When you’re shopping for a compact car, things like fuel economy, reliability and overall value are probably near the top of your priorities list. Most modern compact cars meet those standards, though. So for a ride with all that plus some extra personality, you’ll definitely want to consider the 2015 Mazda 3.
First and foremost, the Mazda 3 is a great choice for any compact-car shopper who enjoys driving. Strong acceleration, sharp steering and a well-tuned suspension make the 3 truly come alive when you want it to, even if it’s just zipping around town for errands. The 3 can seem special in other ways, too. The exterior has a distinctive yet classy look to it, and Mazda offers many advanced features that you can’t get on other small cars, including adaptive cruise control, collision-mitigation technology and a head-up display.
What’s most impressive about the Mazda 3, though, is that it does all this while being competitively priced and fuel efficient. But it might not be for everyone, though. In our long-term test of a 2014 Mazda 3, we found that the highway ride can be bumpy and noisy. This is especially true over choppy roads and if the 3 is fitted with the larger 18-inch wheels and tires. Interior space isn’t exactly a strength, either, as both rear seat room and trunk space are pretty average. Mazda does offer a hatchback version, however, which does provide some extra versatility.
Overall, we’ve given the Mazda 3 a top Edmunds.com “A” rating and a recommended spot in our 2015 Sedan Buying Guide. But it is one of several excellent compact cars available today. The Ford Focus is also enjoyable to drive and has a high-quality interior with many high-tech options. The stylish 2015 Kia Forte isn’t as entertaining, but it’s hard to beat for value. The always dependable Honda Civic and high-end 2015 Volkswagen Golf are also great picks worth considering. It’s going to be hard to choose, but if you want a car that covers the bases and does it with flair, we think the 2015 Mazda 3 is the way to go.
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Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2015 Mazda 3 is available in four-door sedan and hatchback body styles. Both are available in 3i and 3s trims that are broken into sub-trims.
The base 3i SV (only available as a sedan) comes with 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a trip computer, a folding rear seat and a four-speaker sound system with USB/iPod integration and an auxiliary audio input.
All other Mazda 3 trims are available on both the sedan and hatchback. The 3i Sport adds cruise control, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a 7-inch touchscreen display with a knob-based controller interface, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio, smartphone-enabled Internet radio and a USB/iPod audio interface.
The 3i Touring models lose the CD player but add 16-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated side mirrors, a rear spoiler, keyless ignition and entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a rear-seat center armrest, a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alerts and a rearview camera. The optional Touring Technology package adds a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, a navigation system, voice controls and a premium nine-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system that further adds satellite radio.
Those features come standard on the 3i Grand Touring, along with leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a six-way power driver seat (with manual lumbar adjustment).
The 3s Touring is equipped like the 3i Grand Touring but adds a more powerful engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and a head-up display for vital driving information.
The 3s Grand Touring completes the lineup by adding to the 3s Touring’s equipment with adaptive bi-xenon headlights, automatic wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and leather upholstery. The Technology package for the 3s Grand Touring includes the i-ELOOP regenerative braking system, active grille shutters, a forward collision warning and mitigation system, a lane-departure warning system, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2015 Mazda 3i models are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. It drives the front wheels through either a six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic. In Edmunds testing of a Mazda 3i sedan with the automatic transmission, we recorded an 8.3-second 0-60-mph time, which is quicker than average for this class of car. EPA-estimated fuel economy is also excellent. The sedan checks in at 34 mpg combined (30 city/41 highway) with the automatic transmission. The sedan with the manual earns just slightly less at 33 mpg combined (29/41), and you can expect similar numbers for the 3i hatchback. On the 116-mile Edmunds.com evaluation route, the 3i hatchback returned 39.4 mpg.
Mazda 3s models get a 2.5-liter four-cylinder generating 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, also with the choice of six-speed automatic or manual transmissions. With the 2.5-liter engine and the manual transmission, in both the sedan and hatchback, the EPA estimates 29 mpg combined (25/37 for the sedan and 26/35 for the hatch). The 2.5-liter engine and the six-speed automatic get an estimated 32 mpg combined (28/39) in four-door configuration and 31 mpg combined (27/37) with the hatchback.
Available for the 3s is an optional “i-ELOOP” system that captures and redistributes braking energy. So equipped, fuel economy rises to 33 mpg (29/40) with the automatic.
Standard safety equipment on the 2015 Mazda 3 includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, active front head restraints, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. A rearview camera and blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alerts comes standard on all trims other than the SV and Sport. The available Technology package for the 3s Grand Touring includes a lane departure warning system, forward collision warning and Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support, which is a collision-mitigation system that can automatically brake the car to a stop at low speeds if the driver doesn’t react to an imminent collision.
In Edmunds testing, a Mazda 3i Grand Touring hatchback came to a stop from 60 mph in 120 feet, while a 3s GT did it in 126 feet. Both are essentially average numbers for the segment.
In government crash testing, the 2015 Mazda 3 received five out of five stars for overall crash protection, with five stars for total frontal crash protection and five stars for total side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 3 the highest possible rating of “Good” in its moderate-overlap frontal offset, side-impact, roof-strength and whiplash protection (seats and head restraints) crash tests. It also received a “Good” in the IIHS’s new small-overlap frontal offset impact test, a test in which many vehicles perform worse.
Interior Design and Special Features
The interior of the 2015 Mazda 3 is one of the best in its class. All controls are intuitive, and the driver-oriented dashboard and console has everything within easy reach, so you aren’t searching around through button arrays or menu screens to accomplish basic tasks. Overall, the interior panels, upholstery and switches have a surprisingly expensive feel.
Most Mazda 3 trim levels come with a color display mounted atop the dash and a knob-type controller on the center console, much like those found in pricier cars like Audis. Mazda actually goes a step further by making that display a touchscreen. This added level of redundancy helps make this electronics interface easy to figure out and use on a daily basis. It’s one of the better systems out there. The base 3 comes with radio-faceplate-type controls in place of the display screen.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and the sporty bolstering nicely complements the car’s nimble handling abilities. The rear seats also have some contouring to them, but all-around space is pretty average. Competing sedans like the Toyota Corolla or Volkswagen Jetta offer more room for adults to get comfortable or to install bulky child safety seats. The sedan’s 12.4-cubic-foot trunk is bit small for the class. The hatchback, meanwhile, offers 20.2 cubic feet behind its rear seat, while folding the seats yields 47.1 cubic feet. Both are average figures.
The base 2.0-liter engine in the Mazda 3 sounds a bit raspy under hard acceleration but provides better-than-average acceleration and has useful midrange torque output, making it a completely viable pick. Nevertheless, it’s still tempting to stretch your budget for the larger 2.5-liter engine. It’s quicker, smoother and slightly quieter, and there’s a minimal impact to overall fuel economy. The automatic transmission is a bright spot, offering shifts that are remarkably intelligent, quick, responsive and smooth. The available “Sport” mode on 3s Touring/Grand Touring models further improves the already intelligent programming of the automatic transmission.
The 2015 Mazda 3 is one of the most engaging vehicles to drive in its price range, as it handles well and offers responsive and precise steering. And for the most part, the 3 has a refined, substantial-feeling ride quality. The exception would be the 3s models, which can be rather stiff and bumpy when driven over rutted roads due to their 18-inch wheels and tires. Wind and road noise are also more noticeable in the 3 than they are in other small cars.