You can't help but smile when you see the 2012 Mazda Mazda3--mainly because it appears to be smiling back at you, since its redesign in 2010. The new look isn't to everyone's taste, but it's still a uniquely-styled and sporty choice in the compact car class.
Along with the Ford Focus, the Mazda3 is one of the most engaging cars in the class to drive, whichever model you choose. Even the standard 148-horsepower 2.0-liter is fun to throw around. It can be a little noisy, however, producing booming and whirring that combines with road noise to produce a remarkably boisterous experience at speed. The base model comes with a five-speed manual transmission only, and in Sport specification you'll also have access to a five-speed automatic. Next up is the Touring model, in either "i" or "s" trim.
New on the Touring for 2012 is Mazda's high-tech SKYACTIV-G engine. With 2 liters of capacity and four cylinders, it may seem similar to the basic 2.0--and its power output of 155 horsepower isn't much higher. But this engine is as much about fuel economy as it is about power, and it transforms the Mazda3 from a car with passable economy into one that matches the most efficient cars in the class.
How efficient? The standard 2.0 manages 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, but the SKYACTIV-G model gets 27 city and 39 highway with the manual transmission, and 28 city, 40 highway with the SKYACTIV-Drive 6-speed automatic. That's quite some improvement. A more powerful 167-horsepower 2.5-liter four is still available. It's refined and responsive, and gets 20 mpg city, 28 highway.
With any of the engines, the roadholding is excellent while the ride has been improved compared to the stiffness of previous generations. It’s still a noisy car, though, against the new levels of quietness found in thesedan—though admittedly few buyers are likely to cross-shop Chevy’s mainstream compact against the sporty “zoom-zoom” of Mazda’s compact hatch.
The interior is sporty too, with comfortable, supportive seats and an intuitive interior layout. Some of the plastics are a little sub-par, but there's plenty of space. With the rear seat folded flat, thewill swallow a remarkable amount of stuff due to its low, flat load floor.
The 2012 Mazda3 offers models with features rarely seen on competing compacts. The Grand Touring trim level, the top of the line, can be ordered with power seats with three-position memory, rain-sensing wipers, bi-xenon adaptive lighting, and a 10-speaker Bose sound system with Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, and an iPod dock.
For more details, see the full review of the 2012 Mazda Mazda3 on our sister site, TheCarConnection.
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