OK – honest thoughts on the 2016 Mazda3 5-door:
It’s a good car. The shape/design of the 5-door is understatedly sophisticated & slick compared to previous generations. It portrays a sense of motion, even when sitting still. The design is more interesting than you might initially give it credit for… just passing by one on the road. Design cues get better & better the longer you look at it, or walk around it. And is looks especially sharp with the sporty optional aero package ($1700 add-on).
The suspension feels comfortable cruising down the road. But it’s also tight, agile, and maneuverable when you want it to be.
But the 2.5 engine option is – just ok. As I drive various Mazdas through the lineup. I’m noticing a trend where the cars themselves are pretty outstanding… but the engines are a little lack-luster. Not to say they’re bad by any means. But if true ‘zoom-zoom’ is what you’re looking for… you might not find it in the Mazda3. Suspension-wise – yeah I felt the urge to dive into corners. But engine-wise – I never felt the urge to mash OUT from any of those fun corners. There’s nothing there; no dog pulling on the leash. No kick in the pants. No reward for putting your foot down. At 184 horsepower, it’s not that the car is statistically underpowered. It’s just that the power’s not that engaging. (Note that even the new Honda Civics are now moving to to turbocharged engines.)
I could understand the 2.5 engine better, if it yielded either superb miles-per-gallon, or major fun-factor. But I only averaged 29 MPGs, when I was expecting something at least low-30s. A new Volkswagen GTI, for example, will get you about 27 MPGs average, and it’s a lot more fun to drive. To me, as a driver (and not just a commuter), the minus-2 MPG is definitely worth the tradeoff in fun.
BUT – I realize that I’m not every consumer out there. And I also realize that turbocharged engines come with premium fuels cost, and added maintenance costs… and all that stuff adds up. So – for the average consumer who wants a little engagement & performance, but doesn’t want to be married to all the drawbacks of performance… the Mazda3 is a good fit.
BUUUUT – if that’s you, then I’ve gotta say, “Why not the Mazda CX-5?” The CX-5 gives you a sporty crossover that has more room than the 3, only cost barely more than the 3, and only gets about 1 MPG less.
My 2-cents: On the lower, entry-level side of its price range, the 2016 Mazda3 seems to make a lot of sense. It’s a great car for the money, and it will give you some solid, worry-free bang for the buck for a long time. It’s styling will endure time & trends. But when you start getting into the upper end of the Mazda3 price range, with all the bells & whistles, it starts to get out-shined by its competition (the VW GTI and the Focus ST)… and even by itself (the Mazda CX-5).