2017 Mazda 3 - The Car Connection

   
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The Car Connection Expert Rating Breakdown



The Car Connection Expert Review


Aaron Cole

Aaron Cole

Managing Editor


  • Likes
  • Phenomenal exterior
  • Perky performance
  • Good base equipment
  • Solid safety record
  • Dislikes
  • Relatively disappointing interior
  • Small-ish space
  • Mixed interior materials

The 2017 Mazda 3 is near the top of our favorite compact cars on sale today. It's good performance, good fuel economy, and good value make for a very good car.


The 2017 Mazda 3 improves on what made the compact car endearing in the first place. Its looks have only gotten better after a subtle interior and exterior refresh, and its drivability improves in several small areas, rather than a wholesale engine change or remapped sport button.

Whether starting at the budget Sport model, or opting for a Touring or Grand Touring edition, the Mazda 3 is a compelling package against other small-sizers.

We give the 2017 Mazda 3 an overall score of 7.5 out of 10 for its good looks, spunky performance, and fuel efficient powertrains. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Styling and performance

This year's Mazda 3 improves on one of the car's best attributes: it's outward style. This year's new front bumper shapes the lower fascia a little better than last year's models and directs eyes toward a slightly better nose and grille that keep their sleek appearances. In back, a new lower bumper for hatchback models removes some of the cladding we didn't much care for, and the interior layout received a very slight once over to make it a little sharper.

The Mazda 3's bright performance and overall responsiveness have remained, thanks to Mazda leaving well enough alone. Sport and Touring models make do with a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. Grand Touring models (and a version of the Touring hatchback) get a bigger 2.5-liter inline-4 with more punch (184 hp) and more twist (185 lb-ft).

Both engines can be mated to either a 6-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual transmission that makes the most of the available power.

The Mazda 3 succeeds in getting all the little things right to make a big difference. For 2017, the automaker has added an additional power control that modulates torque based on steering wheel input. We'll admit that we're skeptical about the overall impact, but history tends to be in Mazda's favor here.

Comfort, safety, and features

The Mazda 3's shortcomings show up in its overall size (it's a compact car, after all) and some of its materials (it costs less than $20,000 to start, after all). For 2017, Mazda says it has added more sound isolation material, which should help quiet the ride down a little.

We say the front seats are generally good and supportive, with plenty of cushioning for long legs. We've noticed some suspect material in the headliner and door inserts that feel decidedly bargain-bin, but in other places the Mazda 3 shines with quality materials. (We suggest a Marxist approach in a more equal distribution of wealth in this car.)

The Mazda 3's impressive safety scorecard and advanced safety features make it one of the safer picks in the segment. Both federal testers and the IIHS agree that it's a safe pick—the latter dubbed it a Top Safety Pick+—and the Touring and Grand Touring models come standard with blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert, and forward collision warning with low-speed automatic emergency braking. All versions come with a standard rearview camera.

Other safety measures such as active lane control and automatic headlights are also available.

In base Sport configuration, the Mazda 3 offers 16-inch wheels, air conditioning, power doors and windows, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless ignition, a rearview camera, steering-wheel mounted stereo controls, internet radio streaming, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen for its infotainment controls.

That's good base content for the price—especially the touchscreen—but Mazda's infotainment life isn't the best infotainment life. We'd implore the automaker to visit the Apple store and adopt the popular user interface system in its cars, but maybe that letter hasn't been delivered yet?

Styling
8.0

Put simply, the 2017 Mazda 3 is an attractive car at an attractive price.


The 2017 Mazda 3 has a new face and interior layout this year, which improves its standing as one of the best-looking compact cars on the market. It's one of the most eye-catching and contemporary designs for its class, in fact. The hatchback gets a new tail for 2017, and its "cab-back" form evokes the proportions of a rear-wheel-drive car, according to our eyes.

We say the interior looks good and the exterior looks better than good—it's great. It earns a good 8 out of 10 on our style scale.

The visual changes are subtle up front, and most notable in the lower half of the front fascia. The assembly for the fog lights has been significantly revised with a smaller fog light and turn lamp unit accented by a chrome-colored fin that draws eyes into the wider, deeper grille. The nose has been pushed up a little higher, with the Mazda emblem more deeply set into the grille than before.

