2021 Mazda 3 Sedan

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2021 Mazda 3 Sedan Test Drive Review: Premium Sedan At A Compact Price

We always knew the Mazda 3 had good bones. The problem is, Mazda shot itself in the foot by offering a car with decent dynamics but no engine to go along with it. The 186-horsepower naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter engine is refined, but it always felt as if it could do with a bit... more. That's why 2021 sees the introduction of a turbocharged version of the same motor, generating 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque, but also a new base motor with only 155 hp. The six-speed automatic gearbox is the same, and the 3 Sedan can still be had with either FWD or AWD, it's now just got more fire to back up the excellent chassis we've always loved. Competing in the compact sedan segment, rivals include the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta, but with sleek looks, great handling dynamics, a premium interior, and now, turbo power to go with it, Mazda might have earned itself the top spot in the segment. To see if these virtues are enough to catapult it into stardom, Mazda sent us a turbo variant for a week-long test drive. And it didn't disappoint.

Read in this review:

2021 Mazda 3 Sedan Changes: πŸš™What’s the difference vs 2020 Mazda 3 Sedan?

Mazda made some minor tweaks to the various trims, including a slight renaming, but it all has to do with the biggest changes to the lineup - two new engines that diversify the range in comparison to previous years. A 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder powers the base sedan with 155 hp, while a 250-hp 2.5-liter turbo is finally available in the two high-end models, paired exclusively with AWD. A few features have been shuffled around to accommodate the new trim designations, with the mid-level Preferred losing out on navigation and a 12-speaker Bose sound system but gaining a power sunroof.

Pros and Cons

  • Luxurious, refined cabin
  • Handsome exterior
  • Excellent standard specification
  • Available AWD
  • Chassis tuning is spot-on
  • Now available with turbo power
  • Naturally-aspirated engines are lackluster
  • The rear legroom is tight
  • Infotainment isn't the best
  • Cargo capacity is below average
  • No manual option for the sedan

Best Deals on Mazda 3 Sedan

2021 Mazda 3 Sedan Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
2.0 Sedan
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$20,650
2.5 S
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$21,650
Select
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$22,850
Preferred
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$24,500
Premium
2.5L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$27,000

Mazda 3 Sedan Exterior

Mazda's design language is known as "Kodo: Soul of Motion." It's a nice piece of marketing jargon, which loosely translates to swoopy minimalism. But in all seriousness, Mazda's designers keep on giving other manufacturers a proper hiding when it comes to design. Take the Honda Civic sedan as an example. A lot is going on there, and for what reason? In sweeps Mazda with a minimalist exterior, simply using basic curves in all the right places to make even the base model look good.

All trims get automatic LED headlights, DRLs, and combination taillights, but from the Premium onward, these become signature-styled items. The lower-end models have a matte-finish grille which becomes gloss black from the Preferred onwards along with gloss black lower bumper garnish and a power-sliding moonroof. Premium models onwards gain a sharkfin antenna, and the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus gets a black lip spoiler on the trunk lid. Wheels measure 16 inches on the 2.0 and 2.5S while everything else gets 18-inch alloys. Some trims get model-specific finishes to these, like black on the turbo models and a polished look on the Premium.

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Dimensions

The Mazda 3 sedan shares most of its dimensions with the hatch with one key difference. At 183.5 inches long, it's 7.9 inches longer. The wheelbase is 107.3 inches, and it measures 70.7 inches in width. At 56.9 inches high, it stands a little shorter than most non-performance sedans. Mazda's new entry-level 2.0 Sedan with FWD is the lightest of the bunch, with a curb weight of just 2,984 lbs, but as you add equipment, the turbocharged engine, and all-wheel drive, the weight reaches a maximum of 3,379 lbs.

  • Length 183.5 in
  • Wheelbase 107.3 in
  • Height 56.9 in
  • Max Width 70.7 in
  • Front Width 61.7 in
  • Rear Width 62.2 in
  • Curb Weight 3,071.0 lbs

Exterior Colors

Mazda's color palette is just as minimalist as its exterior styling. There are only six colors to choose from, but all of them work beautifully with the design. Only Jet Black Mica and Sonic Silver Metallic are available on the base model, and both are at no charge. Deep Crystal Blue Mica is also a no-cost option, but only available on the 2.5 S, Select, Preferred, and Premium models. Snowflake White Pearl Mica is a $395 option and available on all models except the base 2.0 while Machine Gray Metallic costs $495 and is only available to the Select trim and above. The same goes for Mazda's famous Soul Red Crystal Metallic, which costs $595. The Select is the only variant to have access to the full palette, with upper trims getting pared-back palettes. Mazda could've made it simple and just sold every car in Soul Red though - it's stunning to look at, but the various grays also do a stellar job of accentuating the design language.

