Note: This review also applies to the 2013 Mazda 3 as no major changes were made since the 2012 Mazda 3.
This 2012 Mazda 3 video review goes over price, fuel economy, features, safety and what it's like to drive. We also compare it to other compact sedan and hatchback models.
There's a huge list of candidates if you're shopping for a compact car, but the Mazda 3 is a front-runner. It stands apart for its outstanding fuel economy, fun driving experience and surprisingly upscale feel. It also drives like a more expensive car than it actually is.
The Mazda 3 sedan starts around $16,000, but the hatchback is much more useful with its large cargo area. It starts at $20,000, and this i Grand Touring model costs about $25,000.
Opinions are divided on the exterior styling, but the well-built cabin always makes a good impression. Some rivals have nicer materials, though, and the electronics in the Mazda are dated. Using the steering wheel controls to operate the navigation system is tedious, and if you want a USB input for your iPod, you have to buy an accessory kit from a dealer. Still, Mazda offers a blind-spot warning system and bi-xenon headlights, which aren't even available in most competitors.
Although the driver seat is comfortable, you might run short on seat-track travel and headroom if you're tall. Rear-seat legroom is also a little tight. This car earned four stars from the federal government for front- and side-impact crash protection, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named it a Top Safety Pick.
The Mazda 3 offers three engines. All of them provide sufficient acceleration, but the 155-hp 2.0-liter "Skyactiv" engine in the i Touring and i Grand Touring models is the best overall compromise of performance and fuel economy. With the automatic transmission, this hatchback rates 28 mpg in the city, 39 mpg on the highway and 32 mpg combined. The sedan is rated 28 city/40 highway/33 combined mpg.
Most people don't look for sporty handling in a budget-priced car, but Mazda offers it anyway. This car is very confident around turns. The highway ride is pretty smooth, but some people might find it too firm. In that case, the Focus or Elantra might be more your speed, and you should also try the Chevy Cruze and Honda Civic.