The Mazda3 is an aspirational premium compact that competes with stalwarts in the segment while chasing near-luxury offerings. Available as a four-door hatchback and sedan, the Mazda3 offers a sporty driving experience with an interior that is unmatched in its class. With prices ranging from $22,550 for the base model (2.5 S sedan) to $35,300 for the top-of-the-line 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus hatchback with AWD, the Mazda3 may find itself at comparable prices to larger sedans—think of it as a compact with near-luxury moves and you wouldn’t be far off. Our evaluation will focus primarily on the top-of-the-line 2023 Mazda3 hatchback.
The Mazda3, both in current and past incarnations, has exhibited spiffy styling that has made it among the better-looking compacts in the American market. The latest Mazda3 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus hatchback takes that a step further within the 3 series by adding an aggressive front air dam with air guides, along with a more pronounced rear hatch spoiler. Complementing the look is a set of black 18-inch alloy wheels, which happen to be standard across several of the higher trim levels. Common among Mazdas — something that the brand has been exploiting for several years already — is that the hues can be quite stunning, especially for its class; the gorgeous Soul Red Crystal metallic of our test car may be purely cosmetic, but it elicited positive comments from random strangers wherever you go. Another feature that also seems to reflect upscale aspirations are the adaptive headlights. While driving, the headlights swivel up to 15 degrees based on steering input to light the road ahead. If you want to amuse yourself, you can start the car while facing a wall and watch the adaptive headlights wiggle.
Like other Mazda models, the interior is where the Mazda3 truly shines thanks to a stylish and functional interior with premium materials that stands out from others at this price point. My favorite features of the interior were the plush, comfy armrests, center console, and steering wheel. Unto themselves, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy, but if you imagine the sum being greater than its parts, it explains how together they add to the driving experience. Considering how much time you spend in your car, which goes a long way considering there are other cars with the same mix of features, yet those features don’t often work in harmony to a driver’s benefit. I truly appreciate the simplicity of the center console controls (despite Mazda’s steadfast resolve to keep the rotary control knob for the infotainment display) that seem to be a Mazda trademark.
Power in our test car comes from a Skyactiv-G 2.5 Turbo 4-cylinder generating 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque with 87 octane fuel. This engine offers a unique party trick when 93 octane (or higher) is used: the Mazda will remap itself to produce 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. Having the option for more performance is always nice but, for those of us living on the West Coast, there are not many gas stations offering anything higher than 91 octane. As such, the opportunity to take advantage of this may vary based on where you live and, of course, the size of your wallet. By choosing the turbo engine, Mazda forces you into a drivetrain combination that features all-wheel-drive and a six-speed automatic transmission — sorry, no manual with forced induction. That combination gives the turbo-powered Mazda3 a 0-60 time of 6.4 seconds according to Motor Trend, which is faster than competitors like the new Acura Integra. Car and Driver achieved a much more brisk 5.6 seconds — why the difference? Considering Motor Trend is based in California, it may simply be an issue of octane. Though Mazda hasn’t produced the Mazdaspeed3 in 10 years, let’s pretend the current turbo Mazda3 is the same car but has been hazed by a fraternity, graduated from college, has spent two years as an accountant, and has a steady significant other.
The Mazda3 has varying economy figures based on drivetrain options (normally-aspirated or turbo, six-speed manual or automatic, and FWD or AWD), though cylinder deactivation certainly helps all variants. Of course, normally-aspirated front-wheel drive models achieve the best fuel economy figures but, for our particular vehicle, the EPA rates the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus with AWD at 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, with 26 of combined driving. During our time driving around metropolitan Phoenix, we achieved no less than 24 mpg in aggressive, mixed driving.
Driving the Mazda 3 offers a rewarding driving experience for enthusiasts and commuters alike. All of the aforementioned benefits of the interior are immediately apparent upon climbing into the vehicle and going out for a long drive. The Active Driving Display, which is included in higher trim levels, shows speed, speed limit, navigation guidance (when equipped with navigation), and a host of alerts as part of Mazda’s suite of safety features. Easy access to the center console controls makes keeping your eyes on the road a cinch. The steering in Mazdas — even non-performance models — feels more interactive and exciting than the competition’s, and the Mazda3 is no exception. With the turbo, you have brisk pick-up plus the traction advantage of AWD. The latter will induce some understeer in high-speed cornering track environments but will not be noticeable in most normal driving situations.
The Mazda 3 is high on the list of most comfortable and ergonomic cars you can buy at this price point. Good looks and performance (at least with the turbo models) never go out of style though we wish, as enthusiasts, a manual was not restricted to normally-aspirated models (if not AWD models). Of course, you can opt for a non-turbo variant if you want the stick and don’t mind driving in the slow lane. Ultimately, you will need to check out the Mazda3 in person to determine if the driving experience, size, and ergonomics are a love match for you.