The Mazda 3 is an attractive car, assuming you can get past that big smile. Mazda says the grille design helps the Mazda3 slip through the air better while taking in sufficient air to cool the engine. Mazda says the bold grille is purposely polarizing to separate the Mazda3 from impassive competitors.
The grille is flanked by a pair of angled headlights that wrap around to the sides. Bi-xenon headlights are available with the Adaptive Front-lighting System, meaning they point into turns as the steering wheel is turned. It's a useful safety feature on dark country roads, helping the driver negotiate narrow roads and helping the driver spot pedestrians. Fog lights are found in prominent flared pods that fill out the front end and also help improve aerodynamics.
The headlights come to a point around the side of the car, where they meet up with prominent front wheel flares that surround 16 or 17-inch wheels. The base car gets steel wheels, while highline models have attractive alloy wheels. The fender flares direct the eye to a rising beltline that starts at the front of the door, bisects the door handles, and leads all the way to the taillights. This line has a stronger wedge shape on the hatchback. On both body styles, another character line is found just above the rocker panel, and it rises as it moves toward the rear wheel. Like the outgoing model, the hatchback features triangular rear side windows and a rear roof spoiler.
At the rear, the sedan has a rear lip spoiler. The hatchback features a five-pointed rear window that reflects the shape of the grille. The taillights wrap around the side of the car on both body styles. LED rear combination taillights are available. Mazda 3i models have single exhaust and s models have dual exhaust with bright tips.
Mazda3 is based on a premium Volvo-sourced platform. This structure was further developed beginning with 2010 models to make it lighter and stiffer. This was accomplished by using more high-tensile strength steel and thicker steel in key locations, adding gussets to areas such as the suspension mounting points, and employing a technique called weld-bonding to strengthen areas such as the door apertures. Weld bonding, which combines spot welding with the use of structural adhesive, enhances the unibody's flex resistance. The result is an even better handling car beginning with the 2010 models.
Much of the Mazda 3 appeal is the interior, which is first-class for a vehicle of this size and price. Mazda completely redesigned the cockpit for 2010, taking an approach based on human-machine interface studies that places controls and readouts in two key zones.
Controls most frequently used, including the radio and climate dials and buttons, are placed high on the center stack, where they can be most easily accessed. Readouts for the vehicle information center, climate system, radio presets, and even the available navigation system are found in a Multi-Information Display that is located just under the windshield. Mazda says it chose this location because it is very close to the driver's line of sight, making it easier and safer to check those readouts. Note that only s models have the Multi-Information Display.
The readouts in this display are controlled by a small grouping of six buttons on the right side of the steering wheel. It's a unique approach, but it works well. The buttons are set right by your right thumb and you don't have to look far from the road to see the readouts. When the navigation system is ordered, the screen is quite small, making it harder to read than most others, which are usually mounted on the center stack.
The look and feel of the dash would be appropriate in an entry-level luxury car. The dash is made of a nicely grained soft-touch material, the plastics that are used are sturdy and attractive, and s Sport and Grand Touring models get electroluminescent gauges with red numbers on a black background. Plus, the Mazda3 is offered with several features you'd expect in a much higher priced car. The goodies include a thumping Bose Centerpoint surround sound system with 10 speakers, leather upholstery, driver's seat memory, heated front seats, automatic climate control, push-button starting, and Bluetooth cell phone connectivity. That's premium equipment at compact car prices.
Small items storage is plentiful, with a nicely sized center console bin, an average-size glovebox, and two cupholders behind the shifter.
The front seat has plenty of head and leg room, and the s model's sport seats provide good support in turns. The rear seat has enough space for adults provided those up front aren't too tall. Those seats fold 60/40 to create a mostly flat load floor.
In the sedan, the trunk has 11.8 cubic feet of space. The hatchback has 17 cubic feet of space, and that can be expanded considerably with the seats down. Given the hatchback's sportier character, better looks, and more useful interior space, it's our choice between the two body styles.