2023 Toyota Corolla vs. 2023 Mazda3: Which New Car Under $25,000 Is the Most Fuel-Efficient?

People buy small cars because of their compact size and good fuel economy. Other features are important, like the interior room, infotainment system, and ride comfort, but fuel economy is usually at the top of the list. The 2023 Toyota Corolla and 2023 Mazda3 are two popular small cars you can buy new for under $25,000. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but if you had to pick one on gas mileage alone, which one would win?  

The 2023 Toyota Corolla Has a Hybrid Option

A blue 2023 Toyota Corolla Hatch Hybrid is shown in full left side view with a wide foreground.
2023 Toyota Corolla Hatch Hybrid | Toyota

Toyota offers the Corolla with a hybrid option, which starts at just over $24,000. The Corolla Hybrid has a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine that produces 121 horsepower and is mated to a CVT transmission and electric motor.  

According to the EPA, it gets 53 mpg in the city and 52 mpg on the highway for a combined fuel economy rating of 52 mpg. This gives it 593 miles of range on a tank of gas and an estimated annual fuel cost of $1,050. 

The Non-Hybrid Toyota Corolla Still Gets Better Mileage Than the Mazda3  

The non-hybrid Toyota Corolla is no slouch in the gas mileage department. All trim levels get the 169 horsepower 2.0-liter that can be coupled to a CVT automatic transmission or six-speed manual. 

The manual transmission-equipped Corolla gets 29 mpg in town and up to 39 mpg on the highway for a combined rating of 33 mpg. The CVT gets slightly better ratings, with 32 mpg in town and 41 mpg on the highway for a combination of 35 mpg. Even the lowest-rated Corolla has an estimated range of 409 miles on a take of gas. Average estimated annual fuel costs are between $1,550 and $1,750. 

The 2023 Mazda3 

The Mazda3 is also fuel efficient with its 2.0-liter four-cylinder and automatic transmission. It gets 28 mpg in town and up to 36 mpg on the highway for a combined 32-mpg rating. The range is estimated at up to 409 miles with an average annual fuel cost of $1,750.

Unlike the Corolla, the 2023 Mazda3 can also be equipped with a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s definitely the performance choice of the group but pays a penalty in fuel mileage. Rating 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway give it a combined average of 26 mpg. The estimated range drops to 330 miles while the average annual fuel price jumps to $2,100.

RELATED: 2023 Toyota Corolla Beats 2023 Nissan Sentra in Many Key Areas

Which of these small cars should you choose?

If fuel economy is one of your top criteria, the Corolla Hybrid takes first place, with the regular Corolla as the runner-up. The regular Corolla gets a very respectable 33 to 35 mpg combined without resorting to any trickery. As for the hybrid, its fuel economy is in the range of the Toyota Prius. Both cars start under $25,000 and will give you years of cheap, miserly service. 

However, if your wants fall between fuel economy and fun to drive, the Mazda3 is hard to beat. Few cars feel as upscale and are as fun to drive as the Mazda3, which pulls off the feat of behaving like a four-door MX-5 Miata. The tradeoff is you’ll spend $200 to $350 more a year at the pump. But the Mazda3 delivers more smiles per mile than the Corolla.