By on September 20, 2018

2018 Mazda 3 GT 5-door profile

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.

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.”

2018 Mazda 3 GT 5-door front

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.

2018 Mazda 3 GT 5-door rear

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.

2018 Mazda 3 GT 5-door dashboard

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.

2018 Mazda 3 GT 5-door front seat

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.

2018 Mazda 3 GT 5-door rear seat

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.

2018 Mazda 3 GT 5-door center stack

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.

2018 Mazda 3 GT 5-door gauges

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.

2018 Mazda 3 GT 5-door front quarter

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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110 Comments on “2018 Mazda 3 GT 5-Door Review – The Crossunder...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Drop your bombs between the minarets/Down the casbah way…

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    What a through and detailed review./s

    That shade of red is all kinds of awesome though, and Mazda doesn’t charge outrageous prices for special paint colors.

  • avatar
    whynot

    The Mazda3 5 door was my second choice behind the Golf that I eventually got. Fun albeit slow car to drive, but:

    1) Visibility sucks.
    2) Suspension is a little too firm for everyday use. There is “sporty” and there is “uncomfortable.” The Mazda is a little too close to the latter. I crossed a RR crossing on my test drive (and at the time had to at several points in my commute) and I was afraid my teeth were going to start falling out.
    3) NVH (especially the N part) is subpar.
    4) Did I mention its visibility sucks?

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Probably hard on the back and knees to get in and out of too right? Fortunately for you there’s the CX-5.

      • 0 avatar
        whynot

        Nope, in my nice spry early 20s then. Too firm suspension is not sporty, although auto journalists will pretend it is to fit their narrative.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          On low profile, grippy 18s, too firm is generally not firm enough….. Sitting on bumpstops in smooth turns before the tires slide, isn’t exactly endearing…

          I’m all for softer suspensions on sporty street cars (Miata, 86, Raptor……..), but then they need Prius tires. Or offroad hoops. For grippier tires, FiST tuning is it.

    • 0 avatar
      scott25

      Eh, when I got mine in 2016 the ride quality was better and more comfortable than almost anything else I test drove. It’s more that the Golf (and Cruze) are so far ahead of anything else in this class that they’re beyond comparison. The Mazda is like riding a cloud compared to the Corolla and Focus. At least back then. There’s been a few new models released since then.

      I also came from a Scion xD so the Mazda’s visibility was actually an improvement and it’s NVH also was way better. Sure it’s loud but not annoyingly so unless you have a direct comparison. It’s quieter than my girlfriend’s Fiesta.

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      Didn’t the Sheik drive a Cadillac?

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      Visibility is my main gripe against this car. That and it’s profile reminds me of a shoe.

      • 0 avatar
        madferret9

        Visibility and road noise were the 2 biggest reasons I didn’t buy this car. I’ve been driving my 2007 Mazda 3 for 11 years and the amount of visibility you sacrifice is unacceptable. Also the road noise is just as bad, if not worse, than the 2007 model. Interior felt claustrophobic with the tiny windows and blacked-out interior. I wasn’t a fan of the power delivery, the engine cuts power to the front wheels when you’re trying to get moving from a stop, probably to prevent wheelspin.

    • 0 avatar
      mister steve

      Three years ago I went to a dealer to buy a 3, drove out with a CX5, mostly because of the lousy visibility in the 3. For me it became claustrophobic on a test drive. Carmakers seem to put more interest in aesthetics, which sell more cars but can hurt the ability to live with those design elements.

      I’ve chalked up the noise and vibration issues to Mazda’s interest in keeping their cars light for better fuel economy. That the 2.5 four cylinder moves the car pretty well makes it an acceptable trade off for me.

      Though it’s been updated, the last gen bose infotainment system sucks. It boggled my mind that they had to push a hardware recall to fix some of the issues. It’s still no great shakes, with android auto available only as a hack and apple auto not available at all.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Did the one you drive have the 18″ wheels? I never drove a current-gen 3 on the 18’s, but after we drove the CX3 on 18s during the test drives I told the salesman that they’re doing the vehicle a disservice and probably hurting sales by using a demo with those wheels instead of the 16’s. Our roads are not good enough for such low-profile tires even in summer when the potholes are mostly filled. In spring, when we were looking, the holes are rather large and numerous enough to fill Albert Hall many times over.

      The 3 on 16″ wheels was far better than the CX3 on 18″ wheels during my off/on-ramp test runs anyway.

      She ended up buying a brown manual 3 GS hatchback with the 16″ wheels.

  • avatar
    ijbrekke

    Kind of an odd time to review this…isn’t the next gen due to be released very soon?

