Adam Barrera at highmileage.org evaluates the Mazda 3i and Kia Forte SX compact sedans, pits them head-to-head, and places them in the context of their competition. Let me know what you think -- start a conversation with me on Twitter. http://twitter.com/highmileage
The first Mazda3 was a Great Little Car! It would've been the best among its peers...
if it hadn't trailed the Ford Focus by 8 miles per gallon.
Time has passed, and the 3 has evolved... but it faces new competition.
The Kia Forte is the first Korean compact car engineered to be at the top of shoppers' lists...
instead of a second-tier alternative.
Tedious automotive clichés mean that some compact car buyers will bypass
these cars altogether on their way to Honda and Toyota showrooms.
What a bummer.
The Forte feels as solidly built as any Civic or Corolla,
and it's backed by a longer warranty.
Inside the Forte, there are no positive or negative surprises
just a well-crafted and inoffensively designed interior
with slightly more passenger room and cargo volume than its main competition.
The new Mazda3's interior lies on the same plane.
The last-generation 3's deep, dramatic gauge lighting is gone.
Also gone is the eye-catching contrast-check upholstery that used to set this car apart in the segment.
In the New 3, drivers sit in a vast expanse of unaccented cloth.
Thankfully, the head unit's reactive LEDs have been retained.
They're the only design element that saves the 3's interior from monotony.
On the road, both vehicles bring memories of a better time
when '90s compacts were light and fun to toss.
Kia has never built a vehicle as dialed in as the Forte.
Its above-average reflexes seem held back only by its tires.
But where the Kia surprises, the Mazda thrills.
At Mazda, Zoom-Zoom isn't a marketing slogan
it's an engineering guideline.
Not a single bushing drowns out the base 3's connection to the road.
The 3 is still *so* fun to drive,
but its interior has become marginalized and severe.
Without an interior edge, the only parameter that makes the Mazda3
more desirable than the Kia Forte is the way that it drives.
If Kia sharpened the Forte's steering and suspension, Mazda could have a problem.
But for now, the Mazda delivers a complete package:
competitive fuel economy, declarative sheetmetal, and soulful road feel.
Both cars are more engaging than the Toyota Corolla
and more rationally priced than the Honda Civic.