The 2022 Mazda 3 Turbo Is An Anti-Hot Hatch In The Best Way Imaginable

2022 Mazda 3 Turbo Topshot

On the surface, the Mazda 3 Turbo is a bit confusing. A turbocharged engine and all-wheel-drive in a small hatchback should be a recipe for juvenile delinquency, but Mazda’s turning up its nose at Ken Block wannabes, instead marketing the Mazda 3 Turbo as a premium compact car. While it seemed like a strange move at first, Mazda’s premium pieces all seem to be falling into place. After all, Mazda announced its first crossover on a rear-wheel-drive architecture this year, signaling genuine ambition to steal sales from the Germans. Now that the future of Mazda seems clear, it feels like a good time to take stock in the present. That’s why I borrowed a 2022 Mazda 3 Turbo for a week of daily driving.

[Full disclosure: Mazda Canada graciously let me borrow this press car for a week, so long as I returned it with a full tank of fuel and wrote an article on it. I must say, there’s nothing quite like pushing that button for 93 octane gasoline after a week of driving.]

So, what answer am I looking to get from this anti-hot hatch? Well, it’s a two-part question. The first is a case of fun. Mazda used to be the Zoom Zoom automaker, so is this ridiculously torque-rich small car fun yet mature enough to tempt capacitive-touch haters away from a Volkswagen GTI? The second is a bit more broad. Can Mazda actually pull off a move upscale, or will the Japanese brand be stuck in the same purgatory plaguing Acura and Buick? Miller High Life may be the Champagne of beers, but you sure as hell don’t see Max Verstappen spraying a brewski on the podium. [Editor’s note: This Miller beer reference is a bit odd, but I’ll allow it. -DT]

What Makes It Tick?

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Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Let’s start with the Turbo part of the Mazda 3 Turbo. After all, when you’re aiming for the entry-level premium segment, you’ll need a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. This little compact car cranks out a very reasonable 250 horsepower (186 kW). That’s nine more horsepower than a Golf GTI, 29 more than a Mercedes-Benz CLA 250, and 22 more than a BMW 228i Gran Coupe. However, torque on tap is more than reasonable; Mazda’s turbocharged engine cranks out 320 lb.-ft. (434 Nm) of torque, an absolute tidal wave in this segment. That’s 25 lb.-ft. more than an Audi S3 or AMG CLA 35, and only 12 lb.-ft. shy of the BMW M235i Gran Coupe. That’s a diesel-like profile from a gasoline engine – how the hell did Mazda manage to make all that torque?

While tuning certainly plays a role in an engine’s power profile, Mazda’s turbocharged motor benefits from above average displacement. While the CLA 250, 228i Gran Coupe, and Volkswagen GTI all feature two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines, Mazda’s four-banger clocks in at 2.5 liters. An added half liter of displacement in a premium compact car may feel like cheating in beer league bowling, but the result isn’t exactly insignificant. All things being equal, more displacement will generally equal more torque — more air, more fuel, bigger bang. However, engines are so much more than their power figures. There’s a whole lot going on between when exhaust gas exits the cylinders and when compressed air enters the engine, and Mazda’s gone to great lengths to make its turbocharged engine feel responsive.

Below 1,620 rpm, a valve in the engine’s exhaust manifold restricts exhaust gas flow to the turbocharger, increasing exhaust gas velocity and spooling the turbo quickly. It’s a bit like switching a hose nozzle from shower to jet – you end up with much higher velocity and thus pressure, perfect for blasting away bird shit or really anything with significant resistance. Once engine speed reaches 1,620 rpm, the valve in the exhaust manifold opens for maximum flow. Pair the complexity of a valve with the scavenging properties of a short 4-3-1 exhaust manifold, shake and serve in a hurricane glass with a tiny little umbrella to effectively stamp out turbo lag. It’s certainly a bizarre method of aiding response, but this is Mazda so it should work brilliantly.

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Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Right, that’s the exhaust side sorted, what about the intake side? Well, air enters the filter through a snorkel that actually runs over and around the core support. It would’ve been so easy to draw air from the wheel well or the leading edge of the hood, but doing it properly ensures that noise attenuation measures can do their job and that air going into the turbocharger is actually cold. Once that air makes its way past the filter and gets compressed by the turbocharger, it leaves the turbocharger for the throttle body through a rigid plastic charge pipe, reinforced by some strategic ribbing.

