As a multi-year winner of Car and Driver’s 10 Best Cars award, the Mazda3 has garnered a reputation as one of the best compact cars on the road. With the 2018 model year, Mazda has only built on its success, adding a few welcome touches to an already excellent vehicle. The 2018 Mazda3 starts at an MSRP of $18,095 for the compact sedan, while the hatchback body style begins at $19,345. So, what can you expect from the Japanese compact? Read on to find out.
New for 2018
As Mazda’s best-selling vehicle, it makes sense that little has changed for the Mazda3’s 2018 model year. A low-speed forward collision warning system is now standard equipment, as is an automatic emergency braking system. Touring trims now come standard with a beefier 2.5-liter inline-four, and the Grand Touring trim also gets standard LED headlights. Otherwise, changes are limited to a minor reshuffling of available option packages.
The base Sport trim level of the Mazda3 is motivated by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine which can produce a respectable 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. Meanwhile, the higher Touring and Grand Touring models are powered by a 2.5-liter engine that’s rated at 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. Each engine comes mounted to a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission, though a six-speed automatic gearbox is also available.
Regardless of your preference, the Mazda3 presents a fun and engaging driver experience. It won’t be confused with a sports car due to its modest engine choices and lack of forced induction, but the 3 is nonetheless a sporty drive that boasts light, nimble footing and highly responsive steering. Braking performance is about average for its class, leaning more toward smooth deceleration than overly grabby stopping power.
Safety and Entertainment
The 2018 Mazda3 isn’t quite packed to the brim with safety features, but it offers plenty of technology aimed at keeping you and your passengers safe. Automated emergency braking is standard for every trim level, as is forward collision warning and mitigation. For a more comprehensive safety suite, you may wish to consider the i-Activsense system that is now rolled into the Grand Touring’s Premium Equipment package. This includes advanced lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control systems, automatic high beams and other useful assistance features. Either way, the Mazda3 is a fantastically safe vehicle. As a 2018 IIHS Top Safety Pick, the compact scores highly on all safety crash tests and provides excellent protection.
When it comes to entertainment and tech, the Mazda Connect infotainment system is somewhat polarizing. It’s among the easiest and most intuitive infotainment systems to use, but you may be a bit turned off by its characteristically slow response time. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are again missing, though smartphone integration is still good thanks to well-designed USB connectivity. If you’re an audiophile, you may enjoy the brilliant Bose audio system available on Grand Touring models. GT trims also feature integrated navigation, which is unavailable on lower trims.
Comparing the Competition
The compact car segment is among the most crowded on the market, and the Mazda3 faces stiff competition from several other manufacturers. It’s getting a bit long in the tooth compared to fresh new offerings from rivals like Honda and Chevrolet, but it still stacks up well against the competition. If you’re in the market for a new compact, here are a couple of cars you’d do well to consider.
With an MSRP of $18,840, the Honda Civic is only slightly more expensive than the Mazda3. Its strong range of engine options – including a sporty, 180-horsepower turbo inline-four standard on the Sport trim – will appeal if you feel the need for a bit more power, but the lack of a manual transmission on higher trim levels is disappointing. The Civic’s infotainment system is also subpar, and the excellent Honda Sensing package is only available on select trims. Nonetheless, its variety of options and excellent driving experience make it a worthy competitor for the Mazda3.
If you’re looking for maximum value, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option in the compact class than the 2018 Kia Forte and its $16,800 MSRP. The Forte is a reliable, affordable compact that boasts a highly impressive range of available options and features. As an extra boost to your bottom line, the Forte also comes with a generous 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. The 147-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-four lags behind both the Mazda3 and Honda Civic, and the driving experience isn’t quite as refined as its competitors, but the Forte still offers a lot to like if you’re a more budget-minded shopper.
The Bottom Line
The 2018 Mazda3 represents an exercise in compromise. While it isn’t as powerful as the Honda Civic or some other competitors, and it can’t quite match the array of features found in class-leading rivals, it manages to offer a little bit of everything. It’s a ton of fun to drive, its safety and entertainment features are more than adequate, and it represents a very solid value for your hard-earned dollars.
- Agile, responsive handling makes it a blast to drive
- Good fuel economy
- Excellent safety and reliability
- Not as powerful as some of its competitors
- Active driver aids lags behind class leaders
- Cargo and passenger space are a bit limited