    This was on the short list of “must drive” last go-around. I had three main issues with it:

    1) Road noise. The perennial Mazda problem.
    2) The center armrest had a cutout for the handbrake, but it meant my elbow kept slipping off it. It was the exact spot I wanted to rest my arm in between shifts (gotta have the manual, of course)
    3) The front license plate looks dumb. Conveniently not shown in this review.

    Otherwise it’s a great car.

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      I saw a grey one once with a white NYS front plate, it looked like Bugs Bunny, lol.

    • 0 avatar
      kefkafloyd

      On #3, it’s because Mazda made the front grille larger (proportionately) on the 3 compared to the 6. It winds up putting the plate in this not very attractive place. The CX-5 and the 6 both have better proportioned fronts with more appopriately placed plates.

      That said, there is a relocation bracket that moves it further down (not offset, just lower on the grille) and it looks much nicer. If I was buying one of these cars, that bracket would be on the minimum equipment list.

    • 0 avatar
      zamoti

      Just be a scofflaw and don’t put the plate on. I’m in a state that requires it, but I’ve NEVER had one on. The only time I got a ticket was when a meter ran out, they popped me for both. I’ve since learned to make sure the meter doesn’t run out and I put the front plate on the dashboard when I park at a meter. Since then, no more trouble.

      No car looks good with a front plate, nothing is designed for it anymore. Back when bumpers were square and metal, sure. Now that everything has a plastic bumper cover, that usually has a seam down the middle. Not sure why we haven’t converted to a sticker or something better by now anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      300zx_guy

      Road noise is lower for 2017+ models, I confirmed by driving a 2016 and 2017.
      Armrest and center console also addressed for 2017+, by going with an electronic parking brake switch. Also, the heads up display is much improved for 2017+, with higher resolution. The older display look very low-tech. The little pop-up screen for the display, however, still looks aftermarket, and perhaps prone to damage or malfunction. If I were to buy a Mazda3, would definitely want a 2017+, mostly for the improved sound insulation.

  • avatar
    darex

    You do know that the CX-3 is based on the Mazda2, correct? That being the case, your comparison of the two is inappropriate.

    I test-drove the Mazda3 three times, but the ergonomics turned me off, and the pricing scheme at the time was offensive (unless you get the Grand Touring, you have to put up with 4 lower tiers of garbagy materials.

    I also don’t get your calling the CUV landscape a “blight”. Parroting others much? Personally, I like it. Hatches over trunks anyday. CUVs are the perfect compromise of utility and compactness. They are the logical choice, every time, and many are excellent cars.

    I’m quite sure my 2018 MINI Countryman S All4 would destroy this thing in every way, and even in reliability, where Mazda ranks slightly below average.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Yes, I’m sure that Mini would do better than this Mazda for what – ten grand more?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Most of what the lemmings do is a blight.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      Correct. The CX-3 based on the 2, the CX-5 is based on the 3.

      However, prices on the CX-3 and 3 are vaguely similar so if you’re just concerned with bang/buck ratio, the comparison works.

    • 0 avatar
      tmport

      I think the comparison between the 3 and the CX-3 is entirely appropriate, even though the CX-3 is based on the 2’s platform. I’m currently shopping for a car and the 3 and the CX-3 are both on my list. The CX-5 isn’t because it’s too big and too expensive. The CX-3 is also too expensive, frankly–several thousand more than the 3, comparably equipped. But the 3 has high insurance rates compared to the CX-3 (at least for me), so neither is a good bet for total long-term cost.

    • 0 avatar
      WallMeerkat

      “I also don’t get your calling the CUV landscape a “blight”…..”

      “I’m quite sure my …”

      The US could do with some more Euro style fastbacks, as per the Buick Regal. Perfect blend of hatchback practicality and sedan style.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        The US could do with speed limits making the handling advantages of properly-designed-for-driving-dynamics vehicles apparent. Instead of ones designed around 1 ton trucks with a hard side camper n the bed.

        Momentum, or perhaps Kinetic Energy, limits, instead of speed ones, could be a nice compromise, recognizing that all vehicles are not the same.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The comparison of the CX-3 and the Mazda3 is because they cost the same comparably equipped. By giving up the faux-butchness, you get a bigger, more practical car for the same money. Shows what a joke the tiny crossovers actually are.

      I agree that sedans are useless, at least in any size smaller than “battlecruiser”. But I don’t need a couple extra inches of air under my butt either. Or in the case of the CX-3, a tenth of an inch.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenn

      “I also don’t get your calling the CUV landscape a “blight”. Parroting others much?”

