2018 Mazda 3 Review

author
by Cameron Rogers
Edmunds Editor

Edmunds expert review

The 2018 Mazda 3 isn't the quickest car in its class, but it is the best to drive. The Mazda 3 doesn't have the biggest cargo capacity in its class either, but it will certainly hold a whole lot of stuff. This is a clear case of the raw numbers not telling the entire story.

Inside and out, the Mazda 3 is attractive, and plenty of elements give it a more upmarket appeal. On the road, it's not just competent; it's actually entertaining and sporty to drive. Even if you're not into performance, this translates to a feeling that the car will respond to emergency maneuvers with confidence and ease.

In the competitive budget-conscious compact sedan and hatchback class, the 2018 Mazda 3 is a rarity for exceeding expectations and delivering far more than its price would suggest. We bore this out in a yearlong test of this car's current generation as well as subsequent evaluation of newer variants. You'd be remiss not to have it on your short list.



We recommend

We're partial to the hatchback for its cargo-carrying flexibility as well as its aesthetic appeal. Among the different trim level choices, the Touring trim presents a good balance of features for the price, plus it gets the more powerful engine. If your budget can stretch, the Grand Touring is a great pick that is eligible for a host of advanced safety features.



Trim levels & features

The five-passenger 2018 Mazda 3 is available as a sedan or four-door hatchback. Both body styles are offered in Sport, Touring or Grand Touring trims.

The Sport trim is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (155 horsepower, 150 pound-feet of torque). The Touring and Grand Touring models get a 2.5-liter engine (184 hp, 185 lb-ft). A six-speed manual transmission is standard for all Mazda 3s, with a six-speed automatic available as an option.

Standard Sport trim features for the sedan include 16-inch steel wheels, remote keyless entry, keyless ignition, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, Bluetooth, the Mazda Connect infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen, a rearview camera, low-speed forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, emergency telematics, and a six-speaker stereo with two USB ports. The hatchback adds the upgrades of alloy wheels and a rear spoiler.

The sedan is eligible for the optional Preferred Equipment package that adds alloy wheels, automatic headlights, automatic wipers, heated mirrors, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, upgraded upholstery, and a rear seat armrest with cupholders.

The Touring trim includes all of the above, along with 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, simulated leather upholstery, a six-way power driver's seat and heated front seats.

At the top of the range, the Grand Touring model gains LED exterior lights (headlights, foglights and taillights), a sunroof, a digital speedometer, an upgraded instrument panel display, leather upholstery, a nine-speaker Bose surround-sound system and satellite radio. To this, the Premium Equipment package adds adaptive headlights, automatic high beams, a heated steering wheel, paddle shifters (for the automatic transmission), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a navigation system, lane departure warning and intervention, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and braking for higher speeds, and a traffic sign reader.



Trim tested

Each vehicle typically comes in multiple versions that are fundamentally similar. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the Mazda 3 Sedan Grand Touring (2.5L inline-4 | 6-speed manual | FWD).

Since this test was conducted in 2017, the current Mazda 3 has received no significant revisions. Our findings remain broadly applicable to this year's Mazda 3.

Edmunds Scorecard

Overall7.9 / 10

Driving

8.0 / 10

Braking7.0 / 10
Steering7.5 / 10
Handling8.0 / 10
Drivability8.5 / 10

Comfort

7.5 / 10

Seat comfort7.0 / 10
Ride comfort8.0 / 10
Noise & vibration6.5 / 10
Climate control7.5 / 10

Interior

8.0 / 10

Ease of use8.5 / 10
Getting in/getting out8.0 / 10
Driving position7.5 / 10
Roominess7.5 / 10
Visibility7.5 / 10
Quality9.0 / 10

Utility

6.5 / 10

Small-item storage7.0 / 10
Cargo space6.0 / 10

Technology

7.5 / 10

Audio & navigation8.5 / 10
Smartphone integration7.5 / 10
Driver aids6.5 / 10
Voice control8.0 / 10

Driving8.0

Mazda built its reputation on making driver's cars, and the 3 offers an excellent driving experience and rewarding handling dynamics. Some competitors offer more acceleration, and while the 3's transmission is well-behaved, it sometimes reacts more slowly than certain more modern units.

Acceleration

The 3's eager four-cylinder engine responds willingly, with linear delivery. The car feels like it has plenty to give, even at half throttle, and power builds naturally through the rev range. While our as-tested 0-60 mph time of 7.7 seconds won't set any records, the car feels brisk.

Braking7.0

The brake pedal is solid and responsive, and the car is very stable, even during emergency braking. The brakes are easy to modulate and never feel grabby. The 60-0 mph emergency braking distance we measured of 121 feet isn't class-leading, but the brakes inspire confidence.

Steering7.5

There's more steering feedback than in many competitors, and resistance builds nicely and naturally. The steering is quick and precise in turns, but the on-center feel is a little off. There is a small amount of play in the center where you don't get resistance and the wheel won't try to recenter.

Handling8.0

This car definitely punches above its weight class when it comes to handling, making the Mazda rewarding to drive on twisting roads and through city streets. It changes direction with aplomb and communicates its intentions clearly, which inspires confidence.

