2018 Mazda3 Test Drive

By Barbara & Bill Schaffer

We are ‘old timers’ in the auto writer business, having reviewed new cars for about 27 years. The most interesting thing about being in the business that long is seeing how much the cars continue to advance and how good most all the new cars are.

A good example of a car we’ve found to be outstanding among the good new cars is the Mazda3 5-door Grand Touring we drove recently. We’ve driven the Mazda3 several times over the years and have always enjoyed its precision handling, build quality and features. Plus, it’s a great looking, high value compact. This top model is priced under $29,000 but the level of content and the feeling of the car made us think we were driving a car costing $8,000 to $10,000 more.

The 2018 model year has safety enhancements added to the standard equipment list across the model lineup and all models have added technologies like Smart City Brake Support, and automatic emergency braking system. Plus, all models also get G-Vectoring Control, a Mazda-exclusive technology that uses the engine to put a small amount of weight on the front tires, making steering inputs more surefooted and increasing peace of mind with the goal of improving stability.

The Mazda3 is available as a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback. Our personal tastes go with the hatchback, because of the sportier looks, and the extra interior space that makes carrying big purchase home or packing for a road trip more conveniently. With the hatchback open the cargo space is more like a small wagon. The compact Mazda3 sedan has 12.4 cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk, whereas, the hatchback has 20.2 cubic feet, which can be expanded to 47.1 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded – think ‘small wagon’.

The Mazda 5-door is available in three trim levels; Sport, Touring and Grand Touring which have starting prices of $20,220, $22,765, and $25,820 respectively, including the destination charge.

Our Grand Touring test vehicle included two equipment packages, the Premium Equipment Package ($1,600) and the Appearance Package ($1,750) along with a few cosmetic accessories. The Premium Package added navigation, heated steering wheel, high beam headlight control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive front lighting, radar cruise control, traffic sign recognition and a couple of other handy features. This is the technology we expect to find on cars costing much more.

Two Skyactiv-G (gasoline) engines are used in the Mazda3. The Sport trim has a 155-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder while Touring and Grand Touring models are equipped with a 184-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Both engines have an aluminum block and cylinder head, direct injection, and variable valve timing. The front-wheel drive cars have a six-speed manual transmission standard with either engine or choose an optional ($1,050) six-speed automatic with manual shifting mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The buff magazines list 0 to 60 mph acceleration times of 6.8 seconds.

The EPA rates the 2018 Mazda3 5-door fuel economy at 26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined. We averaged 31.1 mpg during our enjoyable week behind the wheel.

Driving from 100 to 150 different cars each year, we find some to be much more enjoyable to drive than others. The Mazda3 is high on the fun-to-drive list. The light-weight car has agile sports car-like feel, especially with the six-speed the manual transmission. With the precise steering response, balanced handling, and strong brakes it reminds us of the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster only with seating for five and a bunch more cargo space.

The last few years we’ve been enamored by the high level of technological features being added to new cars. We admit to being spoiled by many of the driver aid and creature comforts like active cruise control, navigation, blind spot warning, heated steering wheel, and a long list of others – the 2018 Mazda3 5-door Grand Touring has them all.

The only thing that might make this car more appealing to us might be all-wheel drive, a turbocharger or perhaps a diesel engine, but were impressed with what is offered.

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