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I spent the last week driving the Mazda 3 and, getting straight to the point, it's superb.
That shouldn't' be a surprise.
Mazda's been doing a stellar job, and it continues to show with the Mazda 3.
The Mazda 3 was created by the same design team as the rest of Mazda's modern family of cars. It looks gorgeous for the segment. Despite working with a short, front-wheel drive platform — terrible for proportions — the wizards at Mazda HQ managed to create an athletic and svelte hatchback shape.
The Mazda 3 is offered in two forms, including a hatchback model and a sedan. We tested the $26,970 Grand Touring hatchback, and you can expect to pay $750 less for the sedan. The hatchback's styling and improved practicality are worth the added cost.
That price gets you a lot. Our tester had essentially every option boxed ticked except the automatic transmission, offering a slick six-speed row-your-own gearbox instead.
Heated leather seats, a heated steering wheel, a heads-up display, radar cruise control and blind-spot monitoring were all included. It also had premium materials throughout and looked more expensive than its price tag would suggest.
The Mazda 3 is more fun than any standard-kit Ford Focus, VW Golf or Honda Civic. Still, Mazda still refuses to offer a performance trim — think Volkswagen GTI or Civic Si — so it can't quite claim the crown for the segment.
It's a great commuter car, too. Despite its fantastic handling and naturally-aspirated engine that makes all of its power in the top of the rev range, the 3 is still happy to settle in for highway cruises. It's composed over rough pavement and relatively quiet. It doesn't blow its competitors away in terms of refinement, but it strikes a near-perfect balance between backroad fun and interstate cruising.
The flaws with the Mazda 3 are minute and mostly unimportant. I don't like the dull gauge cluster or the lack of one-touch up windows, but I don't have any major complaints.
I wish Mazda made an even fancier version with the rosewood trim from the CX-9 Signature and more equipment like cooled seats and lane-keeping that centers the car. I wish there was a faster model, too.
But these aren't actual problems. I like the Mazda 3 so much that I wish there were additional models for every possible use.
Start with a 5-door Mazda 3 Grand Touring with the manual transmission. You can get the automatic if you want but it betrays the "driving-first" mantra of the car. Mazda's lovely Soul Red and Machine Gray paints are both $300 options you should consider.
The Grand Touring trim requires a $1,600 premium package, but you can skip the pricey appearance package. That brings the total to $26,685, just shy of our tester which had extra floor mats and a bumper guard.
The Mazda 3 is brilliant and I recommend it to almost anyone who needs a small car. It's practical and gets great fuel mileage. It's well-equipped, well-priced, gorgeous and lovely to drive.
Exterior: 4.5 stars
Interior: 4.5 stars
Driving Experience: 4.5 stars
Value: 5 stars
Overall: 5 stars
Price as configured: $26,970