Drivability8.5

The transmission is well-behaved and downshifts when you need it without hunting around. Coupled with a responsive throttle, the 3 drives smoothly in almost all situations. The reaction from the paddle shifters is too slow to make them useful in spirited driving.

Comfort7.5

Mazda has done a good job balancing ride comfort with performance. The front seats are nicely molded and padded — aside from the too-aggressive headrests. While sound insulation has been improved over older models, the Mazda 3's cabin is noisier on the highway than some competitors.

Seat comfort7.0

The seats are well-molded, and the cushions comfortable even on long drives, although they don't have quite enough bolstering for a car that encourages fast turns. Unfortunately, the headrests are aggressively forward and some drivers may experience back and neck discomfort.

Ride comfort8.0

The Mazda 3 is textbook "buttoned-down." This car takes you along for every dip and hump as it sticks to the road surface, but it still does a good job of absorbing bumps and harshness. Its mild performance orientation might make it too firm for some, but others will appreciate these characteristics.

Noise & vibration6.5

The 3 is better insulated than some small cars, but enough noise makes it into the cabin to undermine its premium look a bit. At freeway speeds, road and tire noise is noticeable on all but the smoothest asphalt, and wind noise from the doors is consistent.

Climate control7.5

The climate controls are easy to use, with big analog buttons and clear displays. Once set, we found we didn't need to fiddle with them. The dual-zone system regulates temperature without blasting harsh hot or cold air, and it kept us comfortable.

Interior8.0

The Mazda 3's interior is very easy to use and live with. Mazda thoughtfully designed the interior around the driver, though taller people might feel slightly out of place. The steering wheel lacks some reach adjustment, and the dash-mounted head-up display will be awkwardly low for some.

Ease of use8.5

The important controls are easy to find and operate. The combination of touchscreen and knob makes system navigation easy, and settings are largely intuitively placed. The Mazda's controls and technology are some of the friendliest in the class.

Getting in/getting out8.0

The Mazda 3 gives you the sporty feeling of sitting low, but it's still quite easy to get into and out of. There's good access all around, thanks to square openings and a roofline that isn't too aggressive as it approaches the rear of the car. Rear legroom is lacking.

Driving position7.5

Everything important is within easy reach from the driver's seat. Most drivers will find a comfortable position, thanks to the adjustable seat height and tilting steering wheel. Taller folks will wish for more steering-wheel telescope and find the door armrests and the head-up display are placed too low.

Roominess7.5

Smart layout and design make the front seat feel spacious, with plenty of leg-, headroom and shoulder room, even for drivers over 6 feet. In the back seat, however, legroom shrinks significantly if the driver is tall and headroom might not accommodate adults with tall torsos.

Visibility7.5

There's plenty of forward visibility, aided by door-mounted mirrors that also offer a good view behind. The rear three-quarter view is impaired by very thick roof pillars that merge into the high rear deck, but that's not unusual for the class, and the mirrors and blind-spot monitoring compensate admirably.

Quality9.0

Smart design covers up the cost-cutting that's been done. The hard plastics are textured so they don't look cheap, and most touchpoints have been covered with soft-touch or premium-feeling materials. Everything feels solidly built as well, with no rattles or creaks during our testing.

Utility6.5

While the Mazda 3 sedan offers folding seats, easy-to-find LATCH points, and a number of small-item storage options, it falls behind the class leaders in terms of practicality. A handful of design issues also hurt the usability of some of these features.

Small-item storage7.0

The front seats get deep, water-bottle-ready door pockets, a cellphone tray and good-sized cupholders. But the center console box is small. Overall, storage is sufficient, but some competitors offer significantly more and with more clever integration.

Cargo space6.0

At 12.4 cubic feet, the trunk is one of the smallest in class, but it is easy to load and unload items. Folding the rear seats gives you a nice flat cargo space, though that will usually require moving the front seats forward, a drawback for taller drivers. Having the seats down also impinges on front-seat movement.

Child safety seat accommodation6.5

LATCH anchors are easy to find and clearly marked, with three anchors for outboard and middle positions. Unfortunately, larger, rear-facing car seats will impose on front-passenger space.

Technology7.5

The Mazda 3 offers an extensive list of technology upgrades. It certainly has one of the best infotainment units in the class (which Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration would only improve). However, some competitors with more recent refreshes have better-executed driver aids.

Audio & navigation8.5

Audio quality is quite good if you use the USB port, and the system can handle lots of volume without harshness or distortion. Navigation features are robust and straightforward, and it's easy to find points of interest on your route or nearby. The system gives clear directions that are mirrored in the head-up display.

Smartphone integration7.5

Mazda keeps teasing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, but they're not here yet. Still, Bluetooth and the USB interface are easy to use and work well. Text message and email reading works, but response options are limited. Two USB ports and a 110-volt outlet are available up front.

Driver aids6.5

Our tester was equipped with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. Unfortunately, the adaptive cruise in particular lags behind the competition, with the system disengaging — while the car is still in motion — below 15 mph.

Voice control8.0

Mazda's voice controls take a laudable stab at understanding the driver, and they work much better than some competitor systems, albeit a little slowly. The system will try to prompt you to get you where you want to go, though it occasionally fails to do anything and leaves you guessing why.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.