Mazda isn’t fooling anyone with its fun and sporty cars anymore. If you don’t already know that Mazda’s entire lineup – from the Miata up to the CX-9 midsize crossover – is designed with drivers in mind, then you just haven’t been paying attention. The 2018 Mazda3 might be Mazda’s most definitive example of its Driving Matters tag line, as it’s part of the affordable compact class, but offers the driving dynamics of something much sportier.
The Mazda3 is available in sedan and hatchback form, and it goes up against a slew of compacts like the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Volkswagen Golf/Jetta, Subaru Impreza, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. So how does Mazda’s enthusiast-minded compact keep up with its high-volume competition? I spent a week in the 2018 Mazda3 Sedan Grand Touring to find out.
2018 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior
While many rivals have delivered strong designs recently, the 2018 Mazda3 is still the best-looking car in its class despite the fact that its design is now four years old. This is largely thanks to its long hood and overall proportions that make it look more like a rear-drive car than the front-wheel-drive car that it is. Extra elements like the sculpted body lines, arched fenders, short decklid and rising beltline only cement the sedan’s case for its exterior design.
The Grand Touring trim level gets the most out of the Mazda3’s design with a black metallic grille, decklid lip spoiler and dark silver finish 18-inch alloy wheels as well as standard LED headlights, LED running lights and LED taillights. Our tester was painted in a brilliantly understated $200 Snowflake White Pearl Mica paint job and contrasting black accents – front air dam, side sills, rear diffuser and mirror caps – that are included in the optional $1,300 Appearance Package.
2018 Mazda3 Sedan Interior
Inside, 2018 Mazda3 reveals a driver-focused interior that is as finely sculpted as the exterior with modern styling and a clean layout. All trim levels get the Mazda Connect infotainment system with seven-inch touch screen display, while the Grand Touring trim adds a nine-speaker Bose audio, color Active Driving Display (head-up display), moonroof and perforated leather seats. This tester went a step further with $125 door sills and the $1,600 Premium Equipment Package that brought Mazda Navigation System, heated front seats, heated steering wheel and paddle shifters
Everything about the Mazda3’s feels natural from the positioning of the buttons and knobs to the operation of the transmission’s manual shift mode (pulling down for upshifts just feels better). The head-up display brings pertinent information to the driver’s immediate line of sight, and the gauge cluster is equally helpful with a centrally mounted pod for the analog tachometer and digital speedometer flanked by two smaller digital displays.
2018 Mazda3 Sedan Powertrain
In its base Sport trim level, the 2018 Mazda3 uses a 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder, but the Touring and Grand Touring trims get the bigger 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder. Both engines are efficient and peppy, but the bigger engine is more fitting for this car’s purpose. The 2018 Mazda3 puts out 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, and it has EPA-rated fuel economy estimates of 27 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway**. Even with 30 more hp at its disposal, this engine has only a 1 mpg penalty in city and highway driving compared to the 2.0-liter. This tester was equipped with the optional six-speed SKYACTIV-DRIVE automatic transmission, but all trim levels come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox – further proof that Mazda gets it when it comes to enthusiasts!
The 2018 Mazda3 was built for drivers who actually care about driving. Sure, this sedan makes a great commuter car, but it’s even better when your commute involves tight, twisting roads. The brakes and chassis tuning is surprisingly responsive without feeling too jerky, and the steering has a decent weight to it. Push the button for Sport mode, and everything tightens up a bit with quicker throttle and steering response and higher revs for each gear. Until the Mazdaspeed3 returns (come on already, Mazda!), you won’t get the same kind of performance as say the Subaru Impreza WRX, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST or Honda Civic Si, but what you do get is a stylish and efficient compact car that so rewarding to drive.
2018 Mazda3 Sedan Safety
At Mazda, it’s clear that safety and sportiness come hand in hand, and the 2018 Mazda3 backs this up with five-star overall crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support is now standard on all trim levels, and this tester’s Premium Equipment Package adds High Beam Control, Adaptive Front-lighting System, Lane Departure Warning System, Lane Keep Assist, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Smart Brake Support and Traffic Sign Recognition.
2018 Mazda3 Sedan Overall
No surprises here, the 2018 Mazda3 is still the most entertaining compact car on the market. After a week of driving this Mazda3 GT, the best comparison I could come up with was the Audi A3. Yes, the Mazda3 is that good! And unlike that $43,000 Audi, this sporty compact won’t break the bank. The 2018 Mazda3 is the lowest-priced model in the Mazda lineup starting at $18,095*, which is only a $250 increase from the 2017 model year and still less than rivals like the Volkswagen Jetta, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Add in the Mazda3 GT’s two feature-packed option packages, and you’re looking at a loaded compact sedan with an as-tested price of $28,310.
The good news here is that this is still a competitive price for compacts; the better news is that you don’t need to need to opt for the Grand Touring trim level to get a great Mazda3.
Make sure to visit your local AutoNation Mazda dealership and test drive the 2018 Mazda3 today!
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on 2018 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.