The new 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring edition is one of the top performing in the small car segment.

Given the hubbub around sport-utility vehicles these days and the relatively low price of gasoline, it is quite easy for small cars to get lost – or at least overlooked – in conversations about new cars.

However, small cars still command a significant following among motorists who are watching their budgets, drive long distances where fuel economy becomes paramount or live in places where parking is tight and at a premium.

This adds up to a lot of people looking at a fleet of cars that’s a bit neglected these days by some car makers but there are companies, like Mazda for instance, that see them as an opportunity.

The Mazda3 is certainly one compact vehicle that commands attention in what is continues to be a very crowded and competitive segment. It appeals not only to those who are looking for an economical and efficient transportation but also to buyers looking for something more than utilitarian transportation.

(Mazda’s SkyActiv-X aims to give diesels, hybrids a fuel-efficient run for their money. Click Here for the story.)

The new Mazda3 Grand Touring boasts a 2.5-liter four cylinder that puts out 184 horsepower and averages 30 mpg.

Overall, the Mazda3 is multi-dimensional with excellent driving dynamics, ample power and a comfortable cabin.

Lots of manufacturers like to say their vehicles are a class above in terms of equipment and furnishings but I found during my test drive that the Mazda3 actually is a cut above.

I was impressed by the overall ambience of the cabin, which is nicely furnished with materials that look and feel more expensive than might be expected if you just examined the bill of materials on the assembly plant floor.

The quality of the interior elevates the experience behind the wheel, which is important in any vehicle that is inevitably destined to become one of any family or single person’s commuter car. The interior of the Mazda3 has a likable quality that can help take the edge off a daily commute. Controls are within easy to use with minimal distraction and the visibility all the way around from the driver’s seat is very good, while the seat is nicely supportive.

The 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring model that I drove was powered by a Skyactiv-G 2.5 engine that produces 184 horsepower and 185 foot-pounds of torque, which is quite impressive for a compact car. It also feels impressive out on the road. When the 2.5-liter engine is matched with an automatic transmission, the Mazda3 Touring gets 27 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway for a combined rating of 30 mpg.

Mazda takes pride in building cars with solid driving dynamics and the Mazda3 maintains the brand’s reputation with its excellent ride and handling characteristics. The steering is very sharp and very accurate and the brakes on the 16-inch alloy wheels have plenty of stopping power and respond instantly if necessary.

The interior of the Mazda3 is well thought out and features a lot of high-end materials.

The ride-and-handling on the Mazda 3 is enhanced by the Standard G-Vectoring Control vehicle dynamics enhancement system that is built into the vehicle.

(Click Here for more about Mazda and Toyota’s new shared plant in Alabama.)

Mazda3 Touring comes with a multiplicity of features such as leatherette seating surfaces, heated front seats, advanced blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers, automatic on/off headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, advanced keyless entry, a six-way power driver’s seat and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, which help make the car seem more expensive than it is.

Mazda3 Touring equipment includes a new dark silver alloy wheel color, standard illuminated vanity mirrors and an overhead sunglasses holder, premium audio system and SiriusXM satellite radio and a one-touch-open moon roof. LED fog lights and self-leveling bi-LED headlights were also part of the package.

The technology on Mazda3 included a navigation system, auto-dimming interior mirror with Homelink, High Beam Control, Lane Departure Warning System, Lane Keep Assist, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Smart Brake Support and Traffic Sign Recognition.

Mazda also has made its “Smart City Brake Support,” which senses when a collision is eminent, is now standard on all Mazda3 models, which has also earned a five-star crash rating.

Prices for the Mazda3 start at $18,095 plus an $875 destination charge, while the fully loaded Grand Touring model that I had a chance to drive costs $24,195 plus the destination charge. Overall, it’s an impressive price, considering the level of equipment on the car.

(Mazda NAO CEO denies Toyota merger speculation. Click Here for the story.)

All and all, the Mazda3 is one of those vehicles that emphatically prove that plenty of good features and fun can be tucked into a small package.

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