As the 2014 Mazda3 nears the end of its Four Seasons test, a few members of our editorial staff have mentioned that it's going to be a sad day when we have to say goodbye to the trusty hatchback. What's perhaps more remarkable is that we're thinking twice about a mainstream compact car with an automatic gearbox. Aren't these cars supposed to be boring?

Many friends and relatives come knocking on our door when it comes time for them to buy a new car, and a good chunk of them are in the market for a mainstream compact. We've been eager to recommend the 2014 Mazda3 because after almost 20,000 miles in our hands, it remains as fun to drive, user-friendly, and efficient as the day we took delivery.

Associate web editor Joey Capparella loves the car's slightly stiffer suspension and nimble dynamics, but notes that these elements don't come at the expense of ride quality. “This car’s ride-handling balance is superb,” he says. “There’s a brief stretch of cobblestone road just before I reach my house, and on it the Mazda3 remains totally composed. The impacts from the uneven surface are well damped thanks to good shock tuning. There’s no floatiness, and over bigger dips there’s hardly any rebound.”

Capparella has made his case for the Mazda to his own mother, who is in the market to replace her 2006 Toyota Prius. After a test drive, she found the Mazda3 to be a natural fit. With its strong fuel economy, available manual transmission, and user-friendly interface, the Mazda is at the top of her shopping list

Our colleague and officemate Stephanie Damron was so impressed with our 2014 Mazda3 that she went out and bought herself a 2.0-liter Sport hatchback. “It's so much zippier and more fun than my old Nissan Sentra,” Damron gushed. “Plus, I love how it looks like an egg. I named him Ned!”

Damron's 2014 Mazda3 is more modestly equipped than our test car, which features heated leatherette seating surfaces with red stitching, blind-spot warning, a rear-view camera, and a navigation-capable infotainment system, but a quick spin behind the wheel reveals that they're indeed cut from the same cloth. Whether you're shopping at the more affordable end of the spectrum and are interested in something that's reliable and enjoyable to commute in, or if you're looking for a fully loaded compact with impressive efficiency, the Mazda3 fits the bill.

Aside from a few minor bugs in the infotainment system earlier in the year, the little 2014 Mazda3 has handled our Four Seasons test like a champ. Our most recent trip to the dealer revealed no red flags whatsoever—the multipoint inspection, tire rotation, and new engine oil filter, gasket, and oil change ran us $88.34 in parts and labor.

That’s just the kind of uneventful service visit we like to see, particularly on a car we’ve been recommending heavily.

BODY STYLE5-door hatchback

ACCOMMODATION5-passenger

CONSTRUCTIONSteel unibody

BASE PRICE (WITH DEST.)$25,890

AS TESTED$26,185

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