  • Sonic Silver Metallic
  • Jet Black Mica
  • Snowflake White Pearl Mica
  • Deep Crystal Blue Mica
  • Sonic Silver Metallic, Build Out: 08/04/2020
  • Soul Red Crystal Metallic
  • Machine Gray Metallic

Mazda 3 Sedan Performance

Last year we described the Mazda's performance as not being at the top of the class, primarily due to the lack of any other option than the 2.5-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine. It's still available this year and produces 186 hp and a matching amount of torque, but Mazda has added two new power plants to the offering. The new base model is equipped with a 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder, while the big news is the introduction of a 2.5-liter turbocharged mule delivering 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque - the same engine we've lauded in the CX-5 and CX-9 before. These figures are a massive increase over the old non-turbo 2.5, but we're a little disappointed that you can't have this mill, or any of them, actually, with a manual gearbox. There's solace to be had, though, as the Mazda 3 is one of the very few sedans in this segment that can be paired with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

The turbocharged engine doesn't make the Mazda 3 a performance sedan though. It's not an outright rival to the VW Jetta GLI and Honda Civic Si, with a more laid back driving experience that we'd consider to be 'luxury with power' instead of 'boy racer'. That doesn't mean it isn't fun to drive, and it doesn't mean it isn't quick. The new turbo motor is capable of dispatching the 0 to 60 mph sprint in as little as 5.5 seconds in independent testing thanks to standard AWD, which is a significant improvement over the seven-second dash of the standard 2.5L models. The base 2.0-liter will be the slowest, and we expect closer to nine seconds when we test it. All models are electronically limited to a top speed of 130 mph.

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Engine and Transmission

Now that there are three engine options available, the Mazda 3 is more of a multi-purpose tool. The base 2.0-liter only produces 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque, but it is the most efficient in the line-up. It's only available in front-wheel drive and is locked into the base trim only.

Now that the turbo provides performance, the naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter fills more of an all-rounder role in the mid-spec models (2.5 S, Select, Preferred, and Premium). With 186 hp and 186 lb-ft, it provides a nice blend of semi-brisk performance and good fuel economy. The engine even sounds alright, although it can be a little coarse when wrung out.

The new turbocharged model is only available in AWD format. It develops up to 250 hp and 310 lb-ft, but you can feed it regular gasoline and make do with 227 hp and 310 lb-ft. It's still not a genuine performance motor, and it loathes being wrung out. There's a steep drop-off after 5,000 rpm, and the six-speed auto is insistent on shifting well below redline to ride the wave of torque down low.

All models in the range use Mazda's six-speed automatic transmission. It's quick and smooth, but the game has moved on a bit and in manual mode, it requires a little preemptive shifting. Leave it to its own devices, though, and it works well with either of the larger engines.

  • Engines
    2.0L Inline-4 Gas, 2.5L Inline-4 Gas, 2.5L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
  • Transmission
    6-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrains
    AWD, FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

Sadly, Mazda doesn't do dedicated sporty models anymore. The MX-5 is the only glimmer of hope as we think back nostalgically to the MazdaSpeed 3 and MazdaSpeed 6. The thing is, were they great cars? The MS6, with its advanced AWD system and six-speed manual 'box, was, and still is, fantastic, but we're not entirely convinced that the MS3 was ever truly spectacular - it just had a ton of torque steer and made some nice noises.

Modern Mazda's are more mature, and all the better for it. Instead of fitting a car with a rock-hard suspension and too much power for the front wheels to cope with, Mazda focused on steering response and a balanced suspension setup.

The result is the Mazda 3 is a car that flows down the road beautifully and confidently. It stops short of being razor sharp like the Civic SI and VW Jetta GLI, but we don't necessarily see that as a bad thing. Not everyone wants something overly firm, and there's a definite market for luxurious cruisers with a turn of pace a-la BMW. These are the buyers Mazda's targeting. Don't get us wrong there's still some fun tuned into the chassis, but the baby won't be bounced awake every time you drive over a pebble. The steering responds well, but it's typical of modern electronic setups in that it doesn't drip with feedback.

The only thing slowing the Mazda 3 Turbo down is the transmission. It's slow to shift compared with how willing and able the engine is, and to get the best out of it, you need to shift manually using the paddles. The transmission is the right one for the car, but not the engine if you're expecting to drive a MazdaSpeed 3 without the badging. A manual transmission would bridge that gap somewhat, but we do feel a proper Mazdaspeed version would be the perfect range topper.

