Mazda3 BM (2013 - present): Review, Problems, Specs
The third generation Mazda3 is a compact car offered in two body styles in North America (five-door hatchback and four-door sedan), widely rated as one of the best choices in its segment. Launched in 2013, the latest iteration of the Mazda3 (known as the Axela in Japan) is available with two SkyActiv-G gasoline powertrains in North America, while European markets also get a SkyActiv-D diesel unit. Most reviewers praise the Mazda3 for its handling, good standard equipment, and fuel economy, but there are some things here and there that could be improved.
- Accurate handling
- Good fuel economy
- Well equipped
- Good safety record
- Frugal diesel engine (Europe)
- Mazda3 2.0 (U.S.)
- Mazda3 Diesel (Europe)
- Above-average wind and road noise at highway speeds
- Underpowered gasoline engines (Europe)
- Limited rear headroom (hatchback)
Stay Away From
- Optional 18-inch wheels
Known Problems & Recalls
- Make sure the car's fuel shut-off valve and fuel tank emissions system were inspected as part of the October 2015 recall
- Verify if Mazda reprogrammed the Power Control Module (PCM) of the 2.5-liter engine with updated software on 2014 models as part of the April 2014 recall
The Mazda3 is available with two naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines in the United States – a 2.0-liter with 155 hp and a 2.5-liter with 184 hp. Both feature a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed auto. While the larger engine would make sense from a performance/fuel economy point of view, it can only be had with the pricey sTouring and sGrand Touring trim levels. In Europe, Mazda offers a twin turbocharged 2.2-liter diesel rated at 150 PS while gasoline choices include a 100 PS 1.5-liter, a 120 PS 2.0-liter, and a 165 PS 2.0-liter – all naturally aspirated.
Without a doubt, the chassis is the Mazda3's best part: it delivers impressive levels of handling and grip thanks to its finely-tuned dampers and springs. The precise steering enhances the driving experience, and the car feels agile, with minimal body roll in the bends. The dampers are set a bit on the firm side, but the ride quality is good and refined, especially if you avoid the optional 18-inch alloy wheels. It's without a doubt the driver's choice in this segment – hot-hatches not included. The chassis is so well-sorted that it begs for a performance variant.
Both the Mazda3 sedan and hatch received the "Top Safety Pick" rating from the IIHS, thanks to the many passive and active safety features offered as standard. These include ABS, stability and traction control, a rearview camera, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and active front head restraints. Both body styles received "Good" scores for small and moderate overlap front impacts, side impact, roof strength, as well as head restraints & seats. Euro NCAP crash tested the Mazda3 hatch in 2013 and gave it a five-star overall score.
The ride is comfortable on all types of roads, provided that you don't opt for the big 18-inch wheels. At high speeds, wind noise is less intrusive in the Mazda3 sedan than in the hatch, thanks to the former model's more aerodynamic shape. The low-set driving position is spot on, and the front seats are comfortable and supportive. The rear seats also offer some lateral support. The dashboard's layout is intuitive, and the controls are where you expect to find them. Creature comforts are present even on the base models.
The cabin is stylish and built to Mazda's usual high standards - although it lacks the vault-like feel of the VW Golf. There are many dense, soft-touch plastics, and all of the switches and buttons feel high-quality and durable. However, some plastics placed in less visible areas fall below the standards set by the Golf. The lightweight, flimsy center console is a bit of a letdown too, but these minor inconveniences are offset by the premium-looking piano black and brushed aluminum trim.
Overall, the Mazda3's interior space is pretty average. Headroom and legroom at the front are good, but headroom is rather scarce at the rear because of the hatchback's sloping roofline. Things are better in the sedan, though, thanks to its taller roofline. In both versions, legroom is above average, but visibility is affected by the high window line. The Mazda3 sedan's 12.4-cu-ft trunk is rather small for the class, but the hatchback offers more space for luggage (12.8 cu-ft or 20.4 cu-ft loaded up to the roof) than rivals such as the Ford Focus or Opel Astra.
All Mazda 3 models feature the MazdaConnect infotainment system consisting of a 7-inch color display mounted on top of the dash and a knob-type controller on the center console. It's similar to infotainment systems found in premium models from Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz. The display is also a touchscreen, but only when the car is not moving. Giving the display a touchscreen function helps users figure out the electronics interface easier. The driver can also access the navigation and audio systems via buttons on the center tunnel placed conveniently around the round controller. Overall, it's one of the better systems available on the market.
The most fuel-efficient models are those with the automatic transmission – the sedan returns 34 mpg with the 2.0-liter engine and 32 mpg with the 2.5-liter unit. The sedan has a slight edge on the hatchback when it comes to fuel economy, thanks to its more slippery shape. In Europe, those who drive many miles a year should go for the 2.0-liter diesel, which averages just 4.1 l/100 km. The 120 PS 2.0-liter gasoline engine is the next best choice, offering a good balance between performance and costs.
All Mazda3 trim levels are well-equipped. The base Mazda3 “i Sport” comes with power-folding mirrors, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, six-speaker audio system, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, as well as voice controls. However, Mazda only offers 16-inch steel wheels as standard – the available Preferred Equipment package fixes that by adding 16-inch alloys, among other things. Move up the range and the features get more and more sophisticated. For example, some of the optional features, such as the head-up display, adaptive headlights, and adaptive cruise control, are not offered on many of its rivals.
The most affordable 2016 Mazda3 model is the “i Sport” sedan, which comes with the base 2.0-liter engine and starts at $17,845. That's about $600 more than the base Ford Focus S Sedan, but the Mazda does offer more standard features. Upgrading to the 2.5-liter engine will set you back almost seven grand, as the more powerful unit is only available on the range-topping “sTouring” and “sGrand Touring” trims. Sure, you get more kit for the money too, but it's best to keep it simple when you're speccing a Mazda3 – otherwise, you will end up with a not so affordable compact vehicle.