      I agree completely. CUVs are hatchbacks that might sacrifice some ultimate handling parameters that few-to-no owners ever require. Where I live, as I suspect with most others, the roads are straight and speed limits are enforced, making higher-performance handling dynamics a non-issue. And, as with most over-age-50 drivers, I have back and knee pains that make the easier ingress-egress of a slightly-raised CUV (not to mention, better outward visibility) preferable in daily usage.

  • avatar
    KevinC

    My girl factory-ordered a ’17 GT, after selling her much-loved ’15 Golf TDI back to VW via Dieselgate. The 3 was the only car that checked all her boxes – and just about the only one on the planet that allows a manual tranny with the highest trim level. While it was a decent car, neither of us ever fell in love with it, and she recently ditched it for a turbo Soul, which she’s much happier with. Gripes? The infotainment system, despite being the same Bose system reviewed here, was awful – glacially slow, clumsy to use via the imitation iDrive knob, and sounded crappy at all volume levels. That instrument cluster with the cyclops tach and 90’s-looking displays around it was cheesy. The 2.5-liter engine has an awful agricultural tone to it and hated to rev. Highs: build quality was great, seats were comfortable, NVH was quite acceptable for the class, gas mileage was good, steering & manual shifter were spot-on, though clutch engagement was crappy, like most modern cars with dual-mass flywheels. 21k miles and sayonara.

    • 0 avatar
      darex

      I forgot to mention that my loaded MINI Countryman is also a manual transmission. It took Mazda years to bring their manual to the Mazda3 Grand Touring with the 2.5L engine, so no, no praise for them on that score either. That was yet another reason why I couldn’t go with it. MT was confined to the base engine at that time, and with it, worse-than-Ford’s cloth seats and other stripper aspects.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Kevin,
      I agree. Mazda3 today is not car that is beyond.. whatever. In 2011 it was. This is why today I drive Mazda6 base manual – everything you need, nothing you don’t, in the nice wrapper, and totally cheap (with cash on the hood)

    • 0 avatar
      300zx_guy

      Kevin C: curious how the Soul compares in fun-to-drive, comfort, NVH, and real-world gas mileage.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      I preferred the base stereo of the 3 over the up-level Bose when I compared them a couple years ago. The base stereo was just an honest inexpensive attempt at accurately representing and properly balancing the two-channel source sound with a basic set of speakers installed in the right places. I haven’t done any long highway drives in the car but it seems pleasant enough to be tolerable for hours. The addition of a sub might be all I would need.

      The Bose, on the other hand, was typical Bose. Harsh little mid-range speakers situated too close to the ears, bouncing plastic-resonant, digitally-bastardized sound off the windshield while the door speakers try to play too low for such a flimsy enclosure. Whatever “subs” it may have had boosted the upper bass to boomy, unnatural levels without actually contributing any lower frequencies.

      I haven’t driven the 2.5 but the 2.0, while agricultural-sounding at idle and low revs, builds power linearly and sounds happy enough during trips to the 6000s. I do prefer the 2.3L MZR in my older 3.

      My biggest complaint about the car might be the dinky little digital bar tach you get with the 2.0. The GT gives you a nice big tach with a digital speedo in the middle, just like the RX-8; my favorite instrument cluster.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Out of curiosity, if she loved the TDI, why not just get a gas Golf to replace it?

      I owned and loved an ’02 TDI, but today I would not go diesel. The gas engines get nearly as good fuel economy with a lot less cost overall. My 220hp GTI still gets an easy 35mpg highway, and once you can get the 1.4T in the Golf they will be over 40mpg again.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    …”the kids had plenty of legroom…”

    I’m not seeing it. Then again mine are 6’2″ and 5’10″…hence the evil crossover and crew cab pickup.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I wasn’t very impressed with the legroom in a rental CX5 either, passable and no more, a tall person would struggle to sit behind themselves so to speak. What I will take to task is the authors supposition that CUVs handle poorly. Most I’ve driven are all highly competent, and at worst predictable and secure.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I’ve found most CUVs just plain old boring to drive, sleep inducing… If I’m tired (at the end of a long day) and get in my Highlander I have to driver over the speed limit to keep myself alert.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          But boring does not equal “poor” handling, IMO anyways. I’d be just as likely to be bored in a rental Altima/Optima/Camry/Malibu etc as I would be in a rental CX5 or whatever. Actually the most recent rentals that really kept my attention were a 4cyl Acadia (from me punishing the wretched 2.5L under the hood just to sit in wonderment at how awful it sounds), and a Pacifica, where stomping the accelerator had the exact opposite effect, of me being smitten by a lusty V6 in a VAN!

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            But boring does not equal “poor” handling…

            I agree.

            Some think those are analogues, which is rather odd. I do think the majority of the population likes safe and boring. Look at the most popular restaurant chains.

