Mazda has long had a reputation for building vehicles that are fun to drive. From the Miata to the CX-5, Mazdas have historically offered higher levels of engagement compared to their rivals. Since its introduction in the early 2000s, the Mazda3 has been a compelling choice for driving enthusiasts; a compact sedan or hatchback that offered sporty handling and communicative steering in a class not known for driving excitement.
Carrying the torch as the successor to the Protégé (which replaced the 323), the Mazda3 offered a compelling blend of affordability, fun, well-built interior and versatility. When it first arrived for the 2004 model year, we praised it for its confidence-inspiring driving dynamics. “This isn’t distressed merchandise you must settle for; it’s a right-size rocket you’ll want to drive,” we said back in 2004. There was even a 263-hp Mazdaspeed3 variant complete with a six-speed manual to lure in enthusiasts looking for the hottest of hot hatches.
Now in its fourth generation, the Mazda3 remains one of the most engaging compact cars you can buy and is now available with all-wheel drive. However, it’s no longer alone; Hyundai and Kia have sporty versions of the Elantra and Forte, the Honda Civic has gotten its mojo back, and the Toyota Corolla’s handling has improved in a bid to shed its merely-an-appliance image. The fourth-generation Mazda3 recently went on sale, and it points the model in a new direction that’s consistent with Mazda’s premium ambitions. Take a look at how the Mazda3 has evolved through the years in the photo galleries below.
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