Charge Pipe
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

The cylinder head sits to the left of the charge pipe, battery to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

Water To Air
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

So, we have 17.5 psi generating some serious heat, how are we going to cool the charge? An air-to-air intercooler seems like the cheap and easy solution, but Mazda isn’t about cheap and easy. How does a water-to-air intercooler integrated with the intake manifold sound? Complex, sure, but it’s fairly compact. A cool charge is fairly critical for preventing detonation; I bet water-to-air intercooling does a solid job of preventing heat-soak. Plus there are packaging advantages, as it can be a pain in the butt to run piping from the turbocharger out to the front of the cooling module.

[Editor’s Note: There are quite a few advantages of a water-cooled intercooler, despite the added weight/cost/complexity (you need a pump and bottle, plus two heat exchangers instead of one. Turbo lag mitigation is one of them (since the air doesn’t have to travel as far out of the turbo before entering the engine), launch performance is another, packaging (as Thomas noted) is yet another. You can read a little more about it here. -DT]

That charge air-cooling system mitigates lag by reducing air volume between the turbocharger and throttle body, and helps the Mazda’s boosted engine to make 310 lb.-ft. (420 Nm) of torque on regular 87-octane gas. Not bad.

So you could call the Mazda 3 Turbo’s engine is state of the art; but the same description wouldn’t be appropriate for the gearbox bolted to it. A six-speed automatic gearbox would’ve been fairly advanced when Fergie was still part of the Black Eyed Peas, but it just seems old for 2022.

It’s a bit of a shame, especially considering that Mazda already has a manual gearbox capable of harnessing the 2.5 Turbo’s torque. The Mk1 CX-5 was available with a manual behind a 2.2-liter turbodiesel engine making 310 lb.-ft. (420 Nm) of torque. Ah well. Hey, at least the automatic gearbox has a transmission cooler with a neat beehive-style adapter to manage transmission fluid temperature. [Editor’s note: I usually call this a “plate style” or “stack style” heat exchanger. It looks like it might use liquid coolant to keep transmission oil temperatures in check, possibly even heating the fluid to improve fuel economy shortly after startup. -DT]

Transmission Cooler Adapter
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

So the six-speed automatic gearbox is a touch outdated, but the Mazda 3 Turbo’s all-wheel-drive system is right up to date. While the all-wheel-drive system in the old CX-5 always sent at least 2 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels, the 3’s all-wheel-drive system can completely disconnect the rear axle for reduced parasitic drag. In the past, this sort of arrangement required the front wheels to slip before torque got shunted rearward, but this is the modern era. While 2019 and 2020 Mazda 3s with AWD monitor ambient air temperature and wiper use to shuffle torque proactively rather than reactively, new models including this Turbo take a simpler approach. See, the seventh-generation architecture’s vehicle dynamics model relies primarily on the G-sensor and yaw sensor to shuffle torque to whichever tires have the most traction before slip occurs, enhancing corner exit traction in dry conditions over the old system. Oh, and this all-wheel-drive system also does something interesting on corner entry.

See, an even front-to-rear torque split running through a clutch-type transfer case (or Power Transfer Unit) like the one on the Mazda 3 Turbo increases straight-line traction but can make it difficult for a car to turn. If you’ve ever locked a truck in 4WD and tried to go around a corner off-throttle, you know exactly what yaw damping feels like. Thankfully, Mazda’s thought of this.

As soon as the steering wheel on the 3 Turbo starts to turn, the all-wheel-drive system stops varying its torque split even if you’re on the throttle (without doing anything radical like decouple the transfer case clutch). Once the driver reaches the apex of a corner and starts unwinding the steering wheel, variable torque distribution resumes. As Mazda’s Vehicle Dynamics Manager Dave Coleman said, “This strategy gives more consistent turn-in response without compromising traction.”

Offset Diff
Front of vehicle to the left. Photo credit: Thomas Hundal.