            (BTW I think the 2.5 naturally aspirated 4 in my wife’s Terrain is outclassed by that vehicle [it does weigh in excess of 4,000 lbs] so I do agree that the Acadia would be torture.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Agreed. My Outback handles just fine.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The 3 and CX-3 are based on two different platforms – the latter is based on the subcompact Mazda 2, known here as the Toyota Yaris iA. The 2 is a subcompact, more comparable to something like a Ford Fiesta.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I stopped reading after….

    “Imagine a world in which the crossover SUV, the blight of our roadway”

    Nothing that comes after has any credibility as we all know the title of “blight of our roadway” already has a clear title holder in full sized pickup trucks.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    So here’s a question about crossovers.
    If they truly do handle less well due to the height, which seems in accord with physics, is that being reflected in insurance loss stats?

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      I’d say they handle less well yes. But it’s relative. Some cars handle poor also. Like the luxo barges of the 1970s. But all things being equal they will have a handling and fuel economy disadvantage.

      • 0 avatar
        CoastieLenn

        No matter how good the suspension is, no matter how many trips thru the wind tunnel they make, a CUV will never be able to escape the laws of physics. Wind resistance will always be higher on the taller vehicle as will the center of gravity.

        (There are a few exceptions to this statement, but for the most part, nothing has broken the rules of physics quite like the Renault Espace F1 of the 90’s. That also wasn’t as much a van as it was an F1 car though.)

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      Car-based CUV’s probably don’t handle that much worse that it would matter for anybody that hasn’t had in-depth driving instruction. ABS, DSC, and all of the new nannies mitigate a fair bit of that gap, as well.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        You don’t need instruction to recognize the electronic nannies intervening at half the speed in your CUV as in your similarly priced FiST… For insurance purposes, the “handling” doesn’t differ. Just as it doesn’t for a one-ton truck or UPS boxvan. But that’s just because people, at least those without advanced instruction and racing licenses, drive the ill handlers slower.

        Keep increasing speeds though off camber chicanes until 1)your kids get carsick and cry foul, 2)you chicken out or 3)nannies slow further speed increases at your level of smoothness, and the lower, dynamically superior 3 will let you go faster than the CUV, which will go faster than the 1-ton, which will go faster then the boxvan. That’s everyday handling. Not safely holding up traffic in wooden wheeled billycarts on stilts.

  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    No matter how good the suspension is, no matter how many trips thru the wind tunnel they make, a CUV will never be able to escape the laws of physics. Wind resistance will always be higher on the taller vehicle as will the center of gravity.

    (There are a few exceptions to this statement, but for the most part, nothing has broken the rules of physics quite like the Renault Espace F1 of the 90’s. That also wasn’t as much a van as it was an F1 car though.)

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      But… The rules of the road, written as: No F1 car is allowed to travel faster than what is safe for a boxvan with a flat front tire and an aircraft carrier strapped to it’s roof, has rendered the rules of physics a bit irrelevant in this day and age.

      So, since you’re limited to the same speed regardless, why not enjoy the space, and commanding driving position from the bridge, of that carrier up on that roof?

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Because some cars are fun at legal speeds, and some are not? I don’t need to be going 100mph to enjoy the pin-sharpness of my BMW or GTI. I have a big fat SUV too – and even though it is about the best of a bad lot being a European SUV, it still sucks to drive in comparison at any speed. But my GTI can’t tow a 6500lb boat, or handle the “road” to our family camp on the lake. But I don’t need either of those capabilities to drive to the airport or grocery store.

        The commanding driving position is highly overrated when every other vehicle on the road is just as tall or tall. If I needed that I would buy a used Peterbilt.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    I just wish they’d put the Skyactiv 2.5T in this thing. I don’t care if it would only be automagic, I’d trade my CX-3 in on it in a heartbeat.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “184 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 185 lb/ft @ 3,250 rpm”
    “28.7 (observed mileage, MPG)”

    Meh.

  • avatar

    I put 167,000 miles on a 2006 Mazda 3 hatchback and loved it. The automatic only rules out the GT for me.

  • avatar
    MatadorX

    Mazda lost me on these when they started turning up with VINs starting with “3”…..

  • avatar
    stuart

    Mine is 2017, manual transmission, 30K miles.

    I chose the 3 GT because it offers a clutch alongside the latest electrical gadgets (adaptive cruise, collision avoidance, blind-spot monitoring). I got the hatch because it’s more utilitarian.

    When backing up, visibility out the hatch windshield is lousy. Visibility is sufficient at other times. Use the backup camera when backing up; it solves the problem.

    Noise is mostly an issue on rough pavement. I’ve read that better tires will help.

