Both Chevy and Mazda are brands that tend to inspire fierce loyalty in their buyers. Each brand touts the strengths of their respective models over all others. In the family hatchback market, however, regardless of the brand. There are lots of competitors and plenty of buyers who want a great deal. Both the Cruze and the 3 offer a sophisticated ride and plenty of great features that elevate the hatchback market way beyond our nostalgic memories of a Pinto or a Gremlin. However, there are high points and weaknesses for each which are worth nothing by any prospective buyer.
Which model has the most powerful engine?
For fans, the draw of Mazda is how much fun it is to drive (its slogan is "zoom zoom," after all). Sport models are equipped with a 2.0-liter engine, and higher trims get up to 2.5 liters, with the former delivering 155 hp and 150 lb-ft and the latter topping out at 184 hp and 185 lb-ft. That may not stack up with some of the turbo hatch engines out there but does a respectable job of straightening out the drive. And it's smooth all the way through, The 1.4-liter engine on the baseline Chevy Cruze leaves much to be desired, and the 153 hp doesn't give drivers a great amount of oomph. If you're driving to and from work, you might not notice, but if you're looking to do a little road tripping now and then, you might start to feel the lack of power. However, the Cruze is set to unveil a turbodiesel inline-4 option, which will likely push the Chevy way above the Mazda. Without the diesel, however, it's got to be advantage Mazda.
What about safety features?
The Mazda comes ready with a load of safety features that have become something of an unspoken standard for new car buyers. The IIHS marked it as a Top Safety + pick, and Touring and Grand Touring models come standard with blind spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert as well as forward collision warning with low-speed auto emergency braking. Safety features such as active lane control and automatic headlights are also available, giving the 3 a real edge for its price point. The Cruze comes standard with available airbags and stability control, and safety packages with forward collision warning, blind spot warning, and rear park assist are available. However, the Cruze is missing adaptive cruise control and auto emergency braking, which are pretty glaring omissions in the current market. Once again, advantage Mazda.
Who wins on fuel economy?
Both cars are unsurprisingly good on fuel economy, with the Cruze rated at 30/40/34 mpg and the Mazda right behind it at 28/37/32 mpg. Small cars designed for commuters are meant to give good value at the gas pump, so the numbers here are no surprise. The Mazda manages to achieve these numbers without a hybrid or turbodiesel engine, and both their engine models run on high compression ratio and don't require premium gasoline with direct injection. The lighter weight of the car helps out as well, along with the variable valve timing. However, the Cruze does have a turbodiesel model in the offering, and that's likely to up their numbers pretty significantly, pushing their combined numbers well into the 40's. That, combined with the fact that the Cruze gets better mileage already with a larger cabin, makes this category a win for Chevy.
How about tech and infotainment features?
Mazda offers a fair bit within the 3, with 16-inch wheels, keyless ignition, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel mounted stereo controls, internet radio streaming and a 7.0-inch touchscreen for its infotainment system. However, the Mazda CONNECT infotainment system doesn't go much further towards really meeting the tech needs of many new car buyers, and it can be frustrating to use. The Chevy Cruze offers a six-speaker satellite radio with Apple Car Play and Android Auto available, and if you go on for the sound bundle upgrade, you'll get an 8.0-inch touchscreen, a color LCD instrument cluster display, and a nine-speaker Bose audio system. Plus, the Cruze has an available OnStar and 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, which the 3 doesn't offer on any models. If you're looking for a car that's heavier on infotainment and really prioritizes sound, the Cruze is the clear winner.
Who's got the edge on the interior cabin?
The Mazda 3 has an interior that suggests a car above its price range, with high-quality materials and sound insulation which give the 3 the feeling of a higher grade sedan while you're driving it. However, the seats are not astoundingly comfortable, and there isn't much space in the hatchback model. The Cruze has a surprising amount of interior cabin space, so much so that it might even be considered a mid-sized car if you were judging by measurements alone. The rear has more space than almost any other car in its class: the hatch has 23.7 cubic feet in the rear, and with the seats down that goes up to more than 47 feet. While there's a lot to be said for the more streamlined looks of the 3, the interior space makes this one a victory for the Cruze.
How about exterior looks?
The Cruze has undergone some serious upgrades in its exterior styling, and the hatch borrows a lot from its sedan fleet mates. It's only real deviation from the sedan look is indeed the rear hatch, making it look nearly identical from the front. But this poses a bit of a problem because it can look like the Cruze is two different cars, depending on your angle. The 3 has also undergone a facelift, but this one works out a little better for Mazda, as a wider, deeper grille and recessed windshield pillars give it a clean, polished look that borrows more from sports sedans like Audi or Volvo, and succeeds in giving the 3 an understated yet sporty look. Beauty may be only skin deep, but at this pageant, the Mazda 3 comes in first place.