Moving along to the rear end of the Mazda 3 Turbo, things take a turn for the weird. By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the torsion beam rear suspension on the latest Mazda 3. It’s a design compromise that’s much simpler than the outgoing car’s multi-link rear suspension and thus easier for Mazda’s engineers to tune, albeit at the sacrifice of some ride and handling perks like camber gain under compression and cross-axle isolation. What you may not have realized is how the rear differential is mounted pretty far behind the centerline of the rear wheels. Both CV shafts have to come forward to meet with the hubs — seems like a pretty odd arrangement.

Hood Seals
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Of course, a massive focus in developing this latest Mazda 3 was keeping things quiet on the inside. I mean come on, quietness is a key attribute of any premium vehicle. As such, Mazda’s focused on seals, padding, and air deflection like the final’s tomorrow.

The hood seal goes all the way around the hood, and it’s mounted on the body side for aesthetic purposes. It’s little touches like that which elevate a vehicle from good to nice. As for the wheel well liners, they’re plastic up front and a mix of plastic and felt out back. The felt rear wheel well liners extend roughly to the cut line for the rear bumper, at which point plastic takes over for the sake of durability. Smart. [Editor’s note: Fiber wheel-liners have become hot in the industry as NVH-mitigation measures. -DT].

Mazda 3 Turbo engine cover blanket
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Also smart: Check out the extent of sound damping blankets. Not only do they cover the firewall and hood, the underside of the engine cover has its own little sound reduction blanket to cut the harsh tick of direct fuel injectors doing their thing.

Abs Distribution Block
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Other things worth noting? The long dash-to-axle ratio Mazda’s become known for allows for unreal space around the master cylinder and ABS distribution block. Sure, they’re technically under the cowl, but look at all the room for activities! You could host a rugby match down there.

Engine Mount

Also cool, check out the beefy castings for the engine mounts. Mazda’s been using hydraulic-bushed engine mounts for more than a decade, but these seriously sturdy aluminum mounts look ripe to handle the torque of the turbo motor.

How Does It Look?

2023 Mazda 3 Turbo
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Well, tremendous if I’m being honest. Look, in a world of hideously overwrought grilles and enough character lines for five or six cars, Mazda has kept things simple and classy. A sloping line here, a relief there, and hey presto, a great-looking car. The 3 is no exception, especially in hatchback form. It reminds me a lot of the Alfa Romeo Brera, one of the prettiest cars of the 2000s. Fantastic haunches, a low and well-defined hoodline, minimalist styling and some neat old-school surfacing all put in serious work here.

Mazda 3 Turbo profile shot
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

It takes some serious effort to make a design with this many compound curves look as sharp as a tailored suit, but Mazda’s styling team has really pulled it off. A handful of sharp elements like the leading edge of the nose and the lower character line on the bodyside add a certain crispness, while compound curves stretch and squeeze the sheetmetal with fabulous tension. While I’d gladly swap the black alloy wheels for something less invisible, most details are very strong. I particularly love the rifling in the headlamps, properly complex bit of work that elevates each lamp to jewelry status.

2023 Mazda 3 Turbo Rear Three-Quarter View
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Moving farther back on the car, things get even better-looking. The Mazda’s C-pillar is enormous, although it’s also a bit of an optical illusion. The greenhouse tapers towards the rear, thickening up the pillar, while a single subtle sloping character line on the roof rail drives home a coupe-like roofline that doesn’t actually exist. Adding more drama to the C-pillar is its uninterrupted nature, a solid area of positive space from the wheel arch lip to the roof makes it look like there’s an enormous amount of tumblehome going on. The result is a bellissimo rear three-quarter view and a surprisingly practical cargo area.

How Does It Drive?

Everyone likes a Turbo emblem
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Right, let’s start with the engine. Would you like good news or bad news first? The bad news is that above 5,000 RPM, this thing just falls on its face like a scooter kid attempting a front flip for the first time. It’s pretty textbook for modern turbocharged four-cylinder engines and makes me yearn for the days when a turbo motor had no guts until 3,000 rpm, at which point all hell broke loose and it felt like you were rear-ended by a Shinkansen. Ride the wave to just shy of fuel cut, bangshift into third to keep things on the boil, widen your grin even more. Ah well, I guess that era’s well and truly over.

The good news is that this 2.5-liter turbocharged engine is absolutely prodigal from just off idle all the way through the midrange. From 1,700 rpm to 4,500 rpm you just get this immense surge of torque to the point where you don’t really care that you only get six gears to choose from. More importantly, the engine makes a buttery growl under load, think GTI but with the edges wet-sanded down with 3,000 grit. It’s Otis Redding in an Armani jacket. Fabulous.

