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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Mazda3: Small package, big fun

Buyers today face a raft of good looking, economical and well-equipped compacts, whose starting prices fall well below $20,000. 

Only a handful can make the morning commute rewarding.

That’s the nut Mazda cracks with the 2015 Mazda3 ($17,765, including transportation). Even the entry-level 3, with its 155-horsepower four-cylinder engine and soaring EPA numbers (33 combined/29 city/41 highway), is a proper “driver’s car.”

Step up to the 184-hp 3s and you’ve stumbled upon a high-spirited daily driver.

Available in sedan and hatchback body styles, the 3 was fully made-over for 2014. It received striking new sheet metal, a pair of vigorous yet efficient four-cylinder engines and a new lightweight, high-strength chassis.

This year, the 3 receives a significant powertrain update; the optional 2.5-liter, 184-horsepower engine can be paired with a six-speed manual transmission. It’s perhaps the most fun a buyer can have for less than $25,000. So equipped, the 3 remains the model of efficiency (29 combined/25 city/37 highway).

Add a few choice options and the 3 slips into the near-luxury realm.

Every 3 is well equipped. The entry-level, sedan-only 3i SV includes such standard features as remote keyless entry and push-button start; power folding exterior mirrors; power windows with driver-side one-touch up/down; tilt-and-telescoping steering column; A/C with pollen filter and daytime running lights.
My Grand Touring tester included not just the new powertrain but also nearly every bell and whistle on the dance card; rain-sensing wipers; navigation; adaptive, high-intensity-discharge headlights (with auto on/of high-beams); a nine-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system; heated leather sport seats; dual-zone automatic climate control, etc.

The price of entry: a modest $26,335.

Trade-offs include a cabin that’s less roomy than the class average and a ride that may be too firm for some buyers, especially with the 18-inch Dunlops aboard.

Mazda compensates for the 3’s shortcomings with inviting cabin design, first-rate ergonomics — including terrific sport seats — and some of the industry’s most intuitive controls. It solves the display-screen real estate challenge by stacking a 7-inch color display atop the dash, where it can be scanned at a glance. The optional head-up speedometer display is the best I’ve seen.

The infotainment system can be controlled either via the touchscreen or a rotary knob similar to those found in far more expensive cars.

But Mazda’s particular magic lies in its ability to merge efficiency, style and comfort with class-leading performance. One of the quickest of the compacts, its dynamics rival those with highfalutin pedigrees. Despite its diminutive size, the 3 feels substantial and stable at speed. 

Its drum-tight chassis allows precise suspension and steering-system tuning — and contributes to outstanding safety results. The 3 aces all crash tests and available technology includes Smart City Brake Support, which can bring the car to a stop at low speeds if the driver fails to react to an imminent collision.

Anyone who enjoys driving but can’t justify spending down the family fortune ought to install the Mazda3 at the top of the shopping list.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at

2015 Mazda3 S 4DR Grand Touring
Vehicle base price: $16,945
Trim level base price: $25,045
As tested: $26,335
Optional equipment included stuff plates; door-sill trim plates
EPA ratings: 29 combined/25 city/37 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.