Expert review written by the Kelley Blue Book vehicle review editorial team.
Nearing the end of its life cycle the Mazda3 remains one of the most entertaining entries in its segment. For 2012, Mazda’s compact gets a "Skyactiv" powertrain option bumping highway fuel economy to 40 mpg and helping the Mazda3 keep pace with its increasingly efficient competition.
You'll Like The 2012 Mazda Mazda3 If...
Great gas mileage and an enthusiast-oriented chassis are fused with a premium interior and dynamite styling to form the 2012 Mazda3 sedan and hatchback. If you thought you couldn’t have all this in a small affordable car, Mazda just proved you wrong.
You May Not Like The 2012 Mazda Mazda3 If...
If your next car must have all-wheel drive (AWD), the Subaru Impreza or Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart are better choices. Smartphones are killing in-dash (and on-windshield) navigation systems, and the Mazda3’s tiny hard to use view screen won’t convince you to ask for a reprieve.
The 2012 Mazda3 gets a freshened front face and a new instrument panel with a blue background and white lettering. Also new is the fuel-efficient 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine. Cars equipped with the Skyactiv engine are fitted with a choice of two new 6-speed transmissions, either manual or automatic. In addition, there are a number of equipment changes across the numerous trim levels.
The 2012 Mazda3 sedan and hatchback share the same, feature-rich interior, highlighted by stylish instruments and soft touch surfaces. A 3-zone philosophy places all the vital controls in way that helps the driver focus on the road while operating the audio and climate control. For the most part, we like what Mazda has done with the Mazda3’s instruments and dash, but the poorly placed screen displaying the HVAC and audio readouts has too many functions crammed into its small window. The optional navigation screen is also too small and difficult to understand, but that probably won’t matter as most Mazda3 buyers will likely use their smartphones for navigation. S trim models get a multi-talented steering wheel that houses controls for the audio, cruise, navigation and Bluetooth. The available Bose audio system sounds fantastic. The Mazdaspeed3 gets a more aggressive set of bolstered front bucket seats and an LED turbo boost gauge.
The 2012 Mazda3 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback draw on the original 2004 Mazda3 for inspiration, but take its styling to a more dramatic place. A new front grille dissected by a wide black bumper strip and a new lower air intake help improve a weak spot on the previous year Mazda3’s exterior. The Mazda3 features bold front fender flares straddling 16- and 17-inch wheels. Next to a conservatively styled Chevy Cruze or Toyota Corolla, the Mazda3 looks downright awesome, and Mazda’s color palate blows its competitors out of the water. The s Grand Touring trim’s available adaptive swiveling front headlamps are just one of the many Mazda3 features that are rare at this price point. You don’t have to spend a lot to get a lot with the 2012 Mazda3 compact, because even the base model comes with 16-inch wheels, color keyed mirrors, and halogen fog lights. The Mazdaspeed3 expresses itself with an active front hood scoop, 18-inch wheels and ground effects.
The beauty of the 2012 Mazda3 is that no matter which model you choose, it will be equipped with a fun to drive spirit. The variation comes in the rate of acceleration and the tenacity of tire grip. The Mazda3’s stiff body helps impart a feeling of solidity and safety. Mazda engineers focused their attention on making the Mazda3’s body as stiff as possible and its suspension both agile and compliant. Models with the 148-horsepower engine offer spirited performance and good fuel economy, reaching 33 miles per gallon in the government’s highway test. The new Skyactiv 2.0-liter pumps out 155 horsepower and achieves an astounding 40 mpg on the government’s highway cycle. The standard six-speed manual is a delight, mirroring the marvelously fluid manual transmission found in the Miata MX-5. While the Skyactiv 2.0-liter engine delivers good performance, its not going to be winning any SCCA races. If you want the ultimate performance (not counting the turbocharged Mazdaspeed3), it’s the s trim’s 2.5-liter engine you’ll be seeking. With 167-horsepower, this little 4-cylinder delivers strong acceleration and still gets reasonable good fuel economy. While carving up a twisting mountain road we found the driver-selectable stability and traction control granted us plenty of fun before stepping in to save us from ourselves. Our Grand Touring trim’s front seats provided plenty of thigh and lateral support and the overall feel inside the cabin is one of sophistication and attention to detail. For the ultimate in performance driving, there is the 263-horsepower Mazdaspeed3, which features a performance suspension, sport seats and more torque steer than a front drive car has a right to.
The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the 2012 Mazda3 lineup starts around $16,000 for the base i SV. However, that figure rises to $17,600 for an i Sport sedan with a manual transmission and nears $18,500 for one with an automatic. The Mazda3 Skyactiv i Touring starts around $19,200, while the range-topping s Grand Touring models with the automatic transmission can approach $26,500. The Mazdaspeed3 starts around $25,000. To get the best deal, be sure to check the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price to see what consumers in your area are currently paying for the 2012 Mazda3. Also, click on the Incentives tab to see what deals the manufacturer is offering. Historically, the Mazda3 has maintained slightly above-average residual values. The 2012 Mazda3 is expected to do the same, remaining somewhat better in that area than the Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra and Chevrolet Cruze, but not quite up to Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Matrix or VW Golf levels.
