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A test drive in the Mazda3 might convince folks who don’t care for compact vehicles to reconsider.

This is a very cool automobile for a variety of reasons, most notably its blend of performance and efficiency.

Of course, we left out one other significant positive trait – appearance. The 2015 Mazda3 hatchback driven here for a week looked very similar to the upscale Lexus CT 200h. Note that the Mazda3 is available in either a sedan or hatchback body style.

The compact class has its share of “stars” and the Mazda3 is certainly one of them. It shares the spotlight with some other notables like the Ford Focus, Kia Forte, Honda Civic, Volkswagen Golf, and Toyota Corolla.

2015 Mazda3

  • Performance: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 150 horsepower; 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, 184 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 30-41 mpg; 25-37 mpg
  • Estimated price: $16,945-$25,545
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain: 5 years/60,000 miles; roadside assistance: 3 years/36,000; corrosion: 5 years/unlimited

When shopping for an economy car, price is one of the primary considerations, along with fuel economy, reliability and value. The Mazda3, which starts at around $17,000, delivers all three and more as well. If you enjoy shifting gears in the manual transmission, you will love the Mazda3 because it really adds fun to the driving experience,

The responsive Mazda3 performance is quite evident in the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder that produces 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. The engine is quick, smooth and delivers good acceleration.
The base model comes with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder with 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. It’s naturally not as quick as the larger engine, going from 0-60 mph in 8.3 seconds.

Several year s ago the Japanese auto manufacturer wanted to provide better gas mileage and succeeded with its “Skyactiv” powertrain. The Mazda gas mileage ranges from 30-41 mpg, and in my case, skewed more toward the larger number.

Performance and fuel economy rank high and the Mazda3 also receives high marks for the way it performs on the road. The engaging Mazda3 handles with good precision when navigating tight turns and gives the driver a high level of confidence. The one knock with this engine is it can get a little noisy at higher speeds.

Considering all the upside, one might think the Mazda3 could get by with an average interior design. But it has a well-designed cockpit that features an in-dash, 7-inch touch-screen monitor that is controlled by a dial that rests between the front seats (the base models don’t include this feature).

Although everything is within reach for whoever is handling the touch-screen monitor, I found the audio system setup more confusing than it needs to be.

The front seats provide good support, comfort and adequate head and leg room for a compact car. The rear seats are not as gracious with space, but two adults can still ride in the Mazda3 with a level of comfort. The sedan has 12.4 cubic-feet of space in the trunk, while the hatchback is 20.2 cubic-feet. When folded down, the space enlarges to just over 47 cubic-feet.

For several years, the Mazda3 has resided near the top among compact car rankings. Nothing has changed for 2015. The Mazda3 remains a great buy for a variety of reasons.