The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring Review By Steve Purdy

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Review by Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

While the automotive world seems ever more focused on crossovers and SUVs of every imaginable ilk, Mazda continues to quietly purvey one of the best little mainstream sedans on the road. Sedans generally are rapidly losing favor among U.S. buyers but we still have plenty of great choices including this compact Mazda3 Grand Touring sedan and it’s 5-door hatchback sibling.

Mazda3 just experienced its mid-cycle update for 2017 bringing some styling and mechanical details up to date as it effortlessly maintains its sportiest-in-class image and reputation. Some industry analysts suggest we might see a new version of the hot MazdaSpeed3 with this redesign, but we’re still waiting for that one. The low-end Mazda3 ‘Sport,’ with a tepid engine making just 155 horsepower, starts at just over $18,000 and can be had with a six-speed manual transmission and is reasonably well equipped.

Our test car is the top-end ‘Grand Touring’ model showing a base price of $24,195. We get a lot more content for that upcharge like: 18-inch wheels, more powerful engine, rain-sensing wipers, moon roof, leather trimmed sport seats, power driver’s seat with manual lumbar support, dual-zone HVAC, push-button start, LED headlights and taillights, color head-up display, and plenty more. We also have the $1,600 Premium Equipment Package on this one that includes: navigation, paddle shifters, adaptive lighting, adaptive cruise control, heated steering wheel, high beam control, lane departure assist and traffic sign recognition. Bottom line on our sticker shows $27,070.

Exterior style and design keeps up well with trends. A large, gaping, mat-black grille sports a prominent Mazda badge and looks very much like larger sibling Mazda6. Minimal chrome accents and squinty, wrap-around headlight bezels compliment the deep cheek vents that hide LED fog lights. Styling drama continues around the side and across the rear with swooping accent lines. Mazda calls this design language “Kodo,” translated as “Soul of Motion.” They’ve certainly done a fine job of making it look to be in motion even standing still. They’ve also been able to maintain a muscular and agile stance with inclusion of the 18-inch, 10-spoke, alloy wheels on this Grand Touring model.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Inside we find materials, fit and finish implying more than an economy car. An elegant and simple design shows no signs of pretence or excess. Ergonomics are well thought out including the console-mounted knob that controls the 7-inch multifunction screen poking upward from the center of the dash. Browsing around the control and information functions caused no consternation – and that’s high praise from this tech-challenged guy. Ingress and egress are good for such a small car – waaaay better than the cramped Mazda CX-3 compact crossover which shares the platform.

The cockpit feels roomy and comfortable enough that I would not hesitate to embark on a long road trip with it. Interior volume and cargo space (12.4 cubic-feet for the sedan and 20.2 for the hatchback) are about average for the segment. Rear seats will accommodate two average-size people, and perhaps a third in a pinch. It’s rated for 5-passengers, but like all the compact sedans, I’d hate to be that 5th person in the center back.

Kudos to Mazda for continuing to offer manual transmissions in these little cars. The low-end powertrain (2.0-liter, 155-hp) would feel quite adequate if you could manage your own rpm ranges. The more powerful, direct-injected, 2.3-liter in our Grand Touring test car makes 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. It has plenty of grunt though can sound a bit buzzy on heavy acceleration. Even though we have the optional paddle shifters that allow lots of control, I’d still prefer the manual transmission. Probably because I’m a bit old-fashioned. The EPA says we can expect around 36 mpg on the highway and 27 in the city for this lithe, 2,900-pound car using regular fuel. That is within the range of our experience this wintery week. A 13.2-gallon fuel tank makes for a decent cruising range.

Mazda3’s conventional suspension with McPherson struts up front and multi-link in the rear comes masterfully tuned by the engineers for maximum agility and little compromise to ride quality. Mazda’s “SKYACTIV” system with “G-Vectoring” incorporates a variety of chassis dynamics into a coherent whole to support efficiency, safety and handling excellence. Sure, those terms sound like marketing speak, and they are, but most enthusiastic drivers will agree, they’ve done an admirable job on the car’s dynamics and roadability.

Mazda’s new vehicle warranty covers the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

So, I’ll say without reservation that if you’re in the market for a compact, economy car with great handling and a bit of panache, this might be the one for you. Now, if they actually come out with the MazdaSpeed3, I might even be in line.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

LEARN MORE: The Most In-Depth Independent Mazda Consumer Research - Anywhere!