The windshield pillars are still pushed 4 inches further back from the hood, which helps the Mazda 3 achieve a more athletic profile than some other compact cars on the roads.

A shoulder line that sweeps along the body side ends in taillights with pointed ends. Hatchback models adopt a more fastback roofline, which culminates in a rounded-off hatch, sacrificing some cargo capacity compared to the outgoing model. Both the sedan and hatchback ended up a little too rounded in back, even though they're so distinctive-looking in front. Although the rear proportions seem to work better for the sedan than the hatch, we'd likely still choose the hatchback for its superior flexibility.

The hatchback's rear bumper is also slightly revised, with a little less cladding underneath near the tailpipes.

Inside, the steering wheel has been slightly updated and the manual handbrake has been replaced with an electronic lever. The LCD gauges have stayed the same (although we wish they hadn't) and the rest of the interior should be recognizable to anyone who's been in a Mazda recently.

Mazda has designed a new driver-focused cockpit for the latest 3, with pedals and manual controls arranged symmetrically around the driver's centerline. A head-up display is available and it uses a clear panel that pops up from behind the instrument cluster when the car is turned on to show speed, turn-by-turn directions, and other critical information.

Put simply, the 2017 Mazda 3 is an attractive car at an attractive price.

Performance
7.0

The little things in the 2017 Mazda 3 make a big difference when it comes to drivability.


Mazda's fundamental approach to making their cars fun to drive is based upon dozens of systems working together to deliver an entire experience. It works, and generally speaking, Mazda's cars and SUVs drive and handle better than many of their rivals.

Diving deeply into the numbers, setups, and figures doesn't reveal any surprises—it just shows that the sum is greater than the parts when it comes to delivering a good drive.

The 2017 Mazda 3 gets a 7 out of 10 for performance on our scale thanks to good handling and competent 6-speed automatic and manual transmission options. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

By the numbers, the base 2.0-liter inline-4 makes 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. It's the engine found in most Sport and Touring models and is reasonably perky in most situations. We've found that the power doesn't come on strong until about 4,000 rpm, which is relatively high in the rev range.

Bumping up to the 2.5-liter inline-4 brings a 184 hp engine that makes 185 lb-ft of twist, but more impressively, makes the power more available in lower rev ranges.

Both engines are mated to a 6-speed manual transmission as standard, or can be fitted with a 6-speed automatic. We prefer the automatic when paired with the 2.5-liter inline-4 (it feels more confident with more torque), but both options can be equally fun and frugal.

New for 2017, Mazda has added an engine management system dubbed G-Vectoring Control that modulates torque to the front wheels (they're the only drive wheels, no all-wheel drive is available in the Mazda 3) based on steering input. The system is built to reduce body roll during cornering or high-speed inputs, although we haven't yet driven those cars to judge for ourselves. We'll admit that we're skeptical, but we'd also admit that Mazda's philosophy of the little things making a big difference has worked very well so far.

The one major dynamic shortcoming is this new car's electric power steering system. Mazda put lots of engineering into an electrohydraulic power steering system for the last-generation car and nailed it, but we simply don’t think the new car’s full-electric system is as good. It’s one of the better systems in this class, and we really like the strong sense of center at lower speeds, out of corners, but it doesn’t do well with oddly crowned roads, or track all that well at highway speeds, requiring more fine adjustments than we would have liked.

Steering-wheel paddles are included in models with the 2.5-liter engine and automatic transmission, and the auto 'box shifts with the decisiveness of a dual-clutch system. The manual gearbox snicks neatly and precisely between gears, and the clutch takes up easily and cleanly. Neither engine is ever caught flat-footed, and the throttle pedal responds linearly instead of having a jumpy tip-in like some cars trying to promote a performance vibe. One feature that's unusual in a new car is the bottom-hinged "organ-style" accelerator pedal, which Mazda says (and we agree) is more comfortable for drivers.

The little things in the 2017 Mazda 3 make a big difference when it comes to drivability.

