Parents looking for an affordable, safe and stylish car for their young student drivers should check out the Mazda3, according to Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com. The auto-information provider recently released its 10 Best Back-to-School Cars of 2012, highlighting the 2012 Mazda3 for its roomy interior, stylish exterior, impressive safety features and affordable price.

All vehicles on the 10 Best Back-to-School Cars list had to be available for under $16,000, according to Kelley Blue Book’s Fair Purchase Price, and the Mazda3 was honored by kbb.com for offering versatility that belies its compact proportions. With the back seats folded flat, the five-door hatchback model offers 42.8 cubic-feet of cargo space, enough room to help make moving into a dorm room a little easier. Meanwhile, students can save more of the money that they’ve earned during summer vacation with the Mazda3′s fuel-efficient engine options, including a SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder powerplant that returns up to 40 mpg on the highway in the sedan model.

“The Mazda3 is a perfect car for students because it returns great fuel efficiency while remaining a whole lot of fun to drive,” said Jeanette Downing, general manager of Goodwin Mazda, a Brunswick, Maine Mazda dealer. “Those are characteristics that Mazda carries across its entire lineup, whether you’re looking at the Mazda3 or a new crossover like the CX-5.”

Mazda’s efforts to improve fuel efficiency without losing fun driving dynamics are largely centered on trimming the fat. According to Automotive News, the automaker has set a goal of eliminating at least 220 pounds from each model that it redesigns, a lofty mark considering that many of its vehicles already have trim beltlines. Consumers can see an early result of Mazda’s moves to reduce weight in the all-new 2013 Mazda CX-5 compact crossover, which is as much as 575 pounds lighter than the similarly sized Mazda CX-7 that it is replacing.

The secret to that significant weight loss is Mazda’s new SKYACTIV technology, which uses cutting-edge materials and forward thinking to improve the efficiency of everything from drivetrain designs to chassis construction. In the CX-5, engineers used ultra-high tensile steel wherever possible to maintain crash protection while dropping pounds, and they even considered small details like using bolts that were 8 grams lighter. Minor weight cuts like that added up to ounces and, eventually, pounds, resulting in a lightweight crossover that can return up to 35 mpg on the highway.

Stripping away weight didn’t mean cutting out high-tech features in the CX-5 though, as it is still available with all the technologies that Mazda drivers have come to expect. Push-button start, a USB port and an aux input jack all come standard, while options like Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and a TomTom navigation system allow for streaming audio and voice-activated directions. When it comes to boosting the safety provided by the Mazda CX-5′s rigid chassis, passengers can take comfort in the standard front air bags, front side-impact air bags and side-impact air curtains for both the front and back seats.

“Mazda refused to compromise when it built the CX-5, whether you look at the vehicle’s flowing style, impressive fuel efficiency or comprehensive safety features,” Downing noted. “Car buyers can expect to see more of the same from Mazda as it rolls out more lightweight models in the near future.”