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Edmunds' Expert Review

  • Precise handling
  • high fuel economy with optional 2.0-liter engine
  • stylish, well-equipped interior
  • impressive list of luxury options
  • extra utility of four-door hatchback.
  • Ride might be too firm for some
  • cabin and trunk not as large as those of competitors.

A new high-efficiency engine re-establishes the 2012 Mazda 3 as a class favorite.

Vehicle overview

The long-running automotive horsepower war might finally be grinding to a halt with a stalemate, at least in the compact car segment. Replacing power output one-upmanship is a new, much greener conflict over fuel economy. Among compacts, 40 mpg is the new target, one that the Mazda 3 has fallen woefully short of in the past. Not anymore.

For 2012, the Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback are available with Mazda's new "Skyactiv" powertrain components: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired to either a new six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Mazda's engineers essentially went through the internal combustion engine with a fine-toothed comb, looking at the myriad inherent inefficiencies and devising clever solutions to address them.

The result is a power plant that can hit that magic 40 mpg without "tricks" like adaptive front grille shutters or transmission programming that shifts the car into top gear at the earliest opportunity. Nor has the rise in fuel economy come at the expense of power. The new Skyactiv engine, which slots between the carryover 2.0-liter and 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines, boasts more power than the Hyundai Elantra and Chevy Cruze Eco -- two cars that also hit the 40 mpg threshold. Only the Ford Focus sports a better combination of power and fuel economy, but it only achieves 40 mpg highway with its Super Fuel Economy package.

This new engine complements the 2012 Mazda 3's other existing strengths, including sharp handling, a stylish interior and an available hatchback body style. That said, the 3 isn't quite the no-brainer pick it once was. The Elantra, Cruze and Focus are all excellent choices for a small sedan or hatchback. But for competitive fuel economy and a fun-to-drive nature, the Mazda 3 is hard to beat.

2012 Mazda 3 models

The 2012 Mazda 3 is available in four-door sedan and hatchback body styles. Both are available in 3i and 3s trims that are further broken into subtrims. The high-performance Mazdaspeed 3 is reviewed separately.

The 3i SV and Sport trims are available only on the sedan. The SV comes sparsely equipped with 16-inch steel wheels, power mirrors, power windows, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and steering wheel controls. The Sport adds air-conditioning, power locks, keyless entry and an outside temperature display.

The rest of the Mazda 3 trims are available on both the sedan and hatchback. The 3i Touring adds to the Sport equipment the Skyactiv-G engine, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, a rear-seat center armrest, a trip computer, Bluetooth (phone and audio streaming) and a six-speaker sound system. The Touring can be had with a package that includes a sunroof and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system. Those items are standard on the 3i Grand Touring, which also gets heated mirrors, an eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats, leather upholstery, a sliding front center armrest, a color trip computer and a compact navigation system.

The 3s Touring adds on a more powerful four-cylinder engine, 17-inch alloy wheels, upgraded brakes, foglamps, LED taillights, a deck lid spoiler (sedan), keyless ignition/entry, sport seats and dual-zone automatic climate control. However, it reverts back to a manual driver seat and cloth upholstery, while the sunroof and navigation system are options. The 3s Grand Touring includes those items.

The Tech package available on both 3i and 3s Grand Touring trims adds a blind-spot warning system, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, automatic wipers and satellite radio (optional separately on all trims).

An iPod/USB audio interface and a six-CD changer are available as dealer-installed accessories on all Mazda 3 trim levels.

2012 Highlights

For the 2012 Mazda 3, a newly optional 2.0-liter engine debuts and it delivers both more horsepower and higher fuel economy than last year's 2.0-liter engine. (The old 2.0-liter as well as the 2.5-liter engine is still available.) This year also brings several new trim levels, expanded availability of the hatchback body style, slight revisions to exterior and interior styling, and additional standard equipment for most trim levels.

Performance & mpg

The 2012 Mazda 3i SV and Sport trims are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 148 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual is standard on both subtrims, but the Sport can be equipped with an optional five-speed automatic. In Edmunds performance testing, an automatic-equipped 3i with this engine went from zero to 60 mph in 9.9 seconds -- a slightly slow performance among similarly powerful sedans. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined with the manual and 24/33/27 with the automatic.

The 3i Touring and Grand Touring trims get a new, more advanced 2.0-liter four-cylinder (Skyactiv-G) that produces 155 hp (154 in California-emissions states) and 148 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional.

