2018 Mazda 3 Review

2018 Mazda 3 - Mazda 3 offers style and affordability in two body styles


The eye-catching, front-wheel drive Mazda3 debuted in the 2004 model year.  Eight years later, SkyActive technology merged with Mazda3, the first Mazda sold in the U.S. receiving this all-encompassing, higher engine compression platform /technology. Now, all Mazda's sold in the U.S. incorporate this advancement.

The diminutive Mazda3 compact boasts two body styles; a traditional four-door sedan and our tester this week, a slightly more versatile five-door hatchback.  However, the sedan version starts about $1,100 less than the hatchback; both targeting entry-level or first-time buyers.

This compact hatchback rides lower to the ground than a conventional five-door crossover.  For those itching to experience a diminutive five-door crossover with Zoom-Zoom pedigree,  Mazda offers the  2018 CX-3 (with available all-wheel drive), one of three crossovers sold alongside the mid-size CX-5 and three-row CX-9.

As the case in 2017, both Mazda 3 body styles offer three trim levels: Sport, Touring and top-shelf Grand Touring. All three offer a six-speed manual transmission standard with six-speed automatic optional, one of the few offerings in its class to embrace drive-connected stick shift in so many trims.

Changes from 2017 focus largely on content updates, with mechanical and underpinnings largely unchanged.

One notable technological update is 'Smart City Brake Support' emergency braking, now standard in all trims and body styles for 2018.  This system works at low speeds under 18 miles per hour helping alleviate potential fender benders. Through laser sensors mounted in the front windshield, brakes get summoned automatically when a vehicle or object gets detected within potential impact distance. Drivers first receive a warning to brake.  If unchecked, the system intervenes to avoid the encounter.

The system's audible (beeping) and visual ('BRAKE ' lettering within the instrument panel) warnings  activated once during our week of testing, on a rainy Tuesday when a car ahead turned right at a slow rate of speed. The brake pedal was manually engaged in time, negating the need for the system to take full effect. It's a technical advancement with real world benefits able to thwart low-speed accidents.

Sport trims include a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine generating 155 horses.  Touring and Grand Touring trims up the power ante with a 2.5-liter, four cylinder cranking out 184 horses.  Our 2.5-liter tester coupled to the six-speed automatic generated a respectable 26 miles per gallon city and 35 mpg highway, besting the six-speed manual transmission one mile in city travel and two highway.

Our Grand Touring tester with six-speed automatic transmission boasted a $24,945 starting point. A smattering of extras included a $1,600 premium equipment package (adaptive/radar cruise control, pivoting front headlights, traffic sign/speed recognition, in-screen navigation, heated steering wheel, lane keep assist, lane departure warning), $300 metallic red paint, $100 rear bumper guard and $125 door sill scuff plates. With an $875 destination charge, the bottom line reached $28,020. The lowest-priced 2018 Mazda 3 hatchback starts at $19,345.  A 2018 five-door sedan starts at $18,095 with manual transmission, the lowest priced Mazda offered in the States.  Add $1,050 for six-speed automatic.

Luxury-appointed items exclusive to Grand Touring include a power sliding moon roof above front-row riders, leather-wrapped steering wheel and a diminutive  multi-colored heads-up display, projected not on the inside windshield, but upon a small square Plexiglas-like screen atop the steering column.  When the engine powers off, the square screen folds forward, disappearing into the steering column.

Mazda 3 employees a sporty ride and suspension, keeping drivers in touch with the feel of the road, rather than a smoother, luxury glide. All trims include G-vectoring control, monitoring the amount of power sent to the wheels to help drivers negotiate turns with assured confidence while maintaining vehicle stability.

Drivers may choose a 'sport' drive mode from a chrome switch to the right of the six-speed transmission shifter instead of the default 'normal.'

The informative instrument panel combines analog and animated details. The large center circle includes a tachometer encircling the outer edge with a digital speedometer readout tucked inside.

Mazda3 includes a multi-function, seven-inch 'Mazda Connect' color display panel resembling a miniature flat-screen TV protruding up from the center top dash.  It's of the non-touch variety, operated instead by 'Command Control,' a circular chrome twist and push knob located between front bucket seats. It takes a little muscle memory practice to master as knobs are nowhere nearby the screen or dashboard.

The twisting action allows scrolling through a host of tutorial options, selectable by a downward push. A smaller, stalk-like volume knob resides to the right.  Three quick select buttons (home, music and navigation) are available just ahead of the twist-push chrome dial. This screen also displays rear camera backup feed standard in all trims.

To the left of the chrome control knob is an electronic parking brake; directly aft, dual in-line beverage holders with an attractive, protective slide cover.

Ventilation choices summon independently from Mazda's command control screen and knobs, operated by a series of push-buttons and two dials for selecting dual zone temperatures.

A circular, dashboard-located electronic push-button start comes standard, but is blocked from direct sightline and access by the steering-column's right-side turn-signal stalk.

Currently no gas-electric hybrid, plug-in hybrid electric or pure electric vehicles dot Mazda's lineup. In the not-so-distant future, Mazda gets electrified. This past September, Mazda signed an agreement (with Denso Corp and Toyota Motor Corp) to jointly develop basic structural technologies for electric vehicles.  Mazda's nimble corporate size and structure (compared to Asian rivals Honda, Toyota and Nissan) make an electric vehicle joint venture a sound business decision as start-up costs to this burgeoning up-and-coming technology remain prohibitively high.  

Radar-enhanced cruise control buttons are found at 3 o'clock on the manual tilt-and-telescope wheel.  The left flank, or 9 o'clock face, includes secondary volume and audio pre-set controls.

Mazda 3 is marketed at a five seater, but two full-size adults fit with optimal comfortable in row two, especially with the convenient fold-down arm rest (with two cup-holder inserts) positioned in between.  Backrests fold down in a 60/40 split allowing access to the cargo area if carting long items.

Throughout its existence, Mazda 3's fashionable eye-appeal helped fuel sales. The attractive side profile includes a slight uptick of the chrome framing the lower windows near side view mirrors. Mazda 3's front end gets dominated by a 'U-shaped' nose with six horizontal slates and the distinctive winged M logo front and center.  Narrow, 'eagle-eye' headlight housing flanks the nose wrapping around to side fenders.

The manually-operating back hatch door, hinged at the top, includes a standard wiper blade. When opened, enough head clearance is available for those six-feet three inches and shorter, impressive for a compact vehicle.

2018 Mazda 3
Price as tested:  $28,020
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine
Horsepower: 184
Wheelbase:  106.3 inches
Overall Length: 175.6 inches
Overall Width: 70.7 inches
Overall Height:  57.3 inches
Fuel estimates:  26 mpg city/35 mpg highway
Powertrain warranty: Five years/60,000 miles
Assembly: Hofu, Japan

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.