Highlights: According to AGL (Automotive Leasing Guide), the Mazda3 has the highest residual value in the compact segment. And, in the premium trims, the Mazda3 no longer offers buttons or knobs to control the radio and volume.

Test vehicle’s MSRP: $24,635 (Base Model starts at $17,740)

Seating Capacity:  5

Standard Safety Features: airbags (front, curtain and side); stability system; traction control system; hill start assistance; and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System

Standard Equipment: 16-inch tires; a 6-speed manual; a push-button keyless starter; keyless remote; cloth seats; a tilt/telescopic steering wheel; power windows; and power door locks

Standard Audio: 4-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system

Bumper-to-Bumper Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles

Powertrain Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles

Bluetooth Compatibility: Yes

Standard Engine/Horsepower: 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder/155-hp

Recommended Fuel: Regular

Standard Fuel Mileage: 29-city/41-hwy

Trim Levels:
SV
Sport
Touring
Grand Touring

What’s New: The third-generation Mazda3 wears a new design. This  compact is also driven by Mazda’s new signature SkyActiv engine, which is capable of achieving 41-mpg on the highway.

Pros: The spunky and sporty Mazda3, which mimics the brand’s flagship, the Mazda6, is available in either a four door or a five door configuration. The athletic designed compact can also be outfitted with an automatic transmission or the must-have, easy-to shift 6-speed manual transmission.

And, for the 2014 model year, the Mazda3 is available with a 2.0-liter or a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine. With the 2.5-liter, the horsepower zooms from the 155 horses on the standard 2.0-liter to a whopping 184 horses.

We were fortunate to land our hands on the higher-end Grand Touring hatchback accessorized with the smooth-shifting 6-speed manual transmission. Unfortunately, it was only matted to the 2.0-liter engine. We can only imagine how the excitement factor would have zoomed had if a manual was available with 2.5-liter, which packs 184 horses.

Besides the fuel-efficient Skyactiv engine, our well-equipped hatchback was equipped with leather seats, heated front seats, a power moonroof, a push button keyless starter, automatic headlights, a 7-inch stand-alone infotainment screen, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel and a crystal-clear 9-speaker Bose audio system.

Cons: The Mazda6 we reviewed was outfitted with an upgraded audio system, which lacked dials and knobs to control the volume and change stations. Unfortunately, in the new high-tech 2014 Mazda3, the volume can only be adjusted through the steering wheel. It took a moment before we figured out how to preset our favorite stations too. Had our hatchback been outfitted with knobs and switches, we would have never had this issue. We must note that the lower priced Mazda3s are still outfitted with knobs and switches.

Furthermore, although Mazda’s engineers lengthened the rear seat of the snug-fitting hatchback by nearly 2 inches, the compact still lacked sufficient legroom for the rear occupants, when compared to the competition.

Lastly, a sporty compact like the Mazda3 deserves an eye-popping wheel package, too. Yes, we were highly disappointed with the shoes that covered the feet our hatchback.

The Verdict: The third-generation Mazda3 is a worthy contender to consider in the compact hatchback segment. Even in the super competitive four-door sedan compact segment, the Mazda3 stands out from the crowd. Just like the brand’s flagship, the Mazda6, the compact Mazda3 literally mirrors the vehicle in every sense, as it relates to overall appeal, fuel- efficiency, build quality and high-tech safety features and more importantly the fun-to-drive factor.

With the 2014 Mazda6, the brand continues to remind us small does not mean one has to sacrifice excitement, passion and fuel-efficiency!
 
5-Door Competition: Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra GT, Kia Forte5 and VW Golf

Jeff Fortson is an auto analyst and editor of a car-buying website for women and minorities. To learn more about his popular car-buying workshop and/or to price a new-vehicle, drive on over to JeffCars.com. Follow him http://twitter.com/#!/JeffCars/.

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