Mazda 3 Sedan Gas Mileage

The entry-level 2.0-liter is the most economical of all configurations. According to the EPA's gas mileage figures, the 2.0 will manage 28/36/31 mpg city/highway/combined. The naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter is rated at 26/35/30 mpg in FWD form, which isn't that far behind, while adding AWD results in 25/33/28 mpg. The turbo's fuel consumption isn't half bad, coming in at 23/32/27 mpg, and we landed on an indicated 25 mpg combined after a week's driving.

FWD models get a 13.2-gallon gas tank, resulting in a best range estimate of 409 miles in mixed condition for the FWD 2.0. AWD models, however, get a smaller 12.7-gallon tank, and in the worst-case scenario, the 2.5T AWD will only manage around 342 miles to a tank and requires premium gas to get the full allotment of power and torque.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    13.2 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 28/36 mpg
* 2021 Mazda 3 Sedan 2.0 FWD

Mazda 3 Sedan Interior

If anything, the interior is even more appealing than the exterior, and for the same reasons. Mazda managed to find that perfect balance between the ultimate expression of minimalism while still retaining easy access to the features the driver and passengers use the most. The material quality is sublime and Mazda's current line-up continues to give the premium German trio and their exorbitant prices something to think about. The seats are comfortable across the range and clad in perforated leather on high-spec models, and visibility in the sedan is better than the hatch thanks to a more conventionally shaped C-pillar.

Standard spec is generous across the line-up, with all models getting air conditioning (dual-zone climate control higher up), remote keyless entry with push-button start, and an 8.8-inch center display.

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Seating and Interior Space

The Mazda 3 Sedan seats 5 occupants, but it isn't the most spacious in the segment. Front passengers get 42.3 inches of legroom and 38 inches of headroom. Rear passengers are a bit more cramped with 35.1 inches of legroom and 37.2 inches of headroom. Models fitted with a sunroof decrease the headroom to 37.6 and 36.7 inches, respectively. While there is enough space for four average adults to get comfortable in the back, six-footers will struggle with the rear legroom. Both the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla provide more space, which means the Mazda 3 is slightly below par in this segment.

  • Seating capacity
    5-seater
  • Front Leg Room 42.3 in
  • Front Head Room 38.0 in
  • Rear Leg Room 35.1 in
  • Rear Head Room 37.3 in

Interior Colors and Materials

The type of materials may vary, but the quality doesn't - it's all exceptional no matter which trim you look at. The base 2.0 and 2.5 S come standard with black cloth sport seats. Black leatherette is standard on Select and Preferred trim, but the latter also has access to a new color called Greige. The 2.5 Turbo mimics this. Premium and 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus models get high-quality genuine leather in either black or white. In Premium models, the dash is also covered in leather, with a central strip matching the seats while the upper and lower sections remain black. The trim is simple, with a decorative aluminum accent strip running the width of the dash.

Mazda 3 Sedan Trunk and Cargo Space

Mazda's 3 Sedan is merely average in this department. While the trunk is quite broad and low to the ground, it only offers 13.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity. The Honda Civic Sedan has 15.1 cubes, while the Mazda's hatch sibling provides a full 20.1 cubes. If cargo capacity is a significant concern, you'd be better off in the hatch. The rear seats do fold flat in a 60/40 split, but getaways with the whole family will require careful planning.

Interior storage is equally unremarkable. In keeping things minimal, Mazda forgot to add a few helpful storage spaces. It comes with dual cupholders up front and a small storage space underneath the center armrest. The door pockets are ample but unremarkable, and in the back, the rear center seatback folds forward for an armrest with extra cupholders.

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  • Trunk Volume
    13.2 ft³

Mazda 3 Sedan Infotainment and Features

Features

Since Mazda mixed the 3 range up a bit, the standard features list now looks different from last year. The two base models (2.0 and 2.5 S) get manual air-conditioning, remote keyless entry with push-button start, and steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise control switches. Dual-zone climate control and Mazda's advanced keyless entry system are only standard from Select trim while heated front seats with power adjustment only come into play from the Preferred. From the 2.5 Turbo, a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror and heated steering wheel are equipped, while if you're looking for a head-up display, it's only found on the Premium and the two turbo models.

Safety specification remains generous, however. All models come as standard with smart brake support, lane departure warning, lane departure assist, radar cruise control with stop & go, driver attention alert, tire pressure monitoring, and high-beam control. Select models upward also get blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and traffic sign recognition for the full i-Activsense experience.