    Clutch, brakes, gearshift, steering, handling, seats, A/C are all excellent. The LED headlights “steer” with the front-wheels. The auto-dimming feature works well. The engine is … not inspiring, and it sounds like a cheap air compressor. But I expect it to be reliable and durable.

    Rear knee room is lacking, there is no engine temp gauge (on the GT at least), speedometer is digital (I prefer analog). I would prefer an old-fashioned parking brake to the electric version fitted, but at least it knows to release itself when you let out the clutch.

    Infotainment/NAV system is a bit slow, but tolerable. (If you plug in a big USB drive, it takes *minutes* to walk the drive and discover everything.) Control via the knob is effective and intuitive, although it feels like there are too many layers of menus. But I’m not sure how this could be improved while keeping the existing good accessibility. My car doesn’t yet support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay; promised later this year. Sound is very good.

    One major annoyance: when starting, if the Infotainment system doesn’t immediately find and connect to my phone via bluetooth, it will default to whatever radio station my wife had on last, usually at high volume.

    The ‘heads-up’ display looks cheesy to me, but it’s useful and appreciated. The system recognizes speed limit signs, and reports the current speed limit.

    If you stop on a hill and release the brake, the car will hold pressure on the brakes for an extra two seconds, giving you time to re-engage the clutch and relaunch the car. Hills become less scary. (I would personally like to turn this off, but it cannot be disabled.)

    The adaptive cruise works O.K., but it’s confused by curves. The blind-spot monitors have become must-haves, especially when backing up. The lane-monitoring is generally accurate; the lane-keeping feature is so unintrusive that it’s useless. The tiny space under the hatchback becomes huge and useful when you flatten the rear seat backs and remove the shelf.

    The self-dimming rear-view mirror is effective, but takes a second or two to respond to brights from behind.

    Thus far I’ve only done oil changes and tire rotations, but those are easy, and general service-ability looks good.

    • 0 avatar
      ijbrekke

      Good, honest thoughts here.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      You’ve said so many things I would say. And because of some of these things, I am driving Mazda6 today and not another ‘3. For example, Mazda6 solves digital dash issue, lumbar support issue, and all this at base level. It also has meaty 17″ wheels to provide pleasant ride, and nice leg/knee rook in the back. And [in my book] it solves the major issue – it has no nannies, yea! Unfortunately hill assist is still there but I have 2 older Mazda3 cars to practice.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I had lane assist on my rental CX5 that was driving me up the wall. The minor buzzing in the wheel just interfered with what little on-center “feel” there was, quite obnoxious and Id’ argue potentially dangerous to someone like a short-term rental that gets behind the wheel and is unaware that such a system is even on the car.

      How well does the current 3 hatch fit luggage with the rear seat in use? That was my major dig against the “utility” of very truncated hatches, they are often worse than their sedan counterparts at that task.

      • 0 avatar
        scott25

        The Mazda has a combination of high load floor and downswept roof at the rear so it doesn’t bode well for any large objects with the seats up. I fold the seats down for anything bigger than a cooler or groceries

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        What kind of luggage are we talking about? I put my travel roller bag (sized towards the upper end of what is normally accepted as carry-on) and satchel in mine regularly. The roller bag fits with its longest side oriented front-to-back no problem.

      • 0 avatar
        stuart

        The lane-minder can signal its displeasure with a rumble in the steering wheel, a beep, or (IIRC) a buzz. Or, it can be turned off. I will probably turn the lane-keeper off; about 2X a month I’ll notice that it nudged the steering wheel a bit.

        The area under the hatchback is *small*, probably smaller than the equivalent Mazda 3 sedan trunk (don’t have one handy to compare). Maybe something to do with the unfinished (bigger) interior of the trunk. I believe you can flatten the seats in the sedan, just like the hatch, but the hatch opening is bigger and more useful.

    • 0 avatar
      stuart

      Oh yeah. One more annoyance: the cupholder is right below my gearshift forearm/elbow. Tall drinks make shifting awkward. Probably a hint that I shouldn’t bring drinks when driving, but the wife wants her water bottle. Of course, this wouldn’t be an issue for the automatic.

    • 0 avatar
      KevinC

      Your observations pretty much mirror mine. I neglected to mention the LED headlights, which are outstanding. You find the infotainment system “tolerable”, but describe the same faults that irritated the hell out of me. I think if you spent some time with a better system – like VW’s MIB2, or Uvo in a Kia or Hyundai, or FCA’s Uconnect, you’d suddenly be a lot less happy with what Mazda has to offer.

