2012 Mazda3: Is it Possible to Get 40 MPG? (Review)

After driving 400 miles between New York City and Washington D.C. did we actually get even close to the 40 MPG rating and even more important did we have to drive like an old person to get there?

For the 2012 model year Mazda has introduced its new SkyActiv technology to the Mazda3 lineup, which helps it achieve 40 mpg on the highway. Today every major automaker is trying to get the highest fuel economy numbers in their class. Lately it seems like almost every model in the compact class is obtaining 40 mpg ratings, but what are these vehicles actually like to drive and are the ratings actually obtainable in a real world situation? After driving 400 miles between New York City and Washington D.C. did we actually get even close to the 40 MPG rating and even more important did we have to drive like an old person to get there?

How Does it Look?

The current Mazda3 was originally unveiled at the end of 2008, so four years later its looking a little dated. For the 2012 model year Mazda gave the Mazda3 a slight refresh, but you probably can’t really see the differences. The good news is that an all-new Mazda3 is slated to arrive at the end of next year with Mazda’s latest Kodo design language.


What’s the Interior Like?

Just like the exterior, the interior of the Mazda3 is showing its age. Four years ago the Mazda3’s interior was ample for its class, but with the introduction of new models like the Focus and Elantra, the Mazda3’s interior definitely feels old. While the interior was for the most part pretty comfortable on our drive, the lack of the latest technology like a USB port, touchscreen navigation system and a rear-view camera left us asking for more. Our Mazda3 Touring did come with a navigation system, but it’s screen is about the same size as the screen on an iPhone. Even worse, you can only control it via a toggle switch on the steering wheel. This means that your front passenger can’t help program the navigation and programing it is much slower and more annoying than newer systems.


Once you get past the technology shortcomings, the interior of the Mazda3 was comfortable, but a bit louder than we would have liked. Also the trunk in our Mazda3 sedan was about average, but luckily Mazda also offers the Mazda3 hatchback that provides more cargo space.


What’s Under the Hood?

The 2012 Mazda3 is offered with a choice of three four-cylinder engines: a 148 horsepower 2.0L, the new 155-hp 2.0L SkyActiv engine and the 167-hp 2.5L. Even though the 2.0L SkyActiv engine isn’t the least powerful engine available, it’s the most fuel-efficient. The all-new engine offers five percent more horsepower than the standard MZR 2.0-liter engine as well as 10 percent more peak torque, 15 percent more low- to mid-range torque and up to 21 percent better fuel economy. Buyers that choose the 2.0L SkyActiv engine can also choose between the all-new SKYACTIV-MT six-speed manual transmission or the all-new SKYACTIV-Drive six-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0L SkyActiv engine is rated at 28/40 mpg with the automatic and 27/39 mpg with the manual.


How Does it Drive?

Even though the Mazda3 is showing its age, it still drives better than many other models in its class. It has agile handling and takes corners with ease. The 2.0L SkyActiv engine is geared towards efficiency, but it still packs more than enough power. Compared to the Hyundai Elantra, which also has the mighty 40-mpg rating, the Mazda3 had a little more pep under the hood.

Since the Mazda3 is rated at 40 mpg on the highway, our goal for the trip was to see how close we could actually get to that rating. Rather than drive in the slow lane the whole trip, we drove the Mazda3 just like any other car. Meaning we averaged 70 mph on the freeway, sped away from stop lights and never “coasted” to a stop sign. The end result was that after 400 miles of mostly freeway driving we averaged 38.1 mpg… not bad.

Would We Buy One?

The best part of the Mazda3 and has been for a while, is the way that it drives. It’s suspension doesn’t simply float along and its steering is among the best in its class. Add in the new more efficient engine and you have a nice package. The styling is showing its age, but is still not completely outdated. If it wasn’t for the crappy navigation system we would have loved it even more…

2012 Mazda3 i Grand Touring 4-Door
Base Price: $23,345
As Tested: $24,745