Review: The 2013 Mazda3 is a spirited, fuel-conscious fun compact ride

2012 Mazda3 5dr with SKYACTIV ext02 _US_The compact front-drive 2013 Mazda3 four-door sedan or hatchback provides driving kicks and decent roominess.

The 2013 Mazda3 has a good number of minor upgrades and updates from its predecessor. The 2012 model got more-aggressive styling and a new, fuel-saving 155-horsepower 2-liter fuel-stingy (and oddly named) “Skyactiv” (no “e”) engine.

That four-cylinder engine delivers an estimated 28 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on highways with a six-speed automatic transmission. Figures are virtually the same (27 and 39) with a six-speed manual gearbox.

The Mazda3 also comes with a 2-liter, 148-horsepower four-cylinder and a 2.5-liter “four” that kicks out 167 horsepower. All come with either a five- or six-speed manual or five- or six-speed automatic transmission and just need regular-grade gasoline.

2012 Mazda3 4dr with SKYACTIV ext03 _US_Models include the SV, Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. I tested a 2013 Mazda3 Grand Touring sedan with the “Skyactiv” engine and a six-speed automatic transmission, with an easily used manual-shift feature. It listed at $23,650.

Prices for the 2013 Mazda3 start at $16,700 for the base sedan and $20,000 for the base hatchback, and end at $25,650 for the hatchback with the 2.5-liter engine and an automatic. The top sedan version is $25,150 with that engine and the automatic.

Even the base versions are fairly well equipped with such features as air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system with steering wheel audio controls, power windows, adjustable steering wheel and—for safety’s sake—traction and stability control and anti-lock brakes, besides the usual air bags.

Let’s not forget the $24,200 hot rod Mazdaspeed3. It comes only as a four-door hatchback and is essentially for car buffs. Its 263-horsepower turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter four-cylinder delivers an estimated 18 city and 25 highway and calls for premium fuel. This one comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox and such items as a sport suspension, larger brakes and cosmetic touches that give it a racier look.

2012 Mazda3 with SKYACTIV int03 _US_My test Grand Touring sedan’s standard items included a moonroof. The quiet interior had lots of plastic, but it didn’t look cheap. There were leather-trimmed seats, a supportive power driver’s seat, heated front seats and dual-zone automatic climate control.

Split/folding rear seatbacks helped provide extra cargo room, and there was a 265-watt Bose sound system and push-button engine start. The full-color touch-screen navigation system was easily read, although the screen washed out in bright sunlight.

Gauges could be quickly read, and most major controls were large, although the mix of small and large sound system controls took getting used to. Front doors have storage pockets, but rear doors just have bottle holders. The sun visors have mirrors, but they’re not lit.

The power windows worked fine, but driver controls for them are set too far forward on the door. That caused me to often accidentally open a rear window instead of a front one. (At least the rear windows roll all the way down.)

As with all Mazda3s, seating is tight for a tall rear passenger behind the driver. Also, the center of the backseat is too stiff, and rear door openings are rather narrow.

My test car had the Technology Package, which contains automatic on/off Bi-xenon headlights, folding body color heated power mirrors with turn signal lamps, alarm system, rain sensing windshield wipers, automatic on-off headlights and a discreet rear-deck lip spoiler.

2012 Mazda3 5dr with SKYACTIV ext03 _US_My test car was enjoyable to drive. Its precise electro-hydraulic power steering had the right amount of assist, and handling was agile—thanks partly to front/rear stabilizer bars. The responsive automatic transmission shifted smoothly.

The 155-horsepower engine in the 2,872-pound car was a bit noisy during hard acceleration. But it provided good 65-75 m.p.h. passing, and the tachometer registered a lazy 2,000 r.p.m. at 65 m.p.h.

An all-independent suspension helped provide a supple ride, although some above-average bumps could be mildly felt. The brake pedal seemed a bit touchy but had a linear action for smooth, easily controlled fast stops.

The fairly large trunk has a low, wide opening and swings open via hydraulic struts. The lid has an interior lining, but no interior grip. That will cause hands to get dirty when closing a dirty lid. Rear seatbacks easily flip forward and fold flat, and there’s a fairly large pass-through area between the trunk and backseat area.

The heavy hood is held open with just a prop rod, but most engine compartment fluid areas are easily reached.

The affordable 2013 Mazda3 is worth a close look because it’s an alternative to costlier foreign sports sedans.

2013-mazda3-skyactivOn the TFLcar scale of:

Buy it

– Lease it

– Rent it or

-Forget it

I recommend that you Buy It!

Price: $$16,700-$25,650

Dan Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times–far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.’s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008. For more of Dan’s thoughtful and insightful reviews please visit his web site HERE.