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The Mazda3 offers equal doses of style and sporty driving. You can’t go wrong buying one new or used, but which is best?

From Great to Great

mazdausa.com | news.mazdausa.com
mazdausa.com | news.mazdausa.com

Among compact cars, the Mazda3 has a reputation for blending driving excitement and killer good looks. Both the current and prior generations live up to the rumors, though not in equal measure. When cross shopping a new versus a used Mazda3 we found a number of areas of salient departure worth deeper examination. In a segment known for being humdrum both in styling and performance, the Mazda3 is a refreshing alternative to the Toyota Corollas of the world.

To answer whether to buy the Mazda3 new or used, we first want to find out what you stand to save buying used. A 2019 redesign added a larger touchscreen (up to 8.8-inches from 7-inches), more standard and available safety features, and, in 2021, a new 2.5L turbocharged engine, all of which will cost you compared to a used example. For this comparison we chose the last-generation 2018 Mazda3 to go up against the new 2021 Mazda3.

A 2018 Sport trim sedan runs about $16,500 today all the way to the top Grand Touring hatchback at around $21,000. The 2021 Mazda3 starts at $20,650 and peaks at the Premium Plus hatchback for $33,750. That puts the low to high at just slightly over 100 percent. With additional new trims and engine choices, the new 2021 Mazda3 does offer some added budget flexibility.

Specs

2018 Mazda3 I4 - news.mazdausa.com
2018 Mazda3 I4 - news.mazdausa.com

The 2018 Mazda3 offers two engine options. The first is a 2.0L inline-4 making 155 horsepower and 150 lb.-ft. of torque. It comes in front-wheel drive with options for either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is in line with the segment at 28 city and 27-28 highway mpg, depending on transmission choice. The other option is a 2.5L 4-cylinder with 184 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy here runs 25-27 city and 34-36 highway, again depending on the transmission you choose.

2021 Mazda3 I4 Turbo - carsforsale.com
2021 Mazda3 I4 Turbo - carsforsale.com

The 2021 Madza3 offer three choices of powertrain starting with a base 2.0L four-cylinder making an identical 155 horsepower and 150 lb.-ft. A just barely more powerful 2.5L follows with 186 horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. Added for 2021 is the new 2.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder that ups the ante to 227 horsepower and an impressive 250 lb.-ft. of torque. Also new is optional all-wheel drive and a standard six-speed transmission. Only the Premium Plus hatchback retains a manual option.

Fuel economy in the 2021 dips with the addition of all-wheel drive to 25/35 for the 2.0L, 24/32 for the 2.5L and the turbo 2.5L all the way to 23/31. Front-wheel drive keeps things for reasonable at 27/36 for the 2.0L and 25/33 for the 2.5L.

Driving & Performance

2018 Mazda3 - news.mazdausa.com
2018 Mazda3 - news.mazdausa.com

The 2018 Mazda3 is one of those cars that proves the adage that it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. The 2.5L’s 185 horsepower won’t light up the drag strip but is well suited for a spirited commute. The added option of a six-speed manual only increases the level of engagement. The 7.7 seconds to 60 belies the feeling of exhilaration you can wring from the Mazda3. The chassis is taught, the steering pin-point sharp, and the powertrain responsive and smooth.

2021 Mazda3 - news.mazdausa.com
2021 Mazda3 - news.mazdausa.com

This high bar proved unduly challenging for the next generation of Mazda3 which was subject to criticism in its first few years. A change from independent suspension to a torsion beam rear axle meant the new Mazda3 didn’t handle with the same verve as the prior and the new engines, while the same size, didn’t deliver the same excitement. The 2021 model year set out to change things with the addition of a 2.5L turbocharged engine. And while this did markedly improve the driving experience the engine is only available on the top two trim levels.

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Depending on what you want to spend, you can find a great driving car in either the 2018 or 2021 model year.