In Edmunds performance testing of an automatic-equipped sedan, a Skyactiv Mazda 3 reached 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, which is quick for the class. EPA fuel economy estimates for this new engine put it among the class leaders: 28/40/33 for an automatic-equipped sedan and 27/39/31 for a manual-equipped sedan. The hatchback is estimated to return 28/39/32 and 27/38/31, respectively. In extensive fuel economy testing, we confirmed that this engine does achieve these impressive figures.

The 3s trims get a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 167 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque. These numbers are downgraded slightly in California-emissions states. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a five-speed automatic is optional. In Edmunds testing, the 3s went from zero to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds regardless of transmission -- a strong performance, but not much of an improvement over the Skyactiv engine. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 20/28/23 with the manual and 22/29/25 with the automatic. These estimates are quite low for the small car segment.


Every 2012 Mazda 3 comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, brake assist, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. A blind spot warning system is optional on the Grand Touring trims. In Edmunds brake testing, a 3i Sport stopped from 60 mph in a rather long 135 feet. The 3i Touring was no better, but the sportier 3s stopped in a solid 123 feet.

In government crash testing, the 2012 Mazda 3 received four out of five stars for overall crash protection, five stars for overall frontal protection and three stars for overall side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 3 the highest rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.


The 2012 Mazda 3 has refined road manners that will likely surprise most economy car shoppers. Responsive steering and performance-oriented chassis tuning make it one of the most enjoyable small cars to drive on winding roads. On a daily basis, the 3's highway ride is smooth enough for most commuters, although drivers who prefer softly sprung compacts like the Toyota Corolla might think the 3 rides too firmly.

In terms of engines, the upgraded 2.0-liter engine found in the 3i Touring and 3i Grand Touring models is the best bet. Its 155-hp output slots in between the other two engines, but blows them both away in fuel economy. Its acceleration is more than adequate for most buyers, and in fact the more robust 2.5-liter offers only a negligible acceleration benefit. The engine's accompanying automatic transmission is also a bright spot, offering shifts that are remarkably quick, responsive and smooth.


Among several impressive new competitors, the Mazda 3's interior design and materials quality isn't the class leader it once was. Still, even if it isn't top dog, that doesn't make it a mangy mutt. Even the lowest trim levels feature soft-touch surfaces, while Grand Touring models offer enough luxury and convenience equipment to keep pace with other so-called premium compact cars. Some may find the stereo controls a bit complicated or the optional navigation system a bit tedious, however. The latter's small screen and wheel-mounted buttons make for a clumsy interface, but at least it's relatively inexpensive.

The Mazda 3 is also a bit less spacious than its competitors, with long-legged folks likely to be cramped in back and possibly in the driver seat as well. The available power driver seat helps the latter situation, but the optional sunroof hurts it further. The 3 hatchback would be our choice, since it offers all the sedan's high points and adds greater practicality. Luggage capacity (with the rear seats up) is 17 cubic feet with the hatch, but only 11.8 with the sedan.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the Used 2012 Mazda 3.

Trending topics in reviews

Most helpful consumer reviews

4.38 out of 5 stars
The Perfect Utility Commuter Car
i Touring 4dr Hatchback w/SKYACTIV-G (2.0L 4cyl 6M)
Having a 70 mile (round trip) commute to drive every day will make you think long and hard about what you want in a car. I waited about 4 months to write this review so I would have a large sample size to go on. About 80-85% of my driving are freeway miles, in San Francisco Bay Area traffic. Having now put about 9,000 miles on the car, I can tell you unequivocally that I made the right choice in a new vehicle. I am AVERAGING 39 mpg. I could probably get better than 40 if I slowed down a little. I've had the mileage get as high as 44.5 mpg over a 35 mile stretch with the cruise control locked in at 65 mph. YSeats are comfy for extended drives. Manual tranny and clutch are very precise.
4.63 out of 5 stars
So Far an excellent car
i Touring 4dr Hatchback w/SKYACTIV-G (2.0L 4cyl 6M)
To keep this short and sweet my wife gets almost 500 miles per 11 gallons of fuel. It is a 14 gallon tank so when the fuel light goes on there should be 3 gallons left but it is hard to ignore the fuel light and the range being under 40 miles. Best example of mileage that we have repeated more than once... 60 mph in 6th gear on a straight and level stretch or road with the cruise control and AC on with 4 people in the car 44.7 mpg turn off the ac and it goes up to 47mpg. This is not drafting and the instant mpg readout will hold steady as long as the road is level.
4.63 out of 5 stars
i Touring 4dr Sedan w/SKYACTIV-G (2.0L 4cyl 6A)
I’ve returned to update my review with three years of ownership and 60,000 miles under my belt. I take back what I said last time about the lack of driver seat comfort; a couple months after writing that I found a seating position that works for me. I lowered the seat all the way and that has eliminated all of my leg room problems. Piloting the Mazda is now a pretty comfortable experience if driving for less than a few hours. Steering and handling is still great. I replaced the stock tires with some Bridgestone Potenza summer rubber and this thing sticks to the pavement like glue.
4.88 out of 5 stars
Amazing, Fun Car with great gas mileage!
i Touring 4dr Sedan w/SKYACTIV-G (2.0L 4cyl 6A)
I just bought this car a couple days ago but already am in love with it!! The new SkyActiv technology is incredible. I have driven 250 miles 80% highway 20% city and am averaging 39 MPG! I love the Mazda3 styling inside and out. I got the Dolphin Gray Mica and the color is beautiful. Inside everything is really great too. I am learning all about the bluetooth system and Its amazing being able to play my Iphone music over the stereo as well and send and recieve calls =) I cant wait to be over the break in period so I can try out the engine to its full potential. The handling is outstanding as well.