Infotainment

All models are equipped with an 8.8-inch center display without touch functionality. The base model comes with two USB ports, Bluetooth connectivity, HD Radio, voice command, and Pandora integration. An eight-speaker sound system is standard. One step up from that is the full-color display with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration in the 2.5S, but it's not until the Premium that you start to see the full breadth of ability on offer with SiriusXM satellite radio, a 12-speaker Bose sound system, navigation, and flashy aluminum speaker grilles. The 2.5 Turbo misses out on built-in nav.

Since the screen isn't touch-compatible anymore, the infotainment has to be controlled via a rotary control located between the seats. It's easy enough to learn but annoying since Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were both designed with touch functionality in mind. Thankfully, Mazda includes a few shortcut buttons for volume and skipping songs next to the primary controller.

Mazda 3 Sedan Problems and Reliability

The Mazda 3 hasn't been around for long in its current form, which means Mazda is still ironing out some flaws. This is reflected in its J.D. Power quality & reliability score of 74. According to the NHTSA, the Mazda 3 was recalled six times in 2019 and twice in 2020, but only once as a 2021 model at the time of our review. The 2021 recall affected just 599 units that may have a leaking air valve on the tires and also affected the CX-30.

The Mazda 3 is covered by a three-year/36,000-mile warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    5 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles

Mazda 3 Sedan Safety

Safety is the Mazda 3's forte. In the NHTSA review of the Mazda 3 Sedan, it scored five stars in every category and a full five-star overall safety rating. Thanks to its impressive line-up of standard safety features, the 2021 model also received a Top Safety Pick + in the IIHS review, with no restrictions on specific headlights or trims.

US NHTSA crash test result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

Key Safety Features

The 3 is handsomely equipped across the range, but only mid-range models from the Select get blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic assist as standard. That's over and above the standard safety features - all models get smart brake support, lane departure warning, lane departure assist, adaptive cruise control with stop & go, driver attention alert, tire pressure monitoring, and high-beam control. Eight airbags are standard including knee airbags for the front occupants, as is ABS, and traction and stability control. Traffic sign recognition is equipped to both the Premium and 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Mazda 3 Sedan a good car?

There's no denying the Mazda 3 is a good package. It has a beautiful exterior and interior, and it's fun to drive. The main problem was Mazda's dedication to the naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter engine. It's a good enough engine, but it just doesn't have the gusto to keep up with competition like the Civic Si and Jetta GLI.

While the new turbocharged model isn't as scalpel-like as some of the more hardcore offerings in the segment, we're just happy that Mazda finally gave it turbo power. We knew there was a good car in there somewhere, and the turbo brings it out. Thanks to Mazda's focus on sublime steering and balanced ride and handling, it can hustle as well, despite erring on the side of refinement rather than brutality. Finally, the Mazda 3 is a brilliant car. Before, it didn't offer any real reason to buy it over a CX-5, but now that Mazda added fun to the mix, it's a viable option.

🚘What's the Price of the 2021 Mazda 3 Sedan?

With the addition of new engines, the price of the Mazda 3 Sedan is now more palatable. The revised range starts at a base price of $20,650 for the entry-level 2.0 Sedan. Next in line is the 2.5 S for $21,650, followed by the Select at $22,850. The cost of the Mazda 3 in Preferred guise is $24,500, and then it's a somewhat significant jump to Premium specification and its MSRP of $27,000. The turbocharged models don't come cheap, retailing for $30,050 in 2.5 Turbo guise and $32,600 in 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus. All-wheel drive is available on the Select, Preferred, and Premium for an additional $1,400. These prices exclude Mazda's destination charge of $995.

2021 Mazda 3 Sedan Models

The new Mazda 3 has a revised model range, including new engine options with correlating fresh nomenclature. Seven models are now available in the USA: 2.0 Sedan, 2.5 S Sedan, Select, Preferred, Premium, 2.5 Turbo, and 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus. The numerical prefixes denote the different engine designations per trim, with FWD standard on all but the 2.5T models. These have AWD which is optional on the Select, Preferred, and Premium models.

The 2.0 Sedan boasts automatic LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, push-button start, cloth upholstery, and an 8.8-inch infotainment screen with AM/FM radio, Bluetooth, HD Radio, and eight speakers. Driver assistance is complementary in the form of adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist with departure warning, a rearview camera, and driver attention alert.

2.5 S derivatives upgrade to a larger engine and gain Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration thanks to an upgraded, full-color infotainment unit.

Select derivatives are the first with access to AWD. Other improvements include 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry, a rear center armrest, leatherette upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

The Preferred is differentiated by gloss black styling elements and a power moonroof, while inside, it gets heated front seats and an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat with memory.

