The Mazda3 has become a favorite around the AutoGuide office.
With attractive styling, a ton of options and a high safety rating, the Mazda3 is great all-around compact car. The fact it’s also fun to drive is just icing on KODO-designed cake.
We liked it so much the Mazda3 won the AutoGuide.com car of the year award in 2014. So let’s just end the article here and give the win to Mazda, right?
Not so fast.
Kia thinks the recently refreshed Forte can give the Mazda3 a serious run for its money.
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For 2014, the Forte received a substantial refresh that fixed a lot of the second-generation model’s design flaws. This makes the Forte one of the most stylish compact cars on the market.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Mazda3 vs 2015 Volkswagen Golf
The problem is, for 2014, the Mazda3 also received a new design and is arguably the best looking compact car on sale today. Measuring four inches longer than the Kia Forte5, the Mazda3 hatchback features better proportions and has a more futuristic look.
If Driving Matters
And while we’re singing the praises of the Mazda3, we might as well discuss handling and ride control. The Mazda offers some of the sharpest handling and most engaging driving dynamics you can ask for from a consumer-focused, front-wheel-drive compact car. The chassis is especially stiff and well balanced, which means it’s a lot of fun to drive hard.
The Forte5 can be fun as well, though. Despite suffering from numb steering and a suspension that lets the body pitch and roll, it’s a very predictable car to drive and easy to manipulate weight transfer while cornering.
Power vs. Efficiency
For this comparison, both cars came equipped with 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. The Forte5’s engine makes a healthy 173 HP and 154 lb-ft. of torque, which is a fair bit more than the Mazda’s 155 HP and 150 lb-ft. It’s true that Mazda offers a more powerful 185 HP 2.5-liter engine, but Kia can trump that with the Forte5’s optional 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that unleashes 201 HP.
Weighing roughly the same, the Kia obviously feels faster than the Mazda. This is compounded by a six-speed automatic transmission in the Mazda3 that is a bit reluctant to downshift at times, all in the name of fuel economy.
But it does work in making the Mazda3 more efficient. Officially rated at 30 mpg city and 41 mpg highway, the Mazda3 appears to sip fuel compared to the thirstier Forte5 that’s rated at 25 mpg city and 33 mpg. In our real-world testing, however, the gap between the two shrank as the Forte5’s observed average of 31.4 mpg wasn’t that far off of the Mazda’s 33.6 mpg average.
The View From Inside
Like the exterior, the Mazda3’s interior is one of the best looking in its class. Although the protruding infotainment screen is still a source of controversy, the rest of the interior’s design, materials and execution are superb. Kia does offer a well-put-together interior as well, but only on higher trimmed versions of the Forte5. Stick with a more basic Forte, and the interior feels a bit dated.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Kia Forte5 vs 2015 Honda Civic
In the past, we’ve found that the Mazda3’s front seats don’t fit all body types and heights. Short passengers can struggle with a higher dashboard and concave seat design. In the Forte5, this isn’t an issue, as a low-set dashboard and squishy seat are accommodating to people of all shapes and sizes.
|Vehicle||2015 Kia Forte5||Advantage||2015 Mazda3|
|Engine (as tested)||2.0 L four-cylinder||-||2.0 L four-cylinder|
|Horsepower||173 HP||Forte5||155 HP|
|Torque||154 lb-ft.||Forte5||150 lb-ft.|
|Weight||2,820-3,122 lbs.||Mazda3||2,851-3,016 lbs|
|Cargo Space||13.3-23.2 cubic feet||Forte5||12.4-20.2 cubic feet|
|Fuel Economy (US)||25 MPG city, 33 MPG hwy||Mazda3||30 MPG city, 41 MPG hwy|
|Fuel Economy (CDN)||9.5 L/100 km city, 7.2 L/100||Mazda3||7.9 L/100 km city, 5.7 km hwy L/100 km hwy|
|Observed Fuel Economy||31.4 MPG||Mazda3||33.6 MPG|
|Top Trim Price(US)||$28,170||Forte5||$33,250|
|Top Trim Price(CDN)||$30,480||Forte5||$32,990|
Although the Forte5 has a softer suspension setup, it doesn’t mean it’s a more comfortable ride. The Mazda does such a great job in soaking up the bumps in the road while also giving the 3 incredibly quick reflexes.
Kia and Mazda both offer a ton of features not usually found in compact cars. In the Forte, comfort niceties like a ventilated driver’s seat, cooled glove box, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats are available.
Mazda counters with a host of driving and safety technology like adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. Plus, fully loaded models with the larger engine can be had with Mazda’s fuel-saving i-Eloop regenerative braking system.
Space and Cargo
Since both vehicles are hatchbacks, they offer plenty of cargo space. Kia does hold the advantage by offering 23.2 cubic feet of cargo space compared to the Mazda’s 20.2 cubic feet.
Rear seat legroom is a virtual tie, but comfort is not. The Forte5 holds an advantage here as well with more usable headroom and a cushier seat bottom. The Mazda3 isn’t bad, but it’s more compromised than the Kia.
The Value Equation
Mazda’s hatchback is technically less expensive to start than the Forte5, but that’s because it starts with a manual gearbox. They actually start at almost exactly the same price at just under $21,000 after delivery with an automatic.
The real question here is how you define value. We found that the Mazda3 has a better appointed interior, achieves a higher safety rating according to the IIHS and is easier on gas. Kia’s thirstier, less engaging competitor is more comfortable and comes with more features for the money plus Kia’s excellent warranty. But the interior materials and design leave something to be desired.
The Verdict: 2015 Kia Forte5 vs 2015 Mazda3
Even if the Mazda3 offers less cargo capacity, a tighter rear seat and less power, we still prefer it over the Kia Forte. It’s not just the superior driving dynamics that won us over, either. With better real-world fuel efficiency, a better safety rating, more safety equipment as well as a more premium feeling throughout, the Kia Forte5 just isn’t as compelling a compact offering as the Mazda3.
2015 Kia Forte5