2018 Mazda3 combines sporty performance, high safety ratings

By Peter Hubbard

(April 24, 2018) The Mazda3 arrived in 2003 as a 2004 model, and with apologies to Dale Carnegie … has been winning friends and influencing people ever since. It replaced the company’s previous compact, the Mazda 323/Protege.

The second-generation model arrived in 2008 as a 2009 model, with both sedan and hatch versions available. Three years later, major upgrades were added to the Mazda3 including the firm’s SkyActiv technology, a more rigid suspension and new direct-injection engine mated to a new 6-speed transmission.

The current third-generation Mazda3 arrived to rave reviews in time for the 2014 model year. One of the more popular variants was the sporty hatch version, dubbed the Mazdaspeed3. The Mazda3, both coupe and hatch, are among the most fun-to-drive cars in the compact class.

For 2018, Mazda has loaded the likable little compact with an impressive list of standard features, many tech-based active safety items, and a very comfortable cabin. Three trim levels are available — Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. This review will focus on the 2018 Mazda3 4-door Grand Touring model.

Not only is it fun to drive … it’s also safe to drive. Mazda did such a good engineering job that the Mazda3 received the highest safety ratings for crash impact from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and theInsurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The Mazda3 earned 5 Stars from NHTSA and a rating of Top Safety Pick+ from IIHS.


While the standard powertrain is a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, delivering 150 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, our spritely Grand Touring version came equipped with a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, paired with a 6-speed automatic. A 6-speed manual transmission is also available.

Our test unit’s four-banger generated 185 lb-ft of torque @ 3,250 rpm. The EPA fuel economy estimate is an impressive 27 mpg city, 36 mpg on the highway.

Thanks to Mazda’s innovative Skyactiv powertrain and solid chassis design, the 2018 Mazda3 is both fun to drive and fuel-efficient. It has no problem accelerating when you punch the go-pedal, and the Mazda3’s precise steering, finely honed suspension and excellent brakes assure you’ll have a very good time once you’re up to speed.Assisting with the car’s handling dynamics is a suite of features previously available only on high-end sports cars. These include dynamic stability control, traction control and hill launch assist.


Mazda’s compacts have always been fun little driver’s cars, but they haven’t always been “stunners” in the looks department. With the design of this third-generation Mazda3, Mazda is clearly on the right track. The 2018 Mazda3 is lean, with nice athletic proportions, an aggressive (but not scary) grille, and just the right combination of wind-shaped curves and pleasing sharp creases.

Our Mazda3 sedan resembles the brand’s larger Mazda6. And I guarantee the 5-door hatchback will win over those who don’t think a hatchback can be sporty. Our Grand Touring test model came shod with sporty 18-inch wheels and tires. For those who prefer an even more aggressive look, Mazda offers the optional Appearance Package, which blacks out the Mazda3’s front spoiler, side sills, rear diffuser and mirrors.

Our test unit was clad in “Snowflake White Pearl” paint, which showed no signs of orange peel, and sparkles quite nicely. Fit and finish were also excellent.


Without question, the Mazda3 sports one of the best interiors in the compact class. The cabin is warm and refined, with a luxurious, upscale look and feel. All models feature a large 7-inch in-dash screen that looks more like a tablet than a mere touch screen. Infotainment functions like audio, phone, apps and navigation are controlled by an easy-to- operate rotary knob on the console between the front seats, just like some upscale luxury brands.

Our perforated leather-lined 6-way power sport seats provided high levels of comfort. Rear-seat legroom is a bit tight, but there’s room for two average-sized adults — three in a pinch. All models have a 60/40-split-folding rear seat.

Many compacts are only available as 4-door sedans, but the sportier hatchback body style has made a recent resurgence. So if you prefer a hatchback to a sedan, the Mazda3 hatch has one of the largest cargo volumes in the segment — 20.2 cubic feet of space behind the back seat and 47.1 cubic feet with the seats folded flat.

Standard features on our 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring vehicle included electronic parking brake, a Bose 9-speaker infotainment system that includes USB input, Bluetooth and audio streaming, a rearview camera, push-button start, cruise control and the useful Smart City Brake Support — which applies the brakes for you in an emergency situation at speeds under 19 mph.

Other features included blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, dual-zone automatic climate control, head-up speed display, a power moon roof, rear spoiler and shark-fin antenna.

Base MSRP for our test model came to $24,195. The Touring’s $1,600 Premium Equipment package adds a navigation system, self-leveling LED headlights, adaptive front lighting, a heated steering wheel, auto-dim rearview mirror, paddle shifters, active radar cruise control, lane-keep assist and a lane-departure warning system.

Mazda also provides the car with a head-up display (HUD) unit that projects your speed and the speed LIMIT on the particular stretch of roadway you happen to be driving on, onto a little clear plastic “screen” that pops up when you start the car. While the information is certainly helpful, since there’s no separate speedometer dial on the car ( a digital speed indicator is located in a corner of the big center tachometer), however it was my experience that I had to scrunch down to see the speed in the HUD. And there are no controls on the dash.

You can adjust the height of the display by scrolling over to “settings” with the center control button, clicking on the HUD icon, and moving the image up and down, but it can’t be moved from side to side. When planted in the middle of my seat, the image was waaaaaay off to the right, and it was a bit frustrating, not being able to “center” it in my line of sight. Maybe the tekkies at Mazda can work on that for next year.

But hey … the Mazda 3 is the only car in this class to provide such a feature in the first place — so kudos for that. Our test unit also came with the $1,300 Appearance Package I, which included a front air dam, door mirror caps, a rear bumper skirt and side sill extensions. Freight, floor mats and the pearl paint were also extra, bringing the bottom-line price up to $28,370.


The Mazda3 sedan and hatchback don’t sacrifice a smooth, comfortable ride at the altar of great handling, and compares well with more highly publicized rocket launchers like the VW GTI, Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Si. The Mazda3 soaks up road irregularities very well, even with the 18-inch wheels and tires that handle pothole-lined side streets and high-speed freeways with equal ease.

We enjoyed going “manual mode” and using the shift paddles with our buttery smooth 6-speed automatic. But the 6-speed manual is also one of the best in the industry.

As noted earlier, when a compact car comes equipped with such features as dynamic stability control, traction control, ABS brakes, independent front and rear suspension and rides on grippy 18-inch tires, you’ve got yourself a pretty impressive ride – and all for under $30,000.


The Mazda3 is designed for those folks who prefer more than just basic point-A to point-B transportation. It actually thinks it’s an honest-to-goodness little sports car. And it has the looks and the handling prowess to prove that it. If you see yourself trading up to a BMW 3-series some three or four years down the road - once you get that raise or the promotion the boss promised, this is undoubtedly the car for you.

It may not carry the same prestige now, but the Mazda3 will prepare you for what you can expect when you do move up the ranks. So when you slide behind the wheel of a Mazda3 and go for that first test drive prepare to be influenced.