Premium-spec sedans have signature LED lighting front and rear, gain full leather upholstery, and are gifted a 12-speaker Bose sound system, SiriusXM satellite radio, standard navigation, a head-up display, and traffic sign recognition.

Standard AWD and a turbo engine accompany the 2.5 Turbo, while the interior gets a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror and a heated steering wheel, but reverts to leatherette upholstery and misses out on navigation and traffic sign recognition.

Top of the pile, the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus sees the return of leather, navigation, and traffic sign recognition while also adding a rear lip spoiler, traffic jam assist, a 360-degree camera, and rear automatic braking.

See All 2021 Mazda 3 Sedan Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

Mazda's options list doesn't have a lot to offer. Non-turbo Mazda 3 models can be equipped with a Black Accent Package for $475 with various exterior trim in, you guessed it, black. There are also standalone options, like a wireless charging pad for $275 and, on certain trims, navigation for $450 and a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror for $275.

πŸš—What New Mazda 3 Sedan Model Should I Buy?

There's no shame in going with the base model for commuter and family work. With any engine under the hood, the Mazda 3 has a flow to how it drives and an excellent interior for the price point. When it comes to value for money with a little extra cash, the Select trim with the 2.5-liter engine makes the Mazda 3 an excellent all-rounder from school runs to long freeway drives and anything in between.

For the up-and-coming commuters, Premium will allow you to sit in comfort in long traffic jams or enjoy taking the long and scenic way home. The 2.5 Turbo occupies a more exciting space and will satisfy anyone that has outgrown the idea of a Subaru WRX. It's quick, it's fun, it's all-wheel-drive, it's practical, but people won't expect the owner to be wearing a flat cap and carrying a vape. That's the one we'd get, with Soul Red Crystal paint for $595 and a wireless charging pad, for a total of $31,915 including destination.

Check out other Mazda Mazda 3 Styles

2021 Mazda 3 Sedan Comparisons

Honda Civic Sedan Honda
Mazda 6 Sedan Mazda
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Mazda 3 Sedan155 hp28/36 mpg$20,650
Honda Civic Sedan 158 hp30/37 mpg$22,350
Mazda 6 Sedan 187 hp26/35 mpg$24,475

2021 Mazda 3 Sedan vs Honda Civic Sedan

The Civic remains one of the top choices in the midsize sedan segment, for good reason. For a reasonable price, Honda gives you a quality cabin, decent ride and handling, and a turbocharged engine that's very responsible at low speeds. Thanks to new turbo engines, the Mazda 3 is now in direct competition with the Civic Si as well, which already has its cult following as an affordable driver's machine.

These cars compete on two levels. On the practical side, the Honda offers a more extensive interior and better fuel economy. The Mazda's interior is a massive step up in terms of quality at the expense of space, and it has the option of AWD.

On the performance side, we have the Civic Si, which is down on power compared to the turbocharged Mazda. But, and it's a big Seth Rogen-sized but, the Si is available with one of the sweetest manuals on the planet, and it only weighs 2,889 lbs. The Mazda is quicker off the line thanks to AWD, but the Civic Si has built quite a following for a reason. At $25,000, it's a lot cheaper than the entry-level turbocharged Mazda. We'd say a more mature buyer should get the Mazda, while a young hot-head should get a Civic Si or even a base Civic Sport. But there's an all-new Civic on the way for 2022, and until then, we'd rate the Mazda 3 as the better vehicle for the up-and-comer.

See Honda Civic Sedan Review

2021 Mazda 3 Sedan vs Mazda 6 Sedan

With the Mazda 3 moving upmarket, there was some overlap in pricing with the bigger Mazda 6. Now with the turbo models, that overlap is even more pronounced. A top-spec Mazda 3 retails for $32,600, which is just $350 less than the 2021 Mazda 6 Carbon Edition. This specific model creates a massive problem for the 3 because it's also equipped with the 250-hp 2.5-liter turbocharged engine. Yes, it's sure to be slower, but Mazda's Carbon Edition trim adds a lot of nice features we'd love to be a part of our daily motoring lives. This includes beautiful red leather-trimmed sports seats, power adjustment for both front passengers, wireless Apple CarPlay, ventilated front seats, heated front and rear seats, a power moonroof, and all of the driver assistance features. The 6 is bigger, with a larger trunk and more rear-passenger space, but lacks the precision of the newest Mazda 3. It's still fun to drive, though. There's only one problem - the Mazda 6 is soon to be discontinued in the US, so if you've had your eyes on one and been putting the decision off, this might be your last chance.

See Mazda 6 Sedan Review

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