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The fast lines and athletic stance of the Mazda3 convey this compact is a driver’s car. After spending significant time helming the Mazda3 Grand Touring model, it can be said it drives just as sporty as it looks.

In addition to the features found on the lessor equipped Touring trim, the Grand Touring model features auto on/off bi-xenon adaptive headlights, LED combination taillights, LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink®, and perforated leather-trimmed seats.

The “sporty appearance backed by performance” theme continues inside the vehicle. A beefy leather-wrapped steering wheel has a substantial hand, while the front seats feature aggressive side bolstering nearing those found in more expensive European cars.

Probably the coolest “wow” feature that comes standard on all Mazda3 trim levels is the Active Driving Display. According to Mazda, “This clear pop-up panel is vertically mounted behind the meter hood to deliver vehicle speed, navigational directions and other related driving information safely within the driver’s line of sight.” If you’ve seen heads-up display in pricier brands, then you understand how cool this feature is from a safety perspective.

Equipment like blind spot monitoring and crash avoidance are just some of the Technology package features you can get on the Grand Touring trim level.

The MAZDA CONNECT infotainment system is simple and a pleasure to use. An intuitive, 7-inch touch screen sits atop the center stack, with a jog wheel located on the center console capable of controlling the system. Bluetooth streaming is further enhanced by a full suite of apps, not limited to favorites such as Aha, Pandora and Stitcher.

The Mazda3 is in a competitive segment. Sparring with the likes of models from Hyundai and Toyota, you might wonder what makes this auto different. The answer? Handling.

If you’re a driver—you know, the kind of person who goes out for a jaunt when you want to relax—then this is the car to consider. Want a manual transmission? Awesome. Mazda has you covered with a light clutch and gear stick that endear themselves to everyday livability. The car’s adeptness at negotiating uneven S-turns handedly build confidence. A compliant, yet just stiff enough, rear multi-link suspension assists with soaking up bumps and accelerating past encroaching big rigs. It does it all with not two, but four doors and ample cargo room.

For good reason, it’s no secret the newer Mazda vehicles are a favorite by many automotive journalists across the U.S. The compact is an enthusiastic drive and possible to obtain on a scribe’s budget. Are there other six-speeds you can obtain for around the same price point with comparable content? Sure. But none of them are both this fun and practical to drive.

Pricing: Visit NADAguides.com