Mazda 3 Turbo front end
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

What this means on the road is that the Mazda 3 Turbo is simply brilliant at overtaking. It doesn’t constantly fumble about trying to decide if sixth gear or seventh gear would best accomplish its goal, it just picks a damn gear, builds boost, and shoots 100 yards down the road without so much as a trace.

It reminds me so much of the old mid-2000s Saab 9-5 Aero, including the automatic gearbox’s mushy downshifts. Alright, maybe that’s a little unfair, but downshifts in manual mode aren’t any quicker than those from a well-calibrated 17-year-old ZF 6HP. Mazda’s automatic blows any CVT out of the water, but the dual-clutch transmissions and modern automatics proliferating the entry-level luxury segment are much more urgent.

How minimalist
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Simmer down a bit though, and another wonderful powertrain characteristic arises. Puttering about town is absolutely effortless. There’s no aggressive creep as you release the brake pedal like on many cars with dual-clutch transmissions, no aggressive transmission logic forcing the engine up into the midrange, the Mazda 3 Turbo simply loafs around between 1,200 and 2,200 rpm without a bother in the world. Lovely. Of course, all this torque comes with a cost. This thing guzzles harder than a college freshman with a fake ID on Thirsty Thursday. I saw 25 mpg (9.4 L/100km), a bit disappointing considering my highway-heavy driving mix.

As for the torsion beam rear suspension, it’s good but not perfect. Because a torsion beam is a rigid link between both rear wheels, an action on one wheel has an effect on the opposite wheel. As a result, potholes that would be craters in Europe and smooth road in Michigan are sometimes felt with both ass cheeks. Moreover, really rough patches of pavement can knock the rear end around a bit. What can I say, 60 percent of the time, the rear suspension works 100 percent of the time. Besides, there’s more to suspension than just geometry. The damping and spring rates are smooth and compliant without being floaty. No secondary body motions to reminisce, the 3 just takes a set, stays off the bump stops, and shrugs it off. Perfect.

Mazda 3 Turbo Front Left Corner
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

The front suspension tuning is even better, a pretty textbook case of how to set up a MacPherson strut suspension. The springs and dampers feel well-matched, and there’s surprisingly little roll. The steering’s quite good too. It’s not quite as feelsome as the outgoing Volkswagen GTI, but the odd wriggle of life makes its way up through the column from time to time. There’s still a little bit of road camber pull and the occasional light tug when one wheel hits a dip. More importantly, the weighting is absolutely lovely. It’s as steady on-center as an experienced tattoo artist and weight builds beautifully and linearly with steering angle. In fact, cornering is almost too beautiful.

See, Mazda has some software going on beneath the surface to smooth out drivers’ inputs. Called G-Vectoring Control Plus, this system on the 3 will microscopically manage weight transfer through actions like cutting a tiny bit of torque when you turn the steering wheel and brushing the brake on the outside front tire to settle things out of turns. It’s supposed to be invisible, but it doesn’t quite nail this goal. An experienced driver can occasionally feel that brushing of the brake just ever so slightly, mostly due to unexpectedly little front-to-rear corner exit weight transfer. Is G-Vectoring Control control plus bad? Hardly, although it can help an average driver feel a little bit smoother.

Mazda 3 Turbo Wheel And Tire
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Indeed, everything stays smooth and confident right up until the point where the tires’ sidewalls resign from the obnoxious business of rigidity. See, Mazda’s employed four Bridgestone Turanza EL440s to stick the Mazda 3 Turbo to the road and they simply aren’t great. The tread pattern isn’t particularly quiet and the sidewalls are super flexible. As a result, you hit sidewall roll very early if you’re chucking the Mazda 3 Turbo down an on-ramp, not the most confidence-inspiring feeling in the world. While Bridgestone may have brand equity, it would be nice to see something a little more stable like the Michelin Pilot Sport All Season 4 or Continental ExtremeContact DWS 06 Plus on this top-trim turbocharged model.

