The Mazda 3 has long been a leader in the compact sedan and hatchback categories. And thanks to the introduction of its new optional Skyactiv-G engine, which offers both more power and outstanding gas mileage performance, the 2012 Mazda 3 has even more going for it. Other impressive qualities include its capable handling, attractive cabin, long list of optional luxury items, 4-door hatchback versatility and excellent crash test scores.
The new "Skyactiv" powertrain consists of a much revised 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated with either a new 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. The result not only boosts horsepower, but also raises the fuel economy on the highway to that magical 40 mpg number.
So equipped, the new Mazda 3 has more power than two other competitors that also do 40 mpg: the recently redesigned Hyundai Elantra and the Chevy Cruze. The new Ford Focus, however, has still more power but hits 40 mpg only when equipped with its Super Fuel Economy package. Then there's also the diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta TDI which gets 42 mpg highway.
Combined with its other pluses, the Mazda 3 is indeed hard to beat. That said, those shopping this segment are are also encouraged to consider other excellent picks such as the Cruze, Elantra, Jetta and Focus in order to make the most informed final buying decision.
Trims, Standard Features And Options:
The 2012 Mazda 3 is offered in four-door sedan and hatchback choices. Both versions are available in 3i and 3s models as well as additional submodels.
The 3i SV and Sport models are sedan only. The base SV trim is fairly lightly equipped with standard features which include power windows, power mirrors, steering wheel audio controls, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, 16-inch steel wheels, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat and a 4-speaker audio system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack, while the Sport adds keyless entry, air-conditioning, an outside temperature display and power door locks.
The Touring And Grand Touring trims are offered in both sedan and hatchback form. Standard features added to the 3i Touring include the Skyactiv-G engine, Bluetooth, a 6-speaker audio system, 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer, cruise control and a rear-seat center armrest. The Touring also has an optional package that adds a sunroof and a Bose 10-speaker surround-sound system.
The 3i Grand Touring goes on to add leather upholstery, heated front seats, a compact navigation system, an 8-way power driver seat, a color trip computer and a sliding front center armrest.
The 3s Touring gets a stronger four-cylinder engine, upgraded brakes, 17-inch alloy wheels, a deck lid spoiler on the sedan, LED taillights, foglamps, dual-zone automatic climate control, sport seats and keyless entry/ignition, but also reverts back to the cloth upholstery and manual driver seat. Available options include a sunroof and navigation. The 3s Grand Touring then includes those items as standard.
There's also a Tech package available on both the 3i and 3s Grand Touring that adds satellite radio (available as a stand-alone option on all other trims), adaptive bi-xenon headlights, automatic wipers and a blind-spot warning system. Dealer-installed options include a 6-disc CD changer and an iPod interface for all models.
Powering the 2012 3i SV and Sport models is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 148 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque. Both models come standard with a 5-speed manual transmission, while the Sport can also be had with an optional 5-speed automatic. The EPA-estimated gas mileage for models with this engine is 25 mpg city and 33 mpg on the highway with the manual and a near identical 24 mpg city and 33 highway with the automatic.
Under the hood of the 3i Touring and Grand Touring models is the new 2.0-liter four-cylinder Skyactiv-G that pumps out 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. These models come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission or an optional 6-speed automatic. Mazda estimates its gas mileage at 28 mpg city and 40 mpg on the highway for an automatic sedan and 27 and 39, respectively, with the manual. Fuel economy for the hatchback is estimated at 28 and 39 with the automatic and 27 and 38 with the manual.
The 3s models are equipped with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that outputs 167 horsepower and 168 pound-feet. It's coupled with either the standard 6-speed manual transmission or an optional 5-speed automatic. The EPA-estimated gas mileage for models with this engine comes in at 20 city and 28 highway with the manual and 22 and 29, respectively, with the automatic.
Standard safety features in all 2012 Mazda 3 models include traction control, stability control, antilock disc brakes (ABS), brake assist, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. In addition, the Grand Touring models can be outfitted with the optional blind spot warning system.
In government crash tests, the 2012 Mazda 3 was awarded the top score of five stars for overall frontal crash protection.
The new Mazda 3's cabin, while perhaps not class leading, is attractive, well-designed and user-friendly. Even the lower trims have soft-touch surfaces, while the Grand Touring is on a par with premium compact cars.
While the seating is comfortable and supportive both front and rear, the overall interior space is somewhat smaller than many of the class competitors, possibly making the accommodations a bit tight for taller occupants. Storage capacity for the hatchback comes in at a useful 17 cubic feet with the rear seats up, but a smallish 11.8 cubes in the sedan.
The Mazda 3 is impressively capable on the road, particularly for a car in the economy class. The steering is responsive and precise while its sporty suspension tuning makes for an engaging driving experience. Despite its athleticism, the Mazda 3's highway drive remains smooth enough to satisfy most drivers, but some may find it on the firm side.
The new Skyactiv powertrain in the 3i Touring and 3i Grand Touring is especially impressive due to its combination of solid performance with outstanding fuel economy. That said, drivers who place a higher value on driving performance will likely be best served with the 2.5-liter's additional robustness.
How To Get The Lowest Price:
Best Negotiating Tactic: Well, there's definitely a 'best way' when it comes to new car buying. If you want to get the best bottomline, out-the-door price you need to know exactly who to talk to at the dealership, how to make the contact and how to make this person eager to quickly drop prices as low as possible to get your sale.
i SV, manual: list price: $15,20, invoice price: $14,543
i Sport, manual: list price: $16,845, invoice price: $15,778
i Sport, auto: list price: $17,695, invoice price: $16,574
i Touring, manual: list price: $18,100, invoice price: $16,952
i Touring, auto: list price: $18,950, invoice price: $17,749
i Touring, manual w/SKYACTIV-G: list price: $18,450, invoice price: $17,282
i Touring, auto w/SKYACTIV-G: list price: $19,300, invoice price: $18,076
s Touring, manual: list price: $21,300, invoice price: $19,947
s Touring, auto: list price: $22,100, invoice price: $20,695
i Grand Touring, auto w/SKYACTIV-G: list price: $22,300, invoice price: $20,882
s Grand Touring, manual: list price: $22,900, invoice price: $21,443
s Grand Touring, auto: list price: $23,700, invoice price: $22,191
2012 Mazda 3 Hatchback:
i Touring, manual w/SKYACTIV-G: list price: $18,950, invoice price: $17,749
i Touring, auto w/SKYACTIV-G: list price: $19,800, invoice price: $18,543
s Touring, manual: list price: $21,800, invoice price: $20,414
s Touring, auto: list price: $22,600, invoice price: $21,162
i Grand Touring, auto w/SKYACTIV-G: list price: $22,800, invoice price: $21,349
s Grand Touring, manual: list price: $23,400, invoice price: $21,910
s Grand Touring, auto: list price: $24,200, invoice price: $22,659