      • 0 avatar
        mechimike

        Not everyone cares all that much about infotainment. I listen to terrestrial radio almost exclusively (we have an excellent local not-for-profit station here that plays just music and 5 minutes of NPR every hour). The few times I’ve used the bluetooth it worked fine. I bought my 3 for the way it drives, the fuel economy, and the price compared to the competition.

        Try out the base Civic’s “infortainment” some time. It’s unimpressive.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Every time I see a Mazda 3 hatch or VW Golf, I wish that I had dug in a little deeper and waited to purchase instead of grabbing the 2017 Cruze hatch we have. While the Cruze is “ok,” I’m starting to see numerous build quality issues that truly bother me (fit and finish is second-rate on this thing). Never mind it spent six weeks of my initial ownership firmly in the local Chevy dealer’s shop undergoing electrical system repairs and replacements. While I hope it will last four more years and potentially become my daughter’s first car, I’m not holding my breath. Plus, the Mazda 3 (and Golf) just seem to be more engaging cars all around. Agree that in the shade of red the pictures present, this car looks great.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Yea, from 30 yards away, Cruze looks great. Once you start picking on details, you understand that this is not Mazda-built

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        Which is why I started test driving replacement hatches before I left on deployment. So far, only the Corolla and Mazda3. The Corolla was fine, but I got out of the Mazda3 with a genuine grin on my face, and I’ve missed that in my daily drive. We’ll see what I pull the trigger on next spring when I’m home. I still want to look at the Golf and the Elantra GT. The styling of the next gen Mazda3 leaves me cold. I find the outgoing model to be a little more elegant (especially in the HB, the only one I’m considering…and only with the manual trans).

  • avatar

    I bought one of these in Grand Touring spec with a manual back in June and have zero regrets. Is it a little noisy on rough pavement? Sure. It’s not a Rolls-Royce. Is the back seat a little cramped? Yep. It isn’t a Maybach. Is it fast? No but it is far from dangerously slow. You’d be hard-pressed to find another new car that offers an engaging driving experience, all the safety and convenience tech that was the realm of $100k+ cars less than ten years ago for under $25k (I paid $22k). It’s practical and comfortable for my commute but fun and sporty on the weekend. I don’t regret my choice one bit.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      What tires you have?

    • 0 avatar
      KevinC

      Hard pressed? Not really. A Golf or GTI kills the 3 in those departments. Not saying the 3 is a bad choice, just that there is at least one other option that’s as good or better, and in some areas (such as infotainment) beats the 3 hands down.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve got the stock Dunlops and they’re acceptable but far from amazing.

        As for the GTI, that was on my list as well but the $10,000 price gulf between it and the 3 plus the fact a friend had one that went through water pumps every four months or so was enough to drive me away. I don’t doubt the GTI is good but it’s not an extra ten grand good.

        • 0 avatar
          JuniperBug

          I’m with Andrew; the GTI is compelling, but the asking price reflects that. An extra $10k over a base Golf or Mazda 3 was more than I could justify. Getting the base model and retaining my ’99 Miata turned out to be cheaper, and for me, more satisfying.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Is that a Canadian thing? In the US a GTI S is ~$5K more than a Golf S at MSRP.

            Personally, I wish they would again offer a Golf “GT”. All the good interior and suspension bits as the GTI, but with the smaller more fuel efficient motor and a price that splits the difference. Not that I can really complain about 35mpg on trips, and never less then 30mpg in daily driving with my GTI.

            Price-wise, the tested Mazda3 is almost exactly the same retail price as my GTI Sport (no longer offered for ’18, but the SE isn’t much more). I got a silly discount on my GTI, no idea what real-world pricing is on one of these.

          • 0 avatar
            JuniperBug

            I agree that a Mazda 3 at the as-tested price doesn’t make a great case for itself. In my opinion the sweet spot is the mid-trim GS, which is many thousands cheaper and has the same basic goodness, just with a bit less power and fewer toys.

            If I were shopping at the Mazda 3 GT’s price point, I’d probably go for a GTI myself.

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          Dunlop is some of the worst tires you will find. Put Pirellis P4 on it. It will be much quieter car with better handling. My mazdas came with bridgestones. Those are good but loud. Dunlop… Mazda go cheap, like toyota

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      A Honda Civic SI gives you everything the Mazda 3 does and more. The 3 is not a bad car but my money would go to the SI (or the Sport).