The 4-door 2012 Mazda3 is available in six trim packages, starting with the base i SV, and moving upward with the i Sport, i Touring, i Grand Touring, s Touring and s Grand Touring. The trim levels for the five-door hatchback (or, if you prefer, wagon) are i Touring, i Grand Touring, s Touring and s Grand Touring. Even the base 2012 Mazda3 i SV sedan has impressive standard equipment, which includes electronic stability control, a tilt-telescoping steering column, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio, power windows and mirrors and variable intermittent wipers. The i Touring adds cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, power locks with keyless remote and Bluetooth connectivity. The i Touring and i Grand Touring trim gets the new Skyactiv 2.0-liter engine mated to 6-speed manual in the i Touring and a 6-speed automatic in the i Grand Touring. The s levels have the more potent 167-horsepower 2.5-liter engine, 265-watt Bose audio system, a power moonroof, Advance Keyless entry with push-button start, 17-inch alloy wheels, and dual-zone automatic temperature control. Grand Touring trims also feature navigation, leather seating surfaces, an 8-way power driver’s seat, heated side mirrors and 5-position heated front sport seats. The Mazdaspeed3 comes only in the Touring trim.
The Tech Package available on Grand Touring trim includes auto-leveling Adaptive front HID headlamps, blind spot monitoring, rain-sensing wipers, and anti-theft alarm. The i Touring trim offers the Moonroof and Bose package containing a 265-watt 10-speaker Bose Surround Sound Centerpoint audio system and a power glass moonroof. The Mazdaspeed3 offers a Mazdaspeed Tech Package which is the same as Tech Package only with Advance Key and navigation added to the list.
Adaptive Front HeadlampsMazda says this is the first application on a compact vehicle of the swiveling blue-white bi-xenon high- and low-beam headlights. (Bi-xenon means there are two headlights on each side – one for high beam and the other for low beam.) The inner beams can rotate up to 15 degrees in order to look deeper into dark corners. They are self-leveling to prevent dazzling on-coming divers. Skyactiv 2.0-liter engineUtilizing direct fuel injecting and with a 12.0:1 compression ratio, the Skyactiv engine is both powerful and incredibly fuel efficient. Better still, the Skyactiv engine runs on regular 87 octane fuel.
Under the Hood
Three engines and three transmissions are part of the 2012 Mazda3 lineup. The 4-door i models (SV and Sport) are equipped with a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that can be teamed with a 5-speed manual transmission or, except for the base i SV, a 5-speed automatic. The i Touring and Grand Touring are fitted with the Skyactiv 2.0-liter engine, which makes 155 horsepower and is mated to a new 6-speed manual. The i Grand Touring offers a 6-speed automatic. The more powerful s models have a 168-horsepower 2.5-liter powerplant paired with either a 6-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic. The Mazdaspeed3 uses a 2.3-liter gasoline direct injection turbocharged MZR engine good for 263 horsepower and 280 pounds-feet of torque. The Mazdaspeed3 is only available with a 6-speed manual transmission.2.0-liter in-line 4148/144 horsepower (Federal/PZEV) @ 6,500 rpm135/132 lb-ft of torque (Federal/PZEV) @ 4,500 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/33 (manual), 24/33 (automatic)2.0-liter Skyactiv 4155/154 horsepower (Federal/PZEV) @ 6,000 rpm148 ft-lb of torque @ 4,100 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy: 27/39 (manual sedan), 28/40 (automatic, sedan), 27/38 (manual, 5-door), 28/39 (automatic, 5-door)2.5-liter in-line 4167/165 horsepower (Federal/PZEV) @ 6,000 rpm168/167 lb-ft of torque (Federal/PZEV)) @ 4,000 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/28 (manual), 22/29 (automatic)2.3-liter turbocharged in-line 4263 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm280 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/25
Mazda’s Zoom-zoom tag line isn’t just a hollow advertising gimmick. It really does describe the attitude behind every car they build. Perhaps the best example of Zoom-zoom can be found in the 2012 Mazda3, a fun and efficient vehicle that’s available as either a 4-door sedan or a 5-door hatchback, as well as a high-performance turbocharged terror dubbed the Mazdaspeed3. The various versions of the Mazda3 all offer great driving credentials, a long list of high-end features and appealing good looks. Oh, did we forget to mention the very affordable price tag? Yeah, the 2012 Mazda3’s got that, too. This year, Mazda has restyled its popular compact car, toning down the awkward wide-mouth, grinning grille and adding new wheels and interior features. The most appealing new Mazda3 addition is the all-new Skyactiv 4-cylinder engine, a high-compression engine capable of producing 155 horsepower and a 40 mpg highway rating. With the 2012 Mazda3, you no longer have to sacrifice good fuel economy for a fun ride, or great high-end features for a good price.