Experts have many good things to say about the 2011 Mazda3 sedan and hatchback, making it a runner up behind the best reviewed 2011 Hyundai Elantra (Base MSRP: $14,830 to $19,980). All reviewers enjoy the Mazda3's class-leading handling and fun-to-drive panache that competitors fail to recreate. Additionally, a nice engine, good interior layout and great crash-test results make the Mazda3 stand out in a crowded segment. However, the car's unique exterior styling -- especially the smiley-faced front end -- may not suit everyone. While the Mazds3's firm ride contributes to sporty handling, it can lead to choppiness on worse-than-ideal road surfaces. Reliability is very good but is still considered a notch below other class leaders like the perennially well-regarded 2011 Honda Civic (Base MSRP: $15,605 to $25,490).
The Mazda3 comes in sedan and hatchback styles as well as a sporty Mazdaspeed3, which includes a turbocharged engine and many performance-related enhancements.
The major change for the 2011 model year is that all Mazda3 models now come standard with electronic stability control. Other than that, some minor tweaks to features within the various trim packages are the only other alterations. Our full report on the essentially identical 2010 Mazda3; provides a detailed analysis on what the experts are saying.
The Mazda3's 2-liter, four-cylinder base engine delivers 24 to 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 27 to 28 mpg combined according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. The available 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine gets 20 to 22 mpg city, 28 to 29 mpg highway and 23 to 25 mpg combined. The high-performance MazdaSpeed3 variant delivers a much lower combined estimate of 21 mpg.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash tested the 2011 Mazda3, and it fares well, earning a Top Safety Pick designation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tested both the sedan and hatchback, and gives frontal-crash protection a perfect 5-star rating. Rollover resistance receives 4 starts, but side-impact protection is given only 2 stars out of 5. NHTSA notes that the rear door panel intruded into the passenger compartment during the side-impact test.
Stability control, traction control, antilock brakes, side airbags and side curtain airbags are all standard equipment.
The editors of Edmunds.com say the Mazda3 "should be at the top of your list" if you want an inexpensive sedan or hatchback.
Review: 2011 Mazda Mazda3, Editors of Edmunds.com
2. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The IIHS names the Mazda3 a Top Safety Pick for its performance in the organization's independent safety tests.
Review: Small Cars, Editors of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Mazda3 a side-impact rating of only 2 out of a possible 5 stars. NHTSA says that on its side-impact testing, the rear door panel intruded into the passenger area and struck the test dummy, which could increase the risk of injury. Overall, however, the Mazda3 still manages a safety rating of 4 stars out of 5.
Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, Editors of SaferCar.gov
Across all basic models (excluding the high-performance Mazdaspeed3), the Mazda3 gets a combined mileage estimate of 21-28 mpg. Some newer economy sedans get better mileage.
Review: 2011 Mazda3, Editors of FuelEconomy.gov
Our last full report on the Mazda3 provides a collection of expert opinions and data. For 2010, we found the Mazda3 to be the best-reviewed sporty compact car. Most reviewers praise its communicative steering and athletic handling.
Review: 2010 Mazda3, Editors of ConsumerSearch.com, March 2010