Tested: 2016 Mazda3 Five-Door

My buddy Dave has driven the same, busted-down 2003 Ford Focus for the last decade. He’s both a grownup and a professional now, and his trusty rust bucket has got to go. Far from a car guy, Dave really only knows that he wants a hatchback and a compact form factor. He’s a designer by trade, so I figured that, when advising him on the matter, something that was shapely might win out over something that perfectly suited his needs.

During Dave’s protracted decision-making process (he’s not a fast man), it was convenient that I had a 2016 Mazda3 five-door scheduled for a week-long test. The 3 and the Subaru Impreza were high on his list of candidates, and it was interesting for me to look at the car through the eyes of a potential buyer.

Pros:

  • Styling is a big draw for the Mazda3. If you really have to have a hatchback the current Ford Focus is also quite attractive, as is Hyundai’s Elantra GT, though I prefer Mazda’s interior treatment to both. Other options are more polarizing, in the forms of the new Scion iM and the lovable-but-homely Impreza. Dave cleared liked the looks of the Mazda the best, overall.
  • This is a terrific-handling small car. I grew up on front-drive Hondas and Nissans that traded “momentum” thrills for outright power, and Mazda seems to be the one current automaker that believes in that strategy. Throwing the 3 from one bend to the next is always rewarding, with flat cornering and super-quick turn-in the prize for aggressive drivers. Light steering effort is...