What makes the Mazda 3 such a good value in the compact car segment? It's stylish good looks are definitely a good start along with an interior that has always offered occupants a near premium driving experience. But with many of its rivals either upping their aesthetic game, or offering more performance and fundamental value. Can the 2018 Mazda 3 keep up with the changing landscape while still offering the compelling DNA that keeps Mazda loyalists coming back for more?
To find out, we revisited this old favorite to see for ourselves if the Mazda 3 has aged into a grizzled veteran gracefully or if it has lost a few moves over the years especially against other compact offerings.
The exterior styling of our Soul Red Grand Touring tester has not changed much since the "3" received a mild refresh for 2017 with the exterior being slightly nipped and tucked by Mazda stylists both front and rear. This tweaked suit of clothes still oozes character and the revisions brings additional levels of crispness and poise to the Mazda 3. This effect is maximized on the hatchback, though our sedan version still managed to look like it was ready to tackle a twisty road. With the bulk of its competitors either being overstyled by their designers, or arriving on the scene in distinctively boring wrappers, it's good to see that the Mazda 3 still effortlessly brings a balanced persona to buyers.
The interior of our tester still does a good job delivering a premium atmosphere to occupants, with swaths of high quality materials scattered throughout. This is especially noticeable in Grand Touring models which come equipped with leather seating that incorporates contrasting stitching, additional metallic trim accents, as well as a fancier gear cluster that includes a centrally positioned tachometer. With all of these nice features, it's a pity that even top tier Mazda 3's are still missing several key pieces of equipment, with buyers unable to equip their purchase with a power adjustable front passenger seat, heated rear seats, and rear air vents.
The strong focus on the driver also creates a few trade offs in rear passenger room, with the space being accessed through small door openings, and the Mazda 3 is much stingier on rear legroom than others in its segment. The middle seat is about as horrible as it sounds, and even the outboard rear seats offer cramped head and legroom, despite featuring good amounts of support and comfort. 2018 brought illuminated vanity mirrors, and a sunglasses holder to the standard equipment list. While these additions may seem insignificant at first glance, little additions like these do help enhance the value quotient and everyday usability of the Mazda 3, especially to the niche clientele that put those minor things at the top of their shopping list versus more established things like traction control, fuel economy, etc.
Performance for our tester came from the familiar 2.5 liter four cylinder engine which produced a respectable 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque respectively. Mazda makes the six speed manual transmission standard fare on all Mazda variants, but if you prefer to let the car do the shifting instead, the firm has a six speed automatic that does the job quite well. The engine is not the smoothest engine around, but it is eager to rev, and the four banger manages to deliver power in a linear ample manner.
The engine's tendency to rev also makes the 2.5 swill its gas quicker than other compact entries, which may keep more mileage focused buyers from considering the Mazda 3 when cross shopping with rivals like the Volkswagen Golf and the Hyundai Elantra GT for hatch versions, and the Jetta and Elantra for the four door. The six speed automatic is a smooth unit, and delivers crisp shifts, but if it were our money on the line, we would skip it, and instead opt for the six speed manual, and its perfectly spaced pedals and nicely balanced clutch.
Handling in our tester was very balanced, and while the Mazda 3 is still not quite up to the measuring stick established by hot hatches or more performance oriented sedans, it's still very sporty, and should please buyers that want to add more spice to their daily commute, but without embracing the firm back bashing ride that often comes with such a purchase. Braking in our tester was good, and the Mazda 3 held its composure even in panic stopping situations.
Pricing for the 2018 Mazda 3 starts at $18,095 for a manual equipped Sport model, with Touring grade cars boasting a $20,090 base MSRP. Step up to Grand Touring trim and be prepared to pay the base $23,145 sticker. As mentioned prior, the six speed automatic is optional,and it helps increase the base MSRP to $24,195. Our Grand Touring tester had three optional extras including the $1,600 Premium Equipment Package, which helped our tester reach a final total of $27,070. This price includes the $875 destination fee, and also highlights some of the gaps that the Mazda 3 has in its interior features which are filled by others in its segment.
Overall the 2018 Mazda 3 is still a pretty compelling entry in the compact sedan ranks. While it will always be more of a left field entry when compared to the Ford Focus and others of its kind, the Mazda 3 is still a sporty car that embodies its intentions well. However, it will need a bit more polishing as well as some more standard equipment to truly make this Mazda a threat to established benchmark offerings