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        hubcap –
        nah. Si is quicker. But has numb brakes. And Generally, you take car controls – steering, clutch etc, Mazda has it better. If you like precise steering with no road feel – take Si. when it comes to instrumentation – this is one of the reason why my Si and my late year ‘3 are still on their dealer lots.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I’d have to drive the Honda double-bagged – one bag over the car so nobody has to look at the ugly thing, and another bag over my head so nobody sees me in it.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    I bought a 2015 Mazda 3 GS Sport about two months ago. That’s the Canadian mid-trim hatch, below the GT; 2.0L, 6 speed manual, manual A/C, less sporty analogue speedometer, and no leather. I test drove one with the stock 16″ alloys, but the previous owner of mine put on 18×8″ RX-8 wheels. I’m quite happy with mine so far.

    The audio/nav system does take some getting used to, but once you’re accustomed to it, the rotary knob works well. It’s true that rearward visibility is pretty bad, especially with my aftermarket tinted windows. The backup camera helps with this.

    I’m very pleased with the ride-handling balance. The ride is composed and it acquits itself well in curves for the intended mission. I do get some thwacks over bigger bumps, but my 18″ wheels and performance all seasons surely share some of the blame for that. I wouldn’t mind if the brake pedal was a little firmer, but again, fine for what the car is. Road noise is louder than I’d like, no getting around it, but not a deal breaker. Supposedly this is an area Mazda addressed on newer models.

    The transmission is a bit of a mixed bag. Other than the throws being slightly long, the action is good, but there’s something weird going on with either the throttle calibration or the clutch take up. It feels like there’s a clutch delay valve installed, even though I can’t find a reference to that being the case. In any event, it takes practice to be both quick and smooth simultaneously, and getting back into my ’99 Miata always feels like a revelation in shift action and throttle response. I have yet to be able to smoothly heel-toe, needing a big boot full of the short travel throttle to get the engine to rev. That said, I chose the ‘3 after originally being sold on a Golf – until I test drove the VW.

    After reading glowing reviews of the Golf I was expecting to be blown away by the way it drove, and that didn’t happen. In the two different manual base models I tried, I just couldn’t get used to the power delivery. I’d try to get into an intersection, and no matter how much I slipped the clutch, it would bog. Then a second or two later the turbo would spool up and suddenly I was chirping the tires halfway through the intersection. After all the positive press I read, I almost feel like it has to be me doing something wrong, but I couldn’t get friendly with it. By comparison, the ‘3’s powerband is refreshingly linear. No question that the VW is considerably quicker than my 2.0, but I find the Mazda to be more satisfying and predictable to wind through the gears. The Mazda also gets a 6 speed to the VW’s 5.

    The Golf struck me as more comfortable to drive on the highway. There’s more torque and the steering is slower and more effortless. The cabin is also noticeably quieter. On the other hand, the wheel feels slow and lifeless at lower speeds, while the Mazda’s steering feel is absolutely delightful while still tracking nicely on the highway.

    Ultimately, I was charmed by the ‘3 more than the Golf, in part because base model Golf money bought me a mid-trim Mazda when looking at used 2015s. I prefer the styling of the Mazda (mine is also red) and at the same price point I found the VW’s interior to be less inviting. It also bugs me that the Golf uses the same red lenses for brake, tail, and turn signals, especially since I know how nice they are in the European market. The Mazda at least has amber turn signals, as Dog intended.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I had a 06 Touring hatch and I sold it around the last recession b/c I went back to school and it wasn’t paid for and I didn’t need it. It was a great car. Friends have a 2016 and I have ridden in it but not drove. I can’t say I’m wowed,but I’ll give it a look when I’m in the market again. Back then Mazdas were being called a “poor man’s BMW” which I concurred with. But I think I’ve moved on now and would prefer something more like a poor man’s Lexus instead.

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    $29,000 for a Mazda 3 which will be worth $16000 in 18 months . No thank you.

  • avatar
    NoID

    I’ve always found the CX-3 being labeled a “CUV” as laughable. It’s a hatchback with some cladding, pure and simple.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    CX-3 is a a Mazda2 with a lift kit. All the subcompact crossovers besides the HR-V and the Soul are tiny and useless.

    Compare a CX-5 to a Mazda6 and it’s a different story. Crossovers can be made to handle as well, while plenty of sedans and hatchbacks are not exactly inspiring drives.

  • avatar
    theoldguard

    I currently drive a CX-5 and am about to give it to my wife and get another car. I have driven new 3’s a couple of times. 2017’s are definitely an improvement in noise. The choice is a 3 or another CX-5. Little difference in driving experience. Little more room; little more height; 20% more coin. On a lark I went next door and drove the new MQB-platform Jetta. I was very impressed with the structure and impressed with the handling on the front 50% of the car. Torsion beam a problem and you can feel it. It doesn’t want to be there and front end of car has to drag back end along for the ride. Rear half of 3 and CX-5 eager and willing. Had same experience with Focus (IRS) and Fiesta (torsion beam) VW 1.4 Turbo works OK but could use a few more mice running on the wheel.

