-trim s Grand Touring added LED combination taillights, LED daytime running lights and an optional $1,300 appearance package that’s essentially an aftermarket ground-effects kit installed at the factory. It includes a front air dam, side sills, rear diffuser, rear hatch spoiler and door mirror caps. A close look reveals a Mazda3 that seems to have rolled out of a custom fabricator’s workshop. While I’m not ordinarily taken by added on performance look goodies, Mazda’s appearance package is well worth the investment if you want to add a touch of spice to your fuel-efficient and responsibly researched hatchback.

Interior

Interior
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While not quite the stand-out model on the inside that it is from the curb, the Mazda3 does offer an attractive interior with a modern, tech-inspired flair. The front seats are well-bolstered and quite comfortable, providing plenty of room for the driver and the front-seat passenger. The Mazda3 is what I would label a “driver’s compact.”

The majority of the Mazda3’s interior design is aimed at giving the driver the optimal experience. Every control is within arms-reach and quite easy to implement. 

The center gauge cluster features a prominent analog center gauge complemented by bookend digital displays on each side. An optional simplistic head-up display sits just above the sporty steering wheel.

The interior’s fit and finish are excellent, but don’t expect luxury compact standards. The Mazda3 excels at being upscale, especially in the higher trim levels, but it doesn’t get carried away. Soft-touch surfaces abound and the trim work is relatively understated, but nicely appropriated. All in all, the Mazda3 gives the impression of youthful success. It may be your first “nice” car, purchased with hard-earned money from a new job in the field that you worked so hard to break into.

The rear seats are comfortable and work well for two adults or three younger kids, but long trips with a trio of full grown adults pressed together should be out of the question. Helping a little is the effect provided by the Mazda3’s large windshield and windows, which gives the interior a nice open feeling, especially in hatchback form.

Cargo space is adequate, but smaller than others in the segment. The Mazda3 sedan offers 12.4 cubic feet of trunk space compared to the 13.2 cubic feet offered by the Ford Focus sedan. The Mazda3 hatchback certainly offers more cargo space than the sedan, but still falls short of some of the competition. With the second row in place, the hatchback provides 20.2 cubic feet verses the Ford Focus hatchbacks 23.3 cubic feet. It should be noted that the Mazda3 has the Focus solidly beat for passenger volume though; the Mazda3 boasts 96.4 cubic feet to the Ford’s 90 cubic feet.

Performance

Performance
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The 2016 Mazda3 is available with a Skyactiv 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, or a larger and more powerful Skyactiv 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. Unlike many competitors, the Mazda3 doesn’t limit transmission choices based on engine selection. A close-gated six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic transmission are available at almost all trim levels.

Regardless of engine choice, the Mazda3 offers driving dynamics that are a cut above a great deal of the segment.

Steering is precise and rewarding. Handling feels tighter than the average compact car. While not punishing, the sport-tuned suspension gives the Mazda3 a sporty character that begs to be driven.

The larger 2.5-liter four-cylinder, as found in my review vehicle, gives the Mazda3 the extra punch it needs to qualify as a sports sedan or a hot hatchback. No one is going to mistake your stock Mazda3 for a purpose built drag strip or track car, but the extra fun factor provided by the larger power plant is enough to make daily driving something that you look forward too.

What really makes the 2016 Mazda3 a brilliant option in the compact segment is the combination of fun and fuel economy. The 2.0-liter sedan, when connected to the six-speed manual, earns 29 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. Substituting the automatic transmission results in 30 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. Hatchback models earn 29/40 mpg city/highway with the manual and 30/40 mpg city/highway with the automatic.

The more powerful 2.5-liter suffers very little in the fuel economy department, even with the larger displacement engine and superior horsepower and torque ratings. Rated at 28/40 mpg city/highway when equipped with the automatic transmission with i-ELOOP, the spunky Mazda sedan almost defies logic. The fact that Mazda can build a normally aspirated engine that creates 184 horsepower and still achieves these estimates is a testament to the incredible engineering and production of this model.

The hatchback 2.5-liter s Grand Touring model earns 26/35 mpg city/highway when equipped with the manual transmission, representing the worst fuel combined fuel economy of the line-up.

Technology

Technology
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The base Mazda3 i Sport is equipped with a standard six-speaker audio system that features Bluetooth and a USB port, as well as the Mazda Connect infotainment system that comes with a 7-inch color touch screen and a center console-mounted controller. The system also takes voice commands and features HD Radio, smartphone app integration and text message audio delivery and relay.

Other standard technology features include a rearview camera, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, push-button start and remote keyless entry.

The Mazda3 i Touring adds blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Mazda’s advanced keyless entry, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers are also included in this driver-friendly trim level.

New for 2016, i Touring models can come with a value-packed $1,100 Popular Equipment package, which includes an auto-dimming interior mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control system, an excellent sounding nine-speaker Bose surround-sound system and satellite radio.

My top-tier Mazda3 s Grand Touring hatchback arrived with the Bose audio system as standard equipment. The system is found on all s Touring models as standard equipment along with a responsive and easy-to-use navigation system.

Safety

Safety
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A five-star overall National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rating recipient, the 2016 Mazda Mazda3 includes numerous passive and active safety systems as standard equipment.

The Mazda3 is designed and built with safety at the forefront. Its Skyactiv body ring structure, side-impact door beams, collapsible steering column and foldaway brake pedal assembly work to absorb impact in the case of a collision. Advanced dual front air bags, front side-impact air bags, side curtain air bags and front seat-belt pretensioners employ to keep occupants from harm.

Anti-lock brakes combine with dynamic stability control and traction control systems to help drivers avoid accidents in the first place.

All Mazda3 models come with a standard rearview camera.

With the exception of the base trim, every 2016 Mazda3 is equipped with a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross traffic alert. My s Grand Touring also included an optional $2,600 Technology package that includes adaptive cruise control, forward obstruction warning, active high-beam control, lane departure warning and smart city brake support.

Cost-Effectiveness

Cost-Effectiveness
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Offering excellent standard equipment and stand-out performance, the base Mazda3 i Sport sedan’s starting price of $17,845 represents excellent value. Adding the six-speed automatic raises the base price to $18,985.

The i Sport hatchback starts at $18,545 with the manual transmission and $19,595 with the automatic. Pricing is perfectly in line with the segment. For instance, the base sticker price is only $20 less than that of the base 2016 Toyota Corolla. Prices do not include an $820 destination fee.

My loaded-up s Grand Touring hatchback included the Technology package ($2,600), the Appearance package ($1,300), rear parking sensors ($495), an interior lighting kit ($275), scuff plates ($125), soul red metallic paint ($300), a cargo mat ($70) and a cargo net ($60) for a grand total of $32,540 including destination.

The value sweet spot might be the $21,795 i Touring model with six-speed automatic transmission. When coupled with the aforementioned Popular Equipment package you are rewarded with incredible fuel economy and a nicely optioned vehicle that will impress inside and out.

Overall

Overall
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The competitive compact segment is loaded with excellent vehicles that offer incredible fuel economy, practicality or spirited performance, but very few offer all three like the Mazda3. In a time when many think of performance in terms of miles per gallon, the Mazda3 completely satisfies and goes the next step to add sporty driving dynamics to the mix.

While there are certainly compacts that offer better cargo and rear seat room, the Mazda3 works to make the best compromises possible. 

In my opinion the lost luggage capacity is more than made up for by the excellent passenger volume and aggressive head-turning exterior styling.

If you are in the market for a compact sedan or hatchback and you think of driving as more than simply getting from place to place, the 2016 Mazda Mazda3 just might be the perfect car for you.