Mazda3 AWD (Premium Plus) — Tires: P215/45R18; wheelbase: 107.3 inches; length: 183.5 inches; width: 70.7 inches; height: 56.9 inches; weight: 3,395 pounds; fuel capacity: 12.7 gallons; city: 23 mpg; highway: 32 mpg; base price: $35,450; price as tested: $37,065; website:

The potential compact car buyer has endless options on a dealer’s lot, but there is one fine ride that stands out for its agility, coolness and sheer excitement. And that, of course, is the Mazda3. Take your pick: the sedan which we recently tested or the hatchback we have driven in the past. Both will leave a smile on your face.

Under the hood of the Mazda3 sits a turbocharged engine putting out 227 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 310 pounds-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm (with 87 octane gas). A smooth-shifting six-speed auto gearbox makes the drive even more fun. Suspension is handled via a MacPherson strut front and a torsion beam axle rear so unpleasant road bumps or curves are handled with ease. The electric power rack-and-pinion steering is instant and on the mark. As always, it is equipped with the direct-injection Skyactiv, which uses a torque boost via a high compression ratio to increase fuel economy.

A black metallic-finish grille hosts a centered Mazda insignia surrounded by horizontal LED adaptive headlights and daytime running lights. Also distinctive are side sill extensions, a rear hatch spoiler and heated power side mirrors, all in black, along with a shark-fin antenna. Other carmakers could benefit from borrowing the simple command control center to operate the all-new and bigger 10.25-inch navigation/infotainment screen. The rich-looking black leather upholstery gives the cabin a gorgeous vibe. Other admirable comforts include the eight-way power driver and four-way manual front-passenger heated seats, push-button start, dual auto a/c, 60/40 fold-down rear seat with hidden armrest and cup holders, overhead sunglass holder, head-up display, power windows and door locks, paddle shifters, power moonroof, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bose 12-speaker audio and AM/FM.

Standard safety features include the dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, stability and traction control, hill launch assist, active front-head restraints, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, rearview camera, 360-degree monitor, radar cruise control, lane keep assist and departure warning, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and tire pressure monitoring system. The G-Vectoring Control Plus (which enables drivers to handle emergency situations or untoward road conditions with more accurate steering inputs) comes at no extra cost. And the i-ACTIV AWD works along with G-Vectoring to control torque distribution between front/rear wheels.

The supple and exciting Mazda3 is a compact car, so we will excuse the tight rear seat for passengers. But this fuel-sipper, especially on the highway, is affordable, stylish and enjoyable for the daily jaunt or even to take on a long trip.

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