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Mazda3 2016 Review / specs and Test Drive



Mazda3 2016

During a wide range of driving, the Mazda proved capable and eager to please. Mazda USA

During a wide range of driving, the Mazda proved capable and eager to please.

MSRP
$23,365 (as tested)
Engine
2.0-liter 4 cyl.
Power
155-hp; 150 lb.-ft.

I don’t usually enjoy a drive so much that I attempt to kill the car I’m driving. That was almost the case with the 2016 Mazda3 i Grand Touring sedan that I was piloting more than 500 miles southward, to visit family on the eastern coast of North Carolina.

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The roads were empty, partly due to the impending hurricane brewing in the Caribbean that looked dead set on pummeling the entire Atlantic seaboard. Luckily, Mother Nature would eventually intervene to keep my route relatively unscathed and free of flooding.

The electrically power-assisted steering doesn’t have the razor-sharp reflexes of the Miata, of course. Mazda USA

The electrically power-assisted steering doesn’t have the razor-sharp reflexes of the Miata, of course.

Too bad my intense focus on the forecast meant a near total lack of attention on the Mazda’s fuel tank. I’d keenly noticed the Mazda3’s 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder was sipping regular unleaded to the tune of nearly 40 miles per gallon. That was really without really trying, too.

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With two hours left in a 10 hour drive, I finally turned my eyes from empty two-lane highway and real-time MPGs, and down to the fuel gauge itself.

Whoa baby!

Mazda gave the car world the incredible RX-7 sports coupe, along with the sharp handling MX-5 Miata roadster. Yet, not even Mazda’s engineering whizzes, or any amount of “zoom zoom” technical prowess is going to gift us an economy car that runs on thin air.

My car was fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox, which is something of a specialty for Mazda. Mazda USA

My car was fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox, which is something of a specialty for Mazda.

With an indicated 14 miles to spare, my Mazda3 sedan was finally able to fill its 13.2 fuel tank with enough juice for the rest of the ride.

This momentary lapse in test driving etiquette wasn’t intended to harm my faithful four-wheeled traveling companion. During a wide range of driving, the Mazda proved capable and eager to please. In the city, the Mazda3 is nimble and, at 180.3 inches in total length, it’s small enough to fit in tight parking spots without any problem.

Available as a sedan and hatchback, if push came to shove I’d have to recommend the hatch. It offers more cargo room (20.2 cu. ft. versus 12.4 in the sedan) and, in my opinion, it has a more European-centric look to its exterior. I like that, but I’m also fine if you prefer the sedan – it’s a pretty handsome little car, too.

As I already mentioned, highway economy held steady right around 40 mpg, which is on par with the Mazda3’s EPA estimated highway mileage of 41 mpg. I’m not a total lead-foot driver but, I’ll admit, it’s very rare that I come anywhere close to matching EPA mileage figures.

In the world of economy cars, this Mazda is a refreshing break from many ho-hum alternatives.Mazda USA

In the world of economy cars, this Mazda is a refreshing break from many ho-hum alternatives.

This is a Mazda, however, and Mazda’s are supposed to offer great handling and punchy engines. Does the brand’s least expensive model have any of the automotive DNA found in cars like the Miata, or even the midsize Mazda6?

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Yes, it does, for the most part. The electrically power-assisted steering doesn’t have the razor-sharp reflexes of the Miata, of course. But in the world of economy cars, this Mazda is a refreshing break from many ho-hum alternatives. I do wish the ride felt more planted, especially at highway speed. Over stretches of highway with a 70 mph speed limit, the Mazda3 could feel light on its toes and started drumming up more road noise than I like.

If long distance drives are the norm for your economy car, I’d still recommend the whisper-quiet Chevrolet Cruze – even if the Mazda3 is ultimately more fun to drive.

If long distance drives are the norm for your economy car, I’d still recommend the whisper-quiet Chevrolet Cruze – even if the Mazda3 is ultimately more fun to drive. Mazda USA

If long distance drives are the norm for your economy car, I’d still recommend the whisper-quiet Chevrolet Cruze – even if the Mazda3 is ultimately more fun to drive.

The MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear does keep things even-keeled through corners. On the flip side, the 16-inch all-season tires fitted to my tester obviously favor economy and longevity, rather than ultimate grip.

My car was fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox, which is something of a specialty for Mazda. There’s a very good reason that I’ve relied on Mazda products when it comes time to teaching someone how to shift for themselves. The clutch pedal is light and forgiving, and the gearlever slots precisely from gear to gear. Since the 4-cylinder has enough grunt not to bog down if you miss a shift, the Mazda3 won’t hiccup and sputter if you mess things up. And yes, even super cool auto journalists can screw up a shift now and then. A 6-speed automatic is also available, if you’re unwilling to go the manual route.

Mazda3 2016Mazda USA

the 16-inch all-season tires fitted to my tester obviously favor economy and longevity, rather than ultimate grip.

Despite the mega drive to N.C. and back, the front seats were supportive and comfortable. The rear seat gets dinged for being cramped, though I wouldn’t label it a penalty box. It’s fine for car in this size segment and price class.

Credit to Mazda for doing a fantastic impersonation of Audi’s highly respected MMI infotainment interface. A large knob on the center console provides easy scrolling through satellite radio stations, or quick adjustments to the satellite navigation system that was fitted to my test car.

You can load a Mazda3 to the gills with the more powerful 184-hp 4-cylinder and all options, and eventually crest $29,000. I think the sweet spot is much lower down the options scale, however. Including the aforementioned satellite radio and nav, my Mazda3 i Grand Touring stickered at $23,365 and came with features such as a Bose 9-speaker surround sound system, heated front seats, 6-way power adjustable driver’s seat, Bluetooth, and dual-zone climate control.

Mazda3 2016Mazda USA

Attractive and economical, the Mazda3 is a strong player in an increasingly tough small car market.

It’s definitely worth noting that the Mazda3 scores top marks in crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Available safety features include lane departure warning, automatic high beam control, forward obstruction warning, radar-based intelligent cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, and blind spot monitoring.

Attractive and economical, the Mazda3 is a strong player in an increasingly tough small car market. The fact that Mazda can fit with the big dogs (i.e. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and GM) and win on so many fronts is testament to the company’s engineering expertise. The 5-door wagon speaks to my practical side – okay, and I also think it’s prettier – but any Mazda3 is an excellent value. This is a car that doesn’t feel built to a budget, even if it’s easy on yours.

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