2018 Mazda 3 GT 5-Door Review - The Crossunder

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2018 Mazda 3 GT 5-Door

2.5-liter dual overhead cam I4 (184 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 185 lb/ft @ 3,250 rpm)
Six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
26 city / 35 highway / 30 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
28.7 (observed mileage, MPG)
8.4 city / 6.4 highway / 7.8 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price: $25,835 US / $26,920 CAD
As Tested: $28,035 US / $29,129 CAD
Prices include $890 destination charge in the United States and $1820 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2018 mazda 3 gt 5 door review the crossunder

Imagine a world in which the crossover SUV, the blight of our roadways, was the default transportation option. Where most vehicles are tall, bloated, with poor handling.

Some might say that we’re already there — heck, we’ve been saying that.

But in our imaginary world where the crossover has been the standard for decades, consider what the impact of a marketplace disruptor like this 2018 Mazda 3 GT could be. All of the utility of a CUV, but with better fuel economy and handling. In this bizarro world, this revolutionary compact hatchback might indeed be all the rage. Thus, I’m calling the Mazda3 “The Crossunder.”

Yeah, I’m biased against the crossover. I’ve generally valued vehicle dynamics over ride height, as there’s no escaping physics when attempting quick lateral maneuvers. But many shoppers argue that a crossover offers “more space” than the comparable car.

I’m here to dispel that myth.

Take a look within the Mazda brand — at the CX-3 subcompact crossover — and compare it to this Mazda 3 hatchback. Equipped similarly (I “built” a front-drive CX-3 online), the crossover is exactly ten US dollars more expensive than the hatchback. And in virtually every dimension, the hatchback is bigger. Head room, cargo room with the seats up or down, shoulder or hip room — the hatch wins.

And the CX-3 gives you exactly one tenth of an inch of extra ground clearance: 6.2 inches to 6.1. Not nearly enough to take on any serious trails.

I’d argue that this Mazda 3 has plenty of room for most families of four. A little extra cargo space would be nice for really big strollers or for the ubiquitous Pack n’ Play that allows parents to imprison their infants while traveling, but once the kids are ambulatory, they don’t need all of the bulky stuff.

We had our typical kids sports weekend while I drove the Mazda 3 — soccer, volleyball, softball, and cheerleading all within 30 hours — and we fit everything we needed for the weekend, including coolers, camp chairs, and food, in the hatch below the tonneau cover.

[Get new and used Mazda 3 pricing here!]

With all of that loaded up, it’s still a great ride. The kids had plenty of legroom in the back. I could have used a bit more lower back support (the adjustable lumbar cushion doesn’t extend quite far enough for me), but it’s still comfy enough for most.

I’ll grant that the interior is a bit dour. Dark leather and dark trim, with a couple of piano black bits to highlight every stray bit of french fry salt that drops near the shifter, isn’t particularly inspiring. But the interior works well, with a big center tachometer dominating the driver’s attention. The adjustable head-up display is quite nice, displaying lane keep assist and blind-spot monitoring alerts as well as road speed, though in bright light it washes out a bit through my polarized sunglasses.

Audio quality is excellent via the optional Bose-branded nine-speaker audio system. My usual selections of Eighties pop sounded clear and loud. Mazda’s console-mounted control knob is still not my favorite method of controlling navigation and audio, though with familiarity (they use the same controls and screen in every car) it’s becoming easier to manage. I suppose my gripe comes with the relative slowness of setting multiple presets — which I do every time I get a new car. Most people set presets once, changing them rarely. This gig means I’m changing presets weekly, and Mazda’s interface is just a bit slower than most to respond to changes. Once set, everything is simple to use.

Ride quality is impressive for a smaller car. The 18-inch alloy wheels and resulting low-profile tires do give a healthy thump when encountering big bumps, but otherwise handling is predictable and neutral. With 184 horses, it’s not slow and plenty fun to drive. However, comparing it to more performance oriented competitors like the VW GTI mean this Mazda isn’t quite a hot hatch. My tester had a six-speed automatic that shifted quickly and firmly, allowing me to hold gears when trying to hustle, but for those so inclined, the available manual transmission is one of the best. Steering is quick and precise, and noise from both wind and road is minimal.

This Mazda3 is a crossover without the over. Plenty of room for people, stuff, and activities, with none of the tradeoffs of those not-so-high-riding, not-quite-sport utility vehicles. It’s time to choose a crossunder.

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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3 of 110 comments
  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on Sep 21, 2018

    I glanced down at the pic, normal ride height, no crappy cladding, I nearly wept!

  • Ex007 Ex007 on Sep 21, 2018

    Probably in the minority, but any car without CarPlay is immediately disqualified. Simply no excuse in 2018 to not be included.

    • JuniperBug JuniperBug on Sep 21, 2018

      I'm not sure what CarPlay does, or why I'd want it, but the newest Mazda 3s have it standard, with an optional dealer retrofit coming in the next month or so for cars dating back to 2014.

  • Tassos I also want one of the idiots who support the ban to explain to me how it will work.Suppose sometime (2035 or later) you cannot buy a new ICE vehicle in the UK.Q1: Will this lead to a ICE fleet resembling that of CUBA, with 100 year old vehicles evetually? (in that case, just calculate the horrible extra pollution due to keeping 100 year old cars on the road)Q2: Will people be able to buy PARTS for their old cars FOREVER?Q3: Will people be allowed to jump across the Channel and buy a nice ICE in France, Germany (who makes the best cars anyway), or any place else that still sells them, and then use it in the UK?
  • Tassos Bans are ridiculous and undemocratic and smell of Middle Ages and the Inquisition. Even 2035 is hardly any better than 2030.The ALMIGHTY CONSUMER should decide, not... CARB, preferably WITHOUT the Government messing with the playing field.And if the usual clueless idiots read this and offer the tired "But Government subsidizes the oil industry too", will they EVER learn that those MINISCULE (compared to the TRILLIONS of $ size of this industry) subsidies were designed to help the SMALL Oil producers defend themselves against the "Big Oil" multinationals. Ask ANY major Oil co CEO and he will gladly tell you that you can take those tiny subsidies and shove them.
  • Dusterdude The suppliers can ask for concessions, but I wouldn’t hold my breath . With the UAW they are ultimately bound to negotiate with them. However, with suppliers , they could always find another supplier ( which in some cases would be difficult, but not impossible)
  • AMcA Phoenix. Awful. The roads are huge and wide, with dedicated lanes for turning, always. Requires no attention to what you're doing. The roads are idiot proofed, so all the idiots drive - they have no choice, because everything is so spread out.
  • Leonard Ostrander Pet peeve: Drivers who swerve to the left to make a right turn and vice versa. They take up as much space as possible for as long as possible as though they're driving trailer trucks or school busses. It's a Kia people, not a Kenworth! Oh, and use your turn signals if you ever figure out where you're going.