The current generation of the Mazda3, which was introduced for the 2014 model year, has been good for the Japanese automaker. Although it didn’t sell quite as well than the first-gen model (2004-2008), it consistently ranked among the best-selling cars in Canada, at a time when consumers were shifting towards small crossover vehicles.
However, an all-new Mazda3 will soon make its world premiere at the Los Angeles Auto Show, and will feature the company’s newly developed SKYACTIV-X powertrain, which promises a fuel economy improvement of 30%. Does that make the 2018 Mazda3 obsolete and forgettable? Yes and no.
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First of all, we loved the third-generation Mazda3’s design ever since it was introduced, which stood out in a sea of compact-car blandness. And despite its age, it still looks good alongside the Honda Civic, the Toyota Corolla, the Nissan Sentra and the Hyundai Elantra, to only name a few of its competitors.
The interior furnishings are also strong point in favour of the Mazda3. Fit and finish is above average in its segment, with an overall appearance that wouldn’t seem out of place in a car wearing a luxury badge. However, the piano black trim that replaced the faux carbon fibre texture from the 2017 model on is a step backwards, and gathers dust more quickly.
The Mazda Connect infotainment system is one of the best on the market. Not in regards to the number of features, but for its user friendliness while driving. The multifunction knob is conveniently placed and easy to manipulate, the five surrounding buttons bring us quickly to the system’s main menus, and we’re surprised so few manufacturers have adopted a console-mounted volume button. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration isn’t factory installed, but Mazda recently announced that this feature can be retrofitted to any model equipped with the Mazda Connect system, at extra cost.
Front-seat space is adequate, and we like the seats’ comfort and support despite their minimal adjustments. Occupants sitting in back might like some more legroom and foot space, in addition to bigger side windows so they feel less cramped. Trunk space is below average at 350 litres in the sedan, 572 litres in the five-door Mazda3 Sport.
The SKYACTIV-G powertrains launched back in 2011 for the Mazda3 have changed little since. At the time, the direct-injected, 2.0-litre engine was among the most fuel-efficient in the compact-car segment. However, the competition has caught up and even surpassed the Mazda3, thanks in part to turbocharging and continuously variable automatic transmissions.
On the other hand, Mazda’s SKYACTIV-G engines have remained largely trouble-free, and they’re connected to either a slick six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0-litre four develops 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, which is fine for the daily commute. The GT trim levels benefit from a 2.5-litre engine that serves up 184 hp and 185 lb.-ft. while consuming almost as little fuel. During our test of a 2018 Mazda3 GT sedan, which was equipped with the automatic transmission, we averaged 7.9 L/100 km, which is not bad at all.
The Mazda3 is also one of the most fun-to-drive cars in its category, thanks to its excellent steering and suspension tuning, a light chassis and a playful character. True to the brand’s philosophy, this car proves that a high-horsepower engine isn’t a pre-requisite for making the daily grind more entertaining.
Yet all is not perfect with the Mazda3. The cabin could be better at filtering out road and wind noise, the doors don’t close with a solid feel, and the paint is pretty thin. For a long-term purchase, we strongly recommend an annual round of rustproofing and a protective film applied to the front end of the car in order to prevent road debris from chipping the paint.
The 2018 Mazda3 starts out at $16,000 before freight and delivery charges, in GX sedan form without air conditioning, the Mazda Connect interface and Bluetooth connectivity. The Mazda3 Sport GX includes those features and more as standard, and starts at $19,900. The GS variants are the value leaders with 16-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, a heated and leather-wrapped wheel, blind spot monitoring and more for $22,210—or $23,210 for five-door Sport. Add $1,300 for the automatic transmission. A loaded Mazda3 Sport GT with Premium and Technology packages rings in at just under $30K.
Despite the shortcomings mentioned above, the 2018 Mazda3 remains one of our favourite compacts. Since a redesigned 2019 model will appear in the next few months, dealerships will likely let go of its existing inventory with some sweet deals and a little price haggling. Fun to drive, stylish and confortable, the current Mazda3 still has a lot to offer.