Practicality and value are prerequisites in the compact car segment, but a handful of vehicles in this class go above and beyond the fundamentals, delivering fun driving dynamics, a high-quality cabin and the latest driver assistance technologies. The 2017 Mazda3 checks all of these boxes, making it a top pick among small hatchbacks and sedans.
The Mazda3 receives a few notable updates for 2017. Its exterior benefits from revised front- and rear-end styling, while the interior gets design upgrades and additional sound-deadening materials. Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control joins the list of standard equipment, providing the Mazda3 with improved handling.
Mazda’s compact car is offered in sedan and hatchback body styles. A four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission are standard, while a six-speed automatic transmission and a larger, more powerful four-cylinder engine are also offered. Regardless of body style, the Mazda3 comes in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims.
Athletic and purposeful styling gives the Mazda3 a commanding presence among compact cars. A black grille spans the front fascia, and it is complemented by rakish headlamp assemblies that provide a sense of motion, even when the Mazda3 is viewed head on. In profile, Mazda’s compact car presents a long hood and a short rear overhang, giving it a muscular appearance.
The base Mazda3 sedan comes with 16-inch steel wheels, daytime running lights, halogen headlights and dual exhaust outlets. Higher trims bring in 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated sideview mirrors, LED fog lights and a moonroof. Adaptive LED headlights and LED combination lights are also offered.
A modern design and high-quality materials make the Mazda3 a standout in its class. Competitors like the 2017 Honda Civic and Volkswagen Golf also offer exceptional interior quality, but the Mazda3’s driver-focused design distinguishes it from these competitors. An attractive three-spoke steering wheel greets the driver, while a centrally mounted tachometer in the gauge cluster makes it clear that the Mazda3 is all about driving fun.
There’s plenty of space in the front row, too, though taller rear-seat passengers might want more legroom than the Mazda3 provides. Cargo space in the Mazda3 sedan stands at an acceptable 12.4 cubic feet. The hatchback offers a lot more utility, with 20.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 47.1 cubic feet of space with the second row folded.
The base Mazda3 sedan comes with a 60/40-split folding rear seat, cloth upholstery, full power accessories and a tilt-and-telescopic steering column. Available features include a power-adjustable driver’s seat, leatherette or leather upholstery, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and dual-zone automatic climate control.
Like many compact cars, the 2017 Mazda3 provides impressive fuel economy and a small footprint, which makes it easy to maneuver in crowded parking lots and congested urban settings. However, the Mazda3 sets itself apart with some of the best driving dynamics in the class.
A few competitors provide similar levels of driving fun, but the Mazda3 is arguably the nimblest compact car on the market. Twists and turns are handled with ease, and the 3’s communicative steering and firm brakes only bolster the fun factor during spirited drives.
Mazda also offers a six-speed manual transmission on every trim, and we enjoyed this gearbox in our test car. It engages easily with relatively short throws, and the clutch pedal’s light action and linear engagement should make it simple for novices to learn how to row their own gears.
The Mazda3’s standard engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that delivers 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. Models like our test car come with a more powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which is standard on all Grand Touring models and available on Touring hatchbacks. It delivers 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, and is well-matched to the rest of the car’s performance characteristics. While the larger engine doesn’t deliver the thrilling acceleration you’ll find from performance-oriented hot hatchbacks, the Mazda3 offers good highway passing power and enough oomph from a stop to inject some fun into otherwise mundane commutes.
The base Mazda3 sedan gets an EPA-estimated 27/37 mpg city/highway with the six-speed manual transmission, or 28/37 mpg when equipped with the optional six-speed automatic.
While it does not offer the latest smartphone mirroring technologies, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Mazda3 provides a suite of tech features that are among the most user-friendly in the class. A standard touch-screen display provides on-screen menus that are easy to navigate, while a control knob behind the gear shift makes it easy to access audio, navigation and phone functions while driving.
Every Mazda3 comes with keyless ignition, two USB ports, Bluetooth and a Mazda Connect infotainment system, which includes the aforementioned 7-inch touch screen, as well as HD radio, hands-free text messaging and smartphone integration for apps that include Aha, Pandora and Stitcher. Upgrades include a nine-speaker Bose audio system, keyless entry, satellite radio, navigation and Mazda’s Color Active Driving Display, which projects driving information onto a transparent panel above the gauge cluster, effectively keeping important vehicle information within the driver’s line of sight.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the 2017 Mazda3 a top five-star rating for its overall performance in crash tests.
The Mazda3 also performed well in tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), where it received a Top Safety Pick+ award and top scores of Good in all crashworthiness categories.
Every Mazda3 comes with a rearview camera, while the Touring trim adds blind spot monitoring and a low-speed collision mitigation system (Smart City Brake Support). An available i-Activsense package is offered on the Grand Touring trim, and it brings in automatic high beams, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and forward collision warning with automatic braking.
The 2017 Mazda3 sedan starts at $17,845 plus an $875 destination charge, while the base hatchback carries a suggested price of $19,095. Opt for the top Grand Touring trim with the automatic transmission, and the Mazda3 will carry a suggested price of $24,195 and $24,945 for sedan and hatchback models, respectively.
Our test Mazda3 sedan was a Grand Touring model with the manual transmission. It was outfitted with a Premium Equipment package ($1,600) and an i-Activsense Safety package ($1,100), which add a host of technology and driver assistance features and bring the suggested price to about $27,000, including destination.
If it were our money, we’d opt for the Mazda3 Touring hatchback with the larger 2.5-liter engine. That model carries a suggested price of $22,395 with the manual transmission ($23,445 with the automatic), and includes safety features we’d want, such as low-speed collision mitigation and blind spot monitoring.
While it may be an underdog when compared with small cars like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, buyers who investigate the 2017 Mazda3 will be presented with a very compelling alternative to the status quo. Attractive styling inside and out makes the Mazda3 look and feel premium for the segment, and few small cars offer its combination of practicality and driving fun. Great safety ratings and a full suite of driver assistance features also bolster its appeal, and the Mazda3 proves you do not need to pay a premium for technologies that were once reserved for luxury cars.