Exhaust Tip Air Deflector
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Performance is great and all, but quietness matters more when commuting. So how does Mazda’s newfound focus on NVH come into play here? Well, all the felt and seals and underbody aero seem to have done the trick. It’s not just quiet inside the Mazda 3, it’s dead silent. You could practice for an audition as a deathcore band’s vocalist inside this car and passing pedestrians wouldn’t hear a thing. It’s so quiet that at 60 mph, the only noise your brain can discern is how unbelievably bad the Bose stereo is. Hey, that’s not the worst problem to have.

[Editor’s Note: We here at The Autopian are pro-rear muffler air deflector (see the 3’s above), with the second-gen Nissan Rogue being our current king in this area. -DT]. 

What’s The Interior Like?

Mazda 3 Turbo Interior
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Well, my test car was specced with the black interior which, while a bit of a cave, is a great opportunity to get analytical. So, let’s dissect this cabin. The graining on the plastics isn’t quite as tight as that on an Audi A3, but everything has this nice satin sheen and there are loads of soft-touch materials at play. More importantly, the mix of materials isn’t dour. The steering wheel and shift knob are upholstered in smooth-grain leather like a posh wallet, the door speaker grilles are cold aluminum, the headliner is black as to not attract stains, and the armrests are covered in deep, sumptuous foam that’ll make most luxury car owners jealous.

Oh, and all of this is before I even get to the good part. Holy shit, the design inside this car is phenomenal. Every switch is artfully sculpted, the driver-focused air vent to the right of the gauge cluster feels very E36 3-Series, the screen is a nifty trapezoid, and the dashboard is built out of thick steak-cut layers, almost like the Simcoe WaveDeck on Toronto’s waterfront. It’s a bit tricky to get a true sense of the shapes going on in here from photos, so it’s definitely an interior worth checking out in person.

Mazda 3 Turbo dashboard
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Mind you, good interior design is often tempered by poor ergonomics. The inside of an Aston Martin Rapide may look tremendous, but you’d need toothpicks for fingers to operate any of the buttons on the center stack. Thankfully, Mazda has absolutely nailed usability in this thing. There’s no capacitive-touch anything, just well-weighted buttons and knobs. The HVAC controls have their own display, every single labeled switch is illuminated at night, the heated steering wheel switch is right next to the driver’s heated seat switch. It’s just a nice case of thoughtful, human-centric design. What’s not so nice is the super shiny black plastic on the center console. Between dust and fingerprints, piano black should be a no-go on any horizontal surface. To add insult to injury, one piano black panel was already scratched. Ouch.

Mazda 3 Turbo center console
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Some of the tech in this Mazda is really brilliant, but some of it is a bit frustrating. For instance, you can either view a digital speedometer or your average fuel economy in numerical value, not both at the same time. Oh sure, you do get a heads-up display as an option, but it’s a bit dim when viewed through polarized sunglasses. Thankfully, the knob-based infotainment system is marvelously minimalist. Tap right from the home screen to enter Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, where using Waze is a doddle.

In a few days, you’ll be able to flag speed traps and slowdowns without taking your eyes off of the road. Excellent. Right next to the infotainment controller is one of the best volume knobs I’ve experienced in a new car. It’s not milled from a solid chunk of Inconel or even as satisfying to twirl as the volume knob in a Lexus ES, but it jogs left and right to skip through audio tracks, a feature that’s worth its weight in myrrh.

Bose door speaker grille
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Honestly, the big tech let-down is the Bose stereo. As I mentioned before, it’s just plain bad. Sub-bass and kick drums bleed together into a series of sloppy thuds while the 10 kHz band is far too boosted, imbuing instruments like cymbals with an annoying sizzle. The 500 Hz band feels almost scooped, there’s just so little information from bass guitars or even low E-string notes on a six-string guitar getting through to the listener. It all adds up to a sound signature that’s not great for anything, be it the indie rock playfulness of Good Shoes or the crisp drums of Kid Cudi’s earlier tracks. Adding insult to injury, I’ve driven a mid-range CX-30 (basically a Mazda 3 crossover with cladding) with the standard eight-speaker audio system and found that with a few little equalizer tweaks, it was actually rather good.

Not a bad trunk, eh?
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

As for the boring practicality stuff, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Mazda 3 Turbo in hatchback form is about as versatile as a sack of potatoes. There’s plenty of space for my five-foot-eleven-inch frame to sit behind myself, although the tunnel for the driveshaft is quite high