2012 Mazda MAZDA3
In recent years, fuel economy has become the go-to selling point for carmakers across the globe, and this trend is no more so apparent than in the compact car segment. The ads proclaim, “Model X gets 38 mpg!” and “Model Y gets 40!” To tell the truth, it’s become a bit of a you-know-what contest. But if a car buyer wants great fuel economy, it’s nice to know that a hybrid is no longer her only choice. Good old gas-powered compacts are cheaper than hybrids and generally thought to be more fun to drive, which is why you’re seeing more carmakers reach for that magic 40 mpg highway mark without going the extra-battery route.
One of the biggest deterrents to buying a Mazda3 has previously been its substandard fuel economy. As one of the mainstays in the compact car segment, and one who saw disappointing sales following its 2010 redesign
, the Mazda3 had much to gain from improving its previously poor pump numbers. Its 2012 refresh includes, among revised exterior looks to help wipe that big smile off its face, an all-new, fuel-efficient engine that achieves – wait for it – 40 mpg highway. Mazda calls it Skyactiv, and it’s their way of expanding fuel economy numbers without decreasing performance – a balance we’ll always support. With it, we’re wondering why anyone would skip shopping this compact.
What's to Like
The Mazda3 has always offered a better-than-average drive experience, and now it also has the low fuel consumption to match the competition. 40 mpg and 540-mile range will reduce gas station visits. The Skyactiv engine sounds pretty good and delivers strong acceleration when needed. Pricing is strong against the fuel-conscious competition, and the Skyactiv technology is housed in the more reasonably priced models.
What's Not to Like
Interior styling is ripe for a refresh. With other manufacturers loading their compacts with features and technology, the Mazda3’s offerings are behind on the times. The two separate screens in the center stack are distracting. Seats could use more cushioning and bolstering.
The Mazda3 is an enjoyable ride, and we’d consider it one of the best in overall performance for the compact class. It’s peppy off the line, accelerates quickly up to highway speeds, and cruises easily and quietly. The new four-cylinder sounds good and makes the most of the power on hand. 0-60 mph numbers aren’t great (7.8 seconds), but the torquey engine keeps you having fun.
Mazda, like Porsche, takes pride on its racing roots, meaning that you’ll experience direct steering and even-tempered handling on a variety of road types. The comfortable ride is a little firm compared to others, but not intrusively so. And better seats would lessen that problem anyway.
Engine and Drivetrain
Mazda’s new Skyactiv 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is standard on i Touring and i Grand Touring models. The lighter engine uses direct injection and a higher compression ratio to increase the speed of combustion, making the engine more efficient without reducing performance. Rated at 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, the Skyactiv engine is marginally more powerful than the base model’s 2.0-liter. Two new transmissions are mated to the new engine: a six-speed manual and six-speed automatic with manual mode.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
Improving fuel economy by roughly 20 percent versus the base 2.0-liter, the Skyactiv engine helps the Mazda3 achieve 28 mpg city and 40 mpg highway when equipped with the automatic. The manual yields an impressive 27 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. A 540-mile range will keep you away from the pump.
Features and Technology
While its drive qualities shine compared to others, the Mazda3’s technology offerings are slightly underwhelming. Sure, the Touring trim comes standard with Bluetooth (that we tried fruitlessly to connect to our iPhone), cruise control, an auxiliary input jack, and Satellite radio connectivity, but a USB plug should also be standard. The optional 265-watt Bose surround sound audio system is heavy-handed on the bass and lacks crispness.
One multi-information display contains fuel economy and mileage details in a modern format. Yet to the right of it is another multi-information display, rendered in old-school dot-matrix style. They need to be consolidated into one larger screen that’s easier to read and simple to navigate through.
Sporty blue and red lighting accent the Mazda3’s interior, and the overall result is a clean look. We’ve already mentioned the weird multiple display issue, but it’s worth saying that the two screens create a disjointed, old-meets-new feel. Seats are roomy, but not padded enough for our liking – a problem exacerbated by lengthy journeys – and rear legroom is tight. Ample cargo space is increased with the folding rear seats. Some soft-touch plastics would do wonders for the interior.
2010 was the year of the smiley grille. A new front fascia and updated grille haven’t completely rid the car of its unwavering glee, but they’ve helped. Minor modifications have improved aerodynamics, and there are a few new wheel choices for 2012. The Skyactiv badging on the exterior is unnecessary, however, and you’ll be forced to respond to questions about it for years to come.
Market Segment and Pricing
In 5-Door guise, the i Touring starts at $19,300 and i Grand Touring comes in at $23,150. Unlike some other fuel-efficient models, the Skyactiv engine is actually cheaper than the larger 2.5-liter. Most directly competitive to the Mazda3 are the Ford Focus
– for its driving dynamics – and Hyundai Elantra
– for its direct-injection, mpg making magic. The rest of the shopping list is lengthy: Chevrolet Cruze Eco
, Honda Civic HF
, Volkswagen Jetta TDI
, Nissan Sentra
, Toyota Corolla
, and Kia Forte
What We Think
The Skyactiv engine puts a stop to the most complained-about issue with the Mazda3 – its dismal fuel economy. That 40 mpg number and sub-$20,000 price are just two reasons to take a test drive in the Mazda3. Once behind the wheel, we’re hoping you come to the realization that there are some well-handling compacts out there, namely this one. Other than the needed interior improvements, we’re once again happy to recommend this car.