Comfort & Quality
7.0

Considering the price, the Mazda 3 isn't a bad pick—we were just hoping for more.


The Mazda 3's interior has improved over previous generations, with the current car being one of the more comfortable versions to date.

Even still, we'd hesitate to call the Mazda 3 more comfortable than some of its competitors, and beyond the supportive front seats and the hatchback's versatility, the Mazda 3 struggles to impress. We give it a generous 7 out of 10 on comfort. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Mazda says they've added more sound insulation in 2017 models to quell one of our nagging concerns that the interior was just too noisy and boomy to be comfortable. We haven't yet driven those models, but we'll report back once we do.

Throughout the cabin there are a mix of high-quality materials and cost-cutting plastics in equal distribution. The dash materials and upholstery trims qualify as nice materials for the class, however we've had issues with the flimsy-feeling headliner and plasticky rear-door panels. To be fair, they're not the only offenders in the class, but it's disheartening when the Mazda 3's gorgeous exterior makes a promise that the interior can't match.

By current compact-car standards the Mazda 3's ride is a little busier than most. We've found that it quiets down in base models with a little more tire sidewall to dampen out the ride, but it's a little too harsh than we'd be looking for on anything but glassy-smooth paved roads.

We've found the front seats in the Mazda 3 to be supportive and comfortable, with lower cushions that are long enough for taller drivers, and they're among the best in their class, with contrasting perforated-leather upholstery in the Grand Touring feels luxury-caliber. Mazda has enlarged the cushion of the driver's seat and completely redesigned its front seat backs to provide a more natural sitting position and increase lateral support. Rear passengers may find themselves a little cramped on leg room sitting behind a tall driver or tall front-seat passenger, but a little horse trading could go a long way to maximize the available 35.8 inches of rear leg room.

Sedans sport 12.4 cubic feet of cargo room, opting for the hatchback bumps that number up to 20.2 cubic feet with all the seats in place. Fold the rear seats down in the hatchback and that room improves to 47.1 cubic feet of cargo room, which is roughly the same size as the Chevy Cruze hatch.

We’d advise against the moonroof, because it brings a very odd, scooped-out headliner that will leave taller passengers feeling like the roof is bowing around them. Rear occupants sit almost 2 inches higher than in the old car, but the way the rising window line limits window space still makes it one of the more claustrophobic small-car experiences—especially in the hatchback.

If you’re mainly planning to use the Mazda 3’s front seats, that might not matter; for the most part this compact-car family offers pleasing interior appointments, and even the look and feel of a premium-brand vehicle in some respects.

Considering the price, the Mazda 3 isn't a bad pick—we were just hoping for more.

Safety
9.0

The 2017 Mazda 3 boasts an impressive safety score thanks to good crash-test data and available safety features.


For buyers who prioritize safety, the Mazda 3 is a great choice. Then again, it would need to be; many of the Mazda 3's main competitors also boast good crash-test scores and available—or now even standard—advanced safety features.

Federal testers haven't yet finished rating the 2017 Mazda 3, but considering its similarities to last year's version, we feel comfortable carrying over those scores. Last year's sedan and hatchback earned a five-star overall rating, which included a four-star rating in the rollover test. The IIHS gave the Mazda 3 all "Good" scores in their tests and awarded the compact car its highest Top Safety Pick+ designation. That's good enough for a 9 out of 10 on our safety scoring system. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

All Mazda 3 models come with a rearview camera, and Touring and Grand Touring models add standard blind-spot monitors with rear-cross traffic alert, and front collision warning with low-speed automatic emergency braking. Optional safety equipment includes active lane control and automatic headlights and high beams.

Outward visibility in the Mazda 3 isn't especially good considering its upwardly curved window line and thick door pillars. In the hatchback, partially obscured glass at the rear means rear visibility is compromised, which makes the standard rearview camera and blind-spot monitors more than just a convenience, they're practically necessary for the small car.

The 2017 Mazda 3 boasts an impressive safety score thanks to good crash-test data and available safety features.

Features
6.0

Very well equipped in base models, the Mazda 3 is a good deal regardless of trim—we just wish for a better infotainment system.