Interior & Comfort

Mazda has a reputation for making good looking cars both inside and out. And while the 2018 Mazda3 doesn’t look dated by today’s standards, the subsequent generation looks even better. Interior quality is impressive in the 2018. There are plenty of soft-touch materials, the seats are comfortable (if cramped in the rear), and the design remains fresh. One annoyance is the 7-inch touchscreen cannot be manipulated unless the car is parked, an excessive safety measure dropped for the next generation.

As slick as the 2018 Mazda3 is, the 2021 model is the best-looking car in the segment. The redesigned interior features a new, larger (now 8.8-inch) touchscreen, a revamped the center stack, and a swooping two-tiered dash. The soft-touch materials abound, and the overall finish take the Mazda3’s interior close to luxury territory. Oddly, the already tight rear seat shrunk in the 2021 model from 35.8 inches down to 35.1 inches.

Trims & Features

The 2018 Mazda3 comes in three trim levels: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring.

2018 Mazda3 Sport - carsforsale.com
2018 Mazda3 Sport - carsforsale.com

Sport – Comes with the 2.0L engine, cloth seats, Bluetooth, remote keyless entry, and a 7-inch touchscreen.

2018 Mazda3 Touring - carsforsale.com
2018 Mazda3 Touring - carsforsale.com

Touring – Comes with the 2.5L engine, dual-zone climate control, leatherette seats, leather steering wheel, proximity keyless entry, heated side mirrors, automatic headlights, heated front seats, and blind spot monitoring.

2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring - carsforsale.com
2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring - carsforsale.com

Grand Touring – heads-up display, LED headlights, moonroof, fog lights, leather seats, and satellite radio. Premium Equipment package includes a heated steering wheel, remote start, navigation, and adds the additional safety features (see below).

Standard safety features in the 2018 Mazda3 are limited to a rearview camera and low-speed forward collision braking. Options widen to include blind spot detection, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, rear cross traffic alerts, traffic sign recognition, and adaptive headlights.

The 2021 Mazda3 offers a Jeep-like list of seven trims levels and a generous list of standard safety features.

2021 Mazda3 Base - carsforsale.com
2021 Mazda3 Base - carsforsale.com

Base – Features the 2.0L engine, 8.8-inch infotainment touchscreen, Bluetooth, HD radio, 8-speaker stereo, cloth upholstery, remote keyless entry.

2021 Mazda3 2.5 S - carsforsale.com
2021 Mazda3 2.5 S - carsforsale.com

2.5 Sedan or Hatchback – Features the larger 2.5L engine and adds Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

2021 Mazda3 Select - carsforsale.com
2021 Mazda3 Select - carsforsale.com

Select – Synthetic leather, rear cross-traffic alerts, blind spot detection, and dual-zone climate control.

2021 Mazda3 Preferred - carsforsale.com
2021 Mazda3 Preferred - carsforsale.com

Preferred – Moonroof, heated front seats.

2021 Mazda3 Premium - carsforsale.com
2021 Mazda3 Premium - carsforsale.com

Premium – Leather upholstery, 12-speaker Bose stereo system, satellite radio, navigation. The hatchback version now offers an optional six-speed manual transmission.

2021 Mazda3 Premium Plus - carsforsale.com
2021 Mazda3 Premium Plus - carsforsale.com

2.5 Turbo and 2.5 Premium Plus – The 2.5 Turbo, as the name implies, adds the 2.5L turbocharged engine. The Premium Plus trim tacks on navigation, traffic sign recognition, and surround-view parking camera.

The Goldilocks Zone

2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring - Matt Maran Motoring on YouTube.com
2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring - Matt Maran Motoring on YouTube.com

With the 2018 Mazda3 Sport at around $16,500 and the 2021 2.5 Premium Plus at double that at $32,450 for the sedan and $33,750 for the hatchback, respectively, there’s a wide range of options depending on how much you’re willing to spend on your Mazda3.

The Venn diagram of these two model years overlap at around $20,000 with the top trim 2018s and the entry-level 2021s. Here, we’d recommend going for the spry and sporty 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring which is very well equipped for the money. But, if refinement and power are prerequisites, the 2021 Mazda 3 2.5 sedan starts at $29,900, provides both in excess, and makes more sense than the underwhelming middle trims.

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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