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2012 Mazda Mazda3 Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 Mazda Mazda3 was new.


Performance: 9.0

This year, Mazda introduces its Skyactiv engine, which is one of the most fuel-efficient and engaging engines in the class. Reviewers say the remaining two engines (a 2.0- and 2.5-liter) are top-notch, but don’t offer the combination of good fuel economy and good performance the Skyactiv does.

  • "Although the drivetrains are the main story on the 2012 Mazda 3, driving this car on back roads reminds us why it remains a favorite of ours in the compact car class." -- Edmunds

Acceleration and Power

The 2012 Mazda3 has several engine options. New for 2012 is Mazda’s Skyactiv engine that is available on i Touring and i Grand Touring models. It’s a 2.0-liter four-cylinder powerplant that makes 155 horsepower. Generally, fuel efficiency means a decrease in power, but test drivers are impressed that even with the Skyactiv engine, the Mazda3 is still powerful and has better fuel economy than the other engines that are available. The EPA hasn’t rated this engine yet, but Mazda says sedans get up to 27/39 mpg city/highway with a six-speed manual transmission, and 28/40 mpg with a six-speed automatic transmission. Hatchbacks get one less mpg on the highway.

The Mazda3’s base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes a lower 148 horsepower and has lower fuel economy ratings. With a five-speed manual transmission, it averages 25/33 mpg, and a slightly lower 24/33 mpg with a five-speed automatic. This engine is standard on i SV and i Sport models.

The most powerful engine is a 167-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that comes with either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic. It has the lowest fuel economy ratings: 20/28 mpg with the six-speed manual and 22/29 with the five-speed automatic. S models are equipped with this engine. Reviewers think the 2.5-liter engine is top-notch for the class, and say the manual transmission offers the most engaging driving experience.

  • "The 2012 Mazda 3 starts out as one of the most fun-to-drive cars in the compact class, and this one adds more power and quicker shifting to that equation. … The six-speed automatic is quick, too, with none of the low-speed slogging that accompanies DSGs from Volkswagen and others. A soul-sucking CVT was never considered." -- AutoWeek
  • "Mazda 3 i models have acceptable power from a stop, with little difference between the manual and automatic transmission. The 2.0-liter engine strains in highway merging and passing. The s versions are stronger overall, with manual-transmission models feeling quicker than their automatic counterparts. Any s model has sufficient passing reserves. On non-turbo versions, the manual transmission has positive shift and clutch action, but to some testers, slightly long throws. The automatic is smooth and responsive." -- Consumer Guide

Handling and Braking

Reviewers praise the Mazda3’s precise braking and steering. They prefer the crisp handling the s models offer, but think the i models are perfect for shoppers looking for a small car that will add some flare to their daily commutes. If you fall into that category, reviewers warn that the ride might be a little stiff in comparison with commuter cars like the Toyota Corolla.

  • "The Mazda 3s we drove remained nicely balanced in the many corners into which we flung them; the 3 is truly one of the leaders in this class for driving glee. Steering feel from the electrohydraulic system (an electric motor powers the hydraulic pump) was direct and relatively tight, another much-appreciated feature." -- AutoWeek
  • "The s models are also among the best in class, but i versions are no slouches either. Any 3 is confident, exhibiting little body lean, though i versions have more than s models. Steering feel is accurate and responsive, and the brakes have excellent pedal feel and control." -- Consumer Guide
  • "On a daily basis, the 3's highway ride is smooth enough for most commuters, although drivers who prefer softly sprung compacts like the Toyota Corolla might think the 3 rides too firmly." -- Edmunds

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