  • avatar
    WallMeerkat

    Mazda 3, the car the Focus could’ve been…

    /s

  • avatar
    riggodeezil

    Very nice! Even the “tablet duct taped to the dash” doesn’t look so bad here. Purty red color. The black interior is a bit too much. Light gray and it would be the bees-knees. A nice driving hatch with all of the room and “utility” of a “CUV”. How Swell.

  • avatar
    hubcap

    A Honda Civic SI gives you everything the Mazda 3 does and more. The 3 is not a bad car but my money would go to the SI (or the Sport).

  • avatar
    mechimike

    Sorry I’m 80 comments in, but I thought I’d share my own experiences and impressions. I just bought a 2018 Mazda 3 Hatch- the Sport trim, the cheapest way to go. 2.0 engine, which is 155 HP to the 2.5’s 180-ish. I use it as a daily commuter. 6 speed manual, too, the way it ought to be.

    1) Holy crap, this thing was inexpensive. I didn’t even have to put on my steely-eyed dickering hat and I was out the door, tax, title, and tru-coat- for right at 18k. The MSRP was something like 21- and that was before taxes. The dealer even got it for me in the color I wanted (Eternal Blue) and with the stick, and delivered it to my house, clay-bared and armor-alled. It looked better than my mom’s new Cadillac.

    2) Fuel economy is impressive. I pound 100 miles or more a day on this thing, in a mix a buddy of mine in the fuel economy testing biz calls “US06″- basically, a good mix of suburban-type driving, some city driving, and 75 mph highway blasts. My fuelly records so far indicate an average of 37 mpg. It just turned 2300 miles yesterday.

    3) On the Sport model, the speedo is a big analog deal in the center, right where it should be. The tach is a small digital thing off to the left. It’s all usable, though the tach has sort of an 80’s throwback vibe to it. I like it, others might not. I learned to ignore the shift indicator; the engine’s happiest in the 2000-3000 RPM range, and my MPG numbers bear this out.

    4) Visibility is good…for a modern car. I’ve never had a problem changing lanes or with blind spots; I also know how to adjust my mirrors. The backup camera works well, except when it’s raining (or snowing, I’d imagine). I found a good seating position (I’m 5’10” and 180 lbs) and the controls all fall immediately to hand. I love the infotainment controls- the volume control is a great touch (right by my left hand) and the joystick controller is intuitive- I do it without even looking at the screen now. The center screen looks like it ought to retract down, and everyone who’s ever ridden in the car asks me if it does, and is visibly disappointed when I tell them “no”.

    5) Driving. Oh man. I call this thing my “Little Blue Go Kart”. It’s amazing, because this thing dimensionally is almost the same as a 1990 Oldsmbile Cierra I had many moons ago. Yet it drives like it’s much, much smaller. The shifter is smooth and precise. The clutch take-up is a little tricky; I still find myself jerking it a bit if I’m not paying attention. The little 2.0 N/A engine has nice, smooth, linear power. I test drove several competitors with turbo engines, and the fact that Mazda has stuck in the N/A camp really helped this car’s case.

    6) Compared to the competition, even those costing more, the interior quality is top of the class. The Civic felt like it was built to a real price point. The 3 feels like they really tried. Yes, the center arm rest gets in the way of the cupholder. I have a Contigo (sealing top) so I just toss that in the passenger seat or under my seat. We have 2 kids and we just went on a day trip with them- 2 car seats in back, one of them rear-facing. My wife had plenty of room in the passenger seat (though admittedly she’s only 5’2″) and we didn’t even have to use the hatch area. Diapers, hiking gear, drinks, snack, etc- just stowed them in the footwells in the back seat. My wife doesn’t much care for the stick, but really likes the rest of the car.

    7) I guess road noise is a bit high on uneven pavement at 75 mph. My father-in-law just bought a Hyundai Ioniq and says the same thing. I’m sure the hatch area is partly to blame on both. but its not bothersome, just noticeable. The LRR tires probably contribute. Although I must say, for LRR tires, they grip very well, wet and dry. Did I mention this thing handles like a go-kart? ;-)

    Would I buy again? Absolutely. And recommend to others.

  • avatar
    don1967

    The Mazda3 Sport has many great virtues, but hauling efficiency is on the low end of hatchbackdom thanks to curvy body lines that make big boxy cargo seem 50% bigger than it is. Golf and Elantra GT do it better.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      If the hauling is your game, this care is not for you. I know that 95% of the time I drive alone with little to none cargo. So, it would be ok to have a car like this if one day I need to take few boxes with me

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

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

  • avatar
    ex007

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

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      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.

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