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For years US buyers have stayed away from hatchbacks even though they are super practical and just as fun, if not more fun than their sedan counterparts. In the last year we’ve seen some significant new entries in the compact hatchback segment that may finally win over US buyers, like they have with our friends in Europe. This year the Honda Civic hatchback finally made a comeback and Chevy even introduced a Cruze hatchback. Although both new entries are welcome, they already have some heavy competition from the segment leader – the Mazda3 5-Door.

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The Mazda3 is actually one of the oldest models now in the segment, but each year the Mazda3 sedan and hatchback continue to be the benchmarks for the segment. Here are five things that you should know about the 2017 Mazda3 5-Door:

1. Fun to drive, like all Mazdas

Since its introduction in the early 2000s, the Mazda3 has always been the most fun to drive model in the segment and that continues today. The Mazda3 is nimble, zippy and loves being pushed hard. The fact that Mazda even offers a manual transmission in the top spec model speaks volumes about how much the automaker places “fun” as a priority, even though most buyers probably opt for the automatic. After driving a Grand Touring with the 184-hp 2.5L and six-speed automatic for a week, I enjoyed every minute behind the wheel of the Mazda3. From the responsive powertrain, near perfect steering, to the confidence-inspiring suspension.

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2. Practical

One of the main reasons buyers will choose a hatchback over its sedan counterpart is because of the added practicality and versatility that you get with the hatch. With the rear seat up, the Mazda3 hatchback has 20.2 cu. ft. of space, which easily tops the Mazda3 with its 12.4 cu. ft. of space. Even better, put the rear seat down and you have an unobstructed 47.1 cu.ft. of space for all your stuff.

Related: 2017 Mazda CX-9 – Review

If you were to compare the interior space of the Mazda3 vs the Civic, you’ll find that they are pretty similar. A Civic hatchback without a moonroof does offer a bit more headroom than the Mazda3, but the legroom in both models is similar.

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3. Fuel efficient and sporty

Mazda is one of the few automakers to not offer a hybrid model in its lineup, but that doesn’t mean the automaker doesn’t place an emphasis on fuel efficiency. The base Mazda3 with the 155-hp 2.0L engine is rated at 28/37 with the 6-speed automatic and 27/37 with the 6-speed manual. If you opt for the more powerful 2.5L, you won’t have to pay that much more at the pump with the 27/36 mpg rating if you opt for the automatic with Mazda’s efficient i-Eloop system.

How does that compare to the new Civic hatchback? The turbocharged Civic Hatchback is a bit more fuel efficient with a 31/40 mpg rating with the CVT and 30/39 mpg if you choose the six-speed manual.

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4. Apple CarPlay?

Mazda is definitely behind the segment when it comes to in-car technology. The Mazda3 does offer a simple head-up display, but you won’t find Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on the options list. Mazda says that it’s coming, but it’s a major negative when almost every of the Mazda3’s rivals already offer the technology. It may not be so bad if the current infotainment didn’t already feel five years old. Hopefully Mazda fixes it soon, there’s also reports that when Apple CarPlay does arrive, current owners may be able to retrofit their cars with the newer and way better tech.

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5. Is the Honda Civic its biggest rival?

Throughout my week with the Mazda3, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Civic hatchback. The Mazda3 hatchback has been the model to get for years if you wanted a fuel efficient, sporty and stylish hatchback. Now that Honda has brought back a Civic hatchback to the US, the tides may be changing. The Civic hatchback is positioned as the sportiest model in the Civic lineup with its standard turbocharged engine and aggressive body kit. But there was always one quick comeback when I polled friends about the styling of both models. The Civic hatchback’s aggressive styling is a bit polarizing, while the Mazda3 has a more classic, understated appeal.

Wrap Up:

Although the current Mazda3 is getting a bit old, it’s still one of the best all around models in the segment. It’s combination of a fun to drive chassis, classic styling and its versatility are hard to beat. The Civic hatchback may be giving the Mazda3 a run for its money, but Mazda is preparing a new Mazda3 for 2018, which will be even more stylish based on Mazda’s latest design language and more fuel efficient thanks to a new HCCI engine.

Pricing:

The 2017 Mazda3 5-Door is offered in four trim levels: Sport, Touring, Touring 2.5 and Grand Touring. The base Sport 6-speed manual starts at $19,095, while the top Grand Touring with the six-speed automatic starts at $24,945.