The 2017 Mazda 3 is a compelling value, even among competitors that offer compact sedans with an impressive number of features.

In base Sport configuration, the Mazda 3 offers 16-inch wheels, air conditioning, power doors and windows, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless ignition, a rearview camera, steering-wheel mounted stereo controls, internet radio streaming, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen for its infotainment controls.

That's an impressive list of features, especially the touchscreen, which would garner a 7 out of 10 on our scale for base equipment. So how'd we get to 6? Mazda's infotainment isn't very intuitive and can be frustrating to use. We deducted a point for the less-than-friendly system and hope Mazda catches up with the rest of the industry in offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as a quick fix. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Aside from infotainment quibbles, the Mazda 3 is well-equipped for a car that costs less than $30,000.

Stepping up to Touring models adds 18-inch wheels, body-colored side mirrors, dual-zone air conditioning, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, and a suite of advanced safety equipment that we cover separately starting at $22,330 for the sedan or $23,080 for the hatchback.

Grand Touring models sit atop of the pile and boast a head-up display, leather seats, an upgraded Bose stereo, and a bigger 2.5-liter inline-4 under the hood.

Mazda's made some changes to its optional packages that better aligns with buyers' habits and should streamline shopping for the car.

A $1,000 preferred options package adds blind-spot monitors, premium cloth seats, and automatic headlights for Sport models. A popular options package adds a moonroof, upgraded stereo, satellite radio, and decklid spoiler for $1,500 on Touring models. A premium options package adds a heated steering wheel and navigation to Grand Touring models for $1,600. Grand Touring models can also add active lane control, and automatic emergency braking for $1,100 or a regenerative braking system, dubbed i-ELOOP, for $800. We don't recommend the latter package only because it doesn't demonstrably improve fuel-efficiency numbers.

The navigation system is clear and straightforward, and we like the point-of-interest integration. However, when we were moving along, it wouldn’t let us pan over to an alternate destination while we were using the map view—a function that you have in nearly every other system.

The display is crisp, colorful, high in contrast, and it’s quick and responsive, with no lag whatsoever—a big improvement over the system in the Mazda 6 and CX-5. The layout of the menus is better, too, and you can either navigate through them on the touch screen or use the controller to move between the tabs and screens. We like how it offers multiple controls and redundancies, yet the lack of a simple "back" button within some screens is frustrating.

Very well equipped in base models, the Mazda 3 is a good deal regardless of trim—we just wish for a better infotainment system.

Fuel Economy
8.0

The Mazda 3 is fuel efficient in nearly every configuration, which is impressive considering its engine choices.


The 2017 Mazda 3 comes in several different powertrain and body configurations, but each model manages to be fuel efficient for a car that doesn't rely on hybrid or turbocharging systems to be frugal

The Mazda 3 Touring sedan with a 2.0-liter inline-4 and an automatic transmission manage 28 mpg city, 37 highway, 32 combined, according to the EPA. That'll likely be the best-selling version of the Mazda 3, and it's good enough for an 8 out of 10 on our fuel efficiency scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Most models don't deviate from that mark either.

The Mazda 3 is offered as a sedan or hatchback, with a 2.0-liter inline-4 standard on Sport and Touring models or a 2.5-liter inline-4 available on top-level Grand Touring editions. (The hatchback version offers a 2.5-liter powered Touring edition as an option.) It's a relatively simplified lineup from previous years, when Mazda used additional letters to denote the engine underhood.

Nearly all of the Mazda 3 models hover around 30 mpg combined (only the 2.5-liter models with a manual-transmission do worse at 28 mpg combined) regardless of engine size.

How does Mazda do it? Both engines offer a very high compression ratio (but don't require premium gasoline, which is common for high-strung engines) and direct injection, variable valve timing, and weight-saving materials used throughout the car.

Other sedans such as the Honda Civic can manage better fuel economy numbers than the Mazda 3, but rely on turbocharged, small-displacement engines to realize those gains. Generally speaking, turbocharged engines require more attention to driving behavior to actually achieve those mileage figures.

The Mazda 3 is fuel efficient in nearly every configuration, which is impressive considering its engine choices.




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