New Car Review: 2012 Mazda 3

Front 3/4 view of blue Mazda 3 crossing bridge
The 2012 Mazda 3.
A truly great small car is a wonderful thing. For a long, long time, my vote for best ever went to the 1984 Honda Civic I bought brand new and kept for 14 years and 144,000 trouble-free miles.

But some time back, the old Civic got passed by a small car with all of its virtues (compact size, good interior space, fuel economy and a bigger dose of fun-to-drive than anything else in the class) and all the improvements more than a quarter-century can bring: The Mazda 3.

We've driven and raved about Mazda 3s before. In fact, the 2008 Mazda 3 was one of the first TireKicker reviews, on our third day of existence.  And a little over a year and a half ago, we sampled the new-gen 2010

But a year and a half is a long time not to be driving and talking about one of the best buys in all autodom, so we arranged with Chapman Mazda in Phoenix to borrow a just-arrived 2012 Mazda 3 for a week.

Rear view of blue 2012 Mazda 3
Rear view of the 2012 Mazda 3 5-Door
This time, we drew the Mazda 3 S 5-Door Touring model. There are only two flavors of the Mazda 3 5-door...Touring and Grand Touring. The difference between the two cars? $1,570, which buys a power moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-trimmed sport seats, heated front seats with 5 settings, an 8-way power driver's seat and a 6-CD, 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound system.

Which is one serious value for $1,570.

But sticking with the S is by no means roughing it. Both cars have the same 2.5 liter DOHC 4 with 167 horsepower that feels like a good 90 more. Both come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission and an EPA mileage estimate of 20 city/28 highway.

Ours had the 5-speed automatic, and in testament to how good the computer progamming behind modern automatics has become, the automatic gets better mileage than the stick...bumping up to 22 city/29 highway.

The automatic was the only option...putting the base price at $22,000 even, plus $795 delivery, processing and handling. So $22,795. For that  you get 4-wheel disc brakes, electronic power assisted rack and pinion steering, front and rear stabilizer bars, 17 inch alloy wheels, and the most fun you've had while driving in a long, long time.

Simply put (and we've said this before), Mazdas love to run. They're happy machines. The smiley face front ends are no coincidence. They handle like they're on rails. They live up to the corporate motto "Always The Soul of a Sports Car".

2012 Mazda 3 interior
2012 Mazda 3 interior
Look at the instrument panel in the picture above. Everything simple, direct and right where your hand expects it to be. Not to mention tastefully designed and of very good materials and craftsmanship...way beyond what $22,000 normally buys.

The Mazda 3 spent many months on the TireKicker Top 10 Cars (So Far) list early on. With the 2012 Mazda 3, it's back. If you're looking for a small car that you'll love to drive, you've just found it.

UPDATE: If the five-door is so good, how's the 2012 Mazda 3 four-door?

The 2012 Mazda 3 4-Door Sport.

Surprisingly good. Now, you may wonder why there'd be a surprise when all that's different is the number of doors...but that's the thing...the Mazda 3 5-door and 4-door have three big differences beyond the roofline.

One, the Mazda 3 i Sport 4-door (also borrowed from Chapman Mazda in Phoenix)  packs a bit less power...148 horses instead of the 167 in the 5-door (you can get the hotter engine by stepping up to the S model four-door).

Two...that difference in power makes a significant difference in mileage: The EPA says the 4-door should get 24 city/33 highway as opposed to the 22/29 in the five-door (both those figures are for the automatic versions...the stick in the four-door bumps it up to 25/33).

And three...price. The Mazda 3 i Sport 4-door starts at $17,555 with the automatic transmission, $2,445 less than the 5-door tested above. Want one for even less? Go with the stick and the base price for the 4-door drops to $16,845.  And, if you live in a place where you can live without air conditioning and an outside temperature display, there's the Mazda 3 i SV 4-door at a mere $15,200.

Apart from those three things, everything we said about the 5-door goes for the 4-door. It's a truly terrific small sedan. Once again, we got one without options and the final cost (including delivery) was $18,350...making it the second lowest-priced (as tested) car we've driven this year. The lowest? The 3's baby brother...the Mazda 2.

1 comment:

Bill at YAWYD said...

Great reviews - I enjoyed reading your blog. I've driven the Mazda 3 through Zipcar and agree that the materials are pretty good and it is quite peppy at low speeds. However, I don't like the smiley front end (matter of taste) and really don't like that the dashboard says "Hello" and "Goodbye" when you turn on and off the car. That's too cutesy and overdone for a $22k car. Check out my car blog when you have a chance - I write reviews as well. Would love to hear what you think.

- Bill