For the fourth time in a row, the Mazda3 has taken the No. 1 spot on Kelley Blue Book s 10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000. The compact car has appeared on s annual affordable cool cars list every year since the car s inception 14 years ago. Metro News Service

Mazda3: Different looks for different folks

Look! Out in the lot! It’s a sedan! It’s a hatchback! It’s … the Mazda3!

OK, maybe the excitement of seeing this compact car isn’t going to be as theatrical as coming across Superman, but in the Mazda lineup the 3 does carry significant punch. To find out what is going on with the 2017 model, former Wheels editors Jimmy Dinsmore and Dave Mikesell recently took the 4 doors on a couple of week-long tests.

DAVE: I don’t know about Jimmy, but I have a friend … pause for effect. End pause. This friend swears by the Mazda sedan. He drives a lot of miles and he enjoys the reliability and raves about the gas mileage, which the EPA rates at up to 32 mpg combined city and highway depending on the engine (155-horsepower 2.0-liter and 184-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinders are offered) and transmission (6-speed manual or automatic). They are little engines that can. But can they move Jimmy?

JIMMY: Dave, I always appreciate when cars have distinction, whether in looks or in the way they drive. In this case, the Mazda3 has both. All Mazdas drive a certain way. Each one feels slightly peppier than the numbers dictate. That’s certainly a good thing. In the case of the Mazda3 it has an exciting engine, which is surprising from a non-turbo four-banger. Dave drove the six-speed manual, which is standard and would certainly make enthusiasts happy. I drove the optional six-speed automatic and it handled the shifts adequately. In the compact car segment, there’s a lot of sloth-like cars, and it’s refreshing to have a car like the Mazda3 that can be both purposeful and enjoyable.

Car Talk: Why do the pros tighten everything so tight?

DAVE: Although the sedan is nearly five inches longer than the hatchback, the space seems mostly used for visual impression with a longish hood leading a windswept look over the rest of the car from the windshield to the roofline. Where the sedan differs from the hatchback most is in cargo space with only 12.4 cubic feet in the trunk versus 20.2 cubic feet in the back of the hatch. The rear seat does fold down in a 60/40 split manner if needed.

JIMMY: Compact cars are not known for high-quality interiors and the Mazda3’s interior certainly surprises in this regard. There are high-quality materials throughout and the front seat has hugging comfortable seats with a great driver vantage point. There are almost no blind spots in the sedan version. The back seat is smaller than the new Civic, and that’s about the only drawback to the Mazda3 is that the rear legroom and headroom (in the sedan version) are limited. I’m a huge fan of hatchbacks in general, and I’ve seen the Mazda3 hatch; it’s quite sexy. My guess would be some of what I didn’t like about the back seat of the sedan would be resolved in the hatch.

DAVE: Mazda3s come in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims with base pricing beginning at $17,845. I drove a Grand Touring sedan, which features the larger engine among items on the base sticker of $23,145. Also, included specifically at this level are leather upholstery, sunroof, upgraded sound system, head-up display, digital speedometer, 18-inch alloy wheels and LED fog lights, among other items — a decent list for a decent price. I can see why it has its fans.

JIMMY: The Mazda3 is a great choice for those who want more than just a car to get them from Point A to Point B. This compact car seems to embrace the joy of driving. It’s peppy for a small engine and gets close to being exhilarating. In the compact car market, the Mazda3 is near the top in both appearance and drive performance. And when priced under $30,000, that makes it quite appealing.

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