NHTSA Overall Rating

4 out of 5 stars
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers independent analysis.
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
    Overall5 / 5
    Driver5 / 5
    Passenger4 / 5
  • Side Crash Rating
    Overall3 / 5
  • Side Barrier Rating
    Overall3 / 5
    Driver4 / 5
    Passenger2 / 5
  • Combined Side Barrier & Pole Ratings
    Front Seat4 / 5
    Back Seat2 / 5
  • Rollover
    Rollover4 / 5
    Dynamic Test ResultNo Tip
    Risk Of Rollover10.9%
IIHS Rating
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
  • Side Impact Test
  • Roof Strength Test
  • Rear Crash Protection / Head Restraint
  • IIHS Small Overlap Front Test
    Not Tested
  • Moderate Overlap Front Test

More about the 2012 Mazda 3
More About This Model

We're supposed to be pedaling our way to 40 mpg in the 2012 Mazda 3. But we've just turned onto Big Tujunga Canyon, a great road that feeds into the famed Angeles Crest Highway, and it's empty. We floor the throttle without remorse.

Fun driving ruins fuel economy. That's the ugly truth car guys confront every day.

As tougher fuel-efficiency standards loom, Mazda is dealing with it, too. The current-generation Mazda 3 can attack a corner like no other economy car, but it has always had a comparatively big thirst for fuel. The most efficient 2011 Mazda 3 was rated just at 25 city/33 highway mpg.

For 2012, the automaker has added a third engine to the Mazda 3 family — a direct-injected, 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder called Skyactiv-G — and it brings a pair of all-new transmissions with it. Fuel mileage climbs as high as 28 city/40 highway. And when we glance at the average mpg meter after our run through the canyon, it's still not that scary.

Half the Sky
A Mazda official tells us that Skyactiv is a marketing guy's translation of Nobi nobi, which means something like the "sky's the limit" in Japanese. That might not be entirely true, but it's a good story and it gets to the heart of what the Skyactiv technologies are about: They're everything.

Last month, we drove a prototype of the Mazda CX-5 crossover, which will be the first top-to-bottom Skyactiv vehicle, incorporating an all-new lightweight body and chassis along with the new drivetrains. The idea is to build lighter, more efficient cars that get better mpg, yet are still fun to drive — exactly what you'd hope the enabler of Zoom Zoom would be doing.

The Mazda 3 is still a few years away from a full redesign, so the automaker has swapped in only the Skyactiv drivetrains for this 2012 refresh, which also incorporates minor changes to the suspension and unit-body that provide a slight increase in rigidity, along with subtle cosmetic changes.

Rated for 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 148 pound-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm, the new 2.0-liter engine is standard on the i Touring model, which is now available as a sedan or hatchback, and on the new i Grand Touring model.

Mazda is still offering its older, port-injected, 148-hp 2.0-liter MZR engine as a less expensive alternative on base i and i Sport models, while the 167-hp 2.5-liter MZR engine remains on s models for those of you seeking more torque (it's rated for 166 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm). The 263-hp Mazdaspeed 3 carries over unchanged.

Sweated Details
High compression is the key to the Skyactiv-G engine's combination of usable performance and excellent fuel economy. Until now, we'd only sampled European-spec versions of this engine running at 14:1 compression. For the 2012 Mazda 3, the engineers have lowered the compression ratio to 12:1 to accommodate our 87 octane fuel and the 3's more conventional exhaust manifold, which isn't quite as adept as the CX-5's 4-2-1 exhaust manifold at evacuating hot exhaust gases (and thereby preventing detonation).

"The 4-2-1 exhaust manifold is big," Kenichiro Saruwatari, chief engineer for the Mazda 3, told us, "so we cannot package it in the current Mazda 3 chassis — it would touch the dashboard."

Even 12:1 compression would be inconceivable without direct injection cooling the intake charge. A modernized injection system on the Skyactiv-G engine squirts fuel into the combustion chambers at higher pressure than on the automaker's only other D.I. engine — the 2.3-liter turbo on the Mazdaspeed 3.

You'll also note that the new engine is undersquare, with an 83.5mm cylinder-bore diameter and a 91.2mm stroke, compared to the oversquare 2.0-liter MZR engine (87.5mm bore diameter, 83.1mm stroke). Undersquare engines have more compact combustion chambers and suffer less heat loss — Subaru has taken a similar approach on the 2012 Impreza.

Mazda also looked for every way possible to reduce friction on the Skyactiv-G engine. An electronically controlled oil pump is better matched to the engine's lubrication needs, while a new water pump and redesigned fins in the radiator provide more efficient and consistent cooling. The pistons, connecting rods and crankshaft are all forged steel, and the engine has a roller-rocker valvetrain. The engine's variable intake valve timing plays a role in keeping the cylinder contents cool and helps reduce pumping losses in low-load situations.

A Manual for People Who Like Manuals
When we get into our 2012 Mazda 3 i Touring Sedan, we're assured it really is running on 87 octane. Our car has the new six-speed manual, which is Mazda's first totally new manual gearbox since the 1980s.

"Most of the effort went into making the driving experience better," Dave Coleman, Mazda's head of sports car engineering for North America, told us. "Anyone who buys a manual transmission in a Mazda is doing it because they like driving."

To that end, Mazda shortened up the shift throws (now 45mm versus 50mm on the old six-speed) while reducing effort levels. Roller bearings take the place of bronze bushings on the shift rod. There's a nice, positive feel as you slot into each gate, and the clutch take-up is much friendlier than on our long-term Mazdaspeed 3.

With 12:1 compression, the engine has less low-end grunt than we remember from the CX-5 prototypes, but once we reach 3,000 rpm, there's ample torque and it's smooth all the way to the 6,500-rpm redline. It turns out to be plenty of power for the run up Big Tujunga, and we rip off more than a few heel-and-toe downshifts.

Acceleration is just as acceptable on the freeway, and 6th gear isn't so tall that you're constantly downshifting. Fuel mileage is slightly lower with the manual (27/39 on the sedan, 27/38 on the five-door), but not low enough to deter us.

But the Automatic Is Good, Too
If you want an automatic, though, you're not losing out on much performance.

The new six-speed automatic is locked up 88 percent of the time compared with 64 percent on the old five-speed automatic, a change that not only improves responsiveness but also contributes to a 7 percent improvement in fuel economy. The torque converter is only active below 5 mph, so it can be smaller, while the multiplate lockup clutch is much bigger — as is the torsional damper.

Another change is the adoption of a mechatronic module that combines the transmission's electronic and hydraulic controls in a single unit that Mazda calibrates to compensate for minor variations that occur on the production line. The result is a transmission that can rev-match a downshift and still give you a smooth upshift.

That's exactly what we get during an afternoon commute in an automatic 2012 Mazda 3. Downshifts are quick with this transmission, so quick that it's hard to imagine anyone paying more for an automatic-equipped s model with the 2.5-liter engine. Indeed, you'd have a quicker Mazda 3, but it wouldn't shift nearly as well. The automatic has a manual mode (push the shifter forward to downshift, pull back to upshift) but no shift paddles.

Mazda conservatively estimates that an automatic-equipped Mazda 3 with the Skyactiv-G engine will hit 60 mph in 9.6 seconds — significantly quicker than an automatic-equipped car with the 2.0-liter MZR engine (10.3 seconds). A manual-equipped Skyactiv-G car should be even quicker.

It's a Complete Package
Although the drivetrains are the main story on the 2012 Mazda 3, driving this car on back roads reminds us why it remains a favorite of ours in the compact car class.

Even the i Touring trim, with workaday P205/55R16 Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires, has exceptional grip and balance through corners. Power steering assist remains hydraulic (albeit with an electric motor driving the pump) and the steering feel is beyond what any other automaker has achieved in this price range. Even with only 155 hp, the Mazda 3 is a purer sport compact than some other cars with 50-100 hp more.

The 2012 Mazda 3 is also an excellent value. Our manual-shift i Touring sedan has essentials, including a telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth and an auxiliary input (a proprietary iPod cable remains a dealer accessory), and costs just $19,245 — right in line with a comparably equipped Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic or Hyundai Elantra. For the hatchback, it runs $19,745, which is $1,000 less than the cheapest 2011 Mazda 3 five-door (which only came with the 2.5-liter). And if you want the automatic, it's $850 more.

Although the 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G will be the volume engine on the 2012 Mazda 3, the automaker isn't expecting an overall increase in Mazda 3 sales, which usually hover around 100,000 units per year.

This is too bad, because the fuel mileage is for real with the new drivetrains, and unlike most other approaches to maximizing mpg, they don't put a damper on the fun. Instead, it's quite the opposite. The Mazda 3 has never been better.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.

Used 2012 Mazda 3 Overview

The Used 2012 Mazda 3 is offered in the following submodels: 3 Hatchback, 3 Sedan. Available styles include i Grand Touring 4dr Sedan w/SKYACTIV-G (2.0L 4cyl 6A), i Grand Touring 4dr Hatchback w/SKYACTIV-G (2.0L 4cyl 6A), i Touring 4dr Sedan w/SKYACTIV-G (2.0L 4cyl 6A), i Touring 4dr Sedan w/SKYACTIV-G (2.0L 4cyl 6M), i Sport 4dr Sedan (2.0L 4cyl 5A), i Sport 4dr Sedan (2.0L 4cyl 5M), i SV 4dr Sedan (2.0L 4cyl 5M), i Touring 4dr Hatchback w/SKYACTIV-G (2.0L 4cyl 6A), s Grand Touring 4dr Sedan (2.5L 4cyl 5A), s Touring 4dr Sedan (2.5L 4cyl 5A), i Touring 4dr Hatchback w/SKYACTIV-G (2.0L 4cyl 6M), i Touring 4dr Sedan w/Prod. End 09/11 (2.0L 4cyl 5A), s Grand Touring 4dr Hatchback (2.5L 4cyl 6M), i Touring 4dr Sedan w/Prod. End 09/11 (2.0L 4cyl 5M), s Grand Touring 4dr Sedan (2.5L 4cyl 6M), s Touring 4dr Hatchback (2.5L 4cyl 6M), s Touring 4dr Sedan (2.5L 4cyl 6M), s Grand Touring 4dr Hatchback (2.5L 4cyl 5A), and s Touring 4dr Hatchback (2.5L 4cyl 5A). Pre-owned Mazda 3 models are available with a 2.0 L-liter gas engine, with output up to 155 hp, depending on engine type. The Used 2012 Mazda 3 comes with front wheel drive. Available transmissions include: 6-speed shiftable automatic. The Used 2012 Mazda 3 comes with a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. basic warranty, a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. roadside warranty, and a 5 yr./ 60000 mi. powertrain warranty.

What's a good price on a Used 2012 Mazda 3?

Price comparisons for Used 2012 Mazda 3 trim styles:

  • The Used 2012 Mazda 3 i Touring is priced between $7,500 and$13,895 with odometer readings between 85021 and130263 miles.
  • The Used 2012 Mazda 3 i Grand Touring is priced between $10,995 and$11,000 with odometer readings between 129283 and131147 miles.

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Which used 2012 Mazda 3s are available in my area?

Shop Edmunds' car, SUV, and truck listings of over 6 million vehicles to find a cheap new, used, or certified pre-owned (CPO) 2012 Mazda 3 for sale near. There are currently 7 used and CPO 2012 3s listed for sale in your area, with list prices as low as $7,500 and mileage as low as 85021 miles. Simply research the type of car you're interested in and then select a used car from our massive database to find cheap prew-owned vehicles for sale near you. Once you have identified a used vehicle you're interested in, check the AutoCheck vehicle history reports, read dealer reviews, and find out what other owners paid for the Used 2012 Mazda 3.

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Should I lease or buy a 2012 Mazda 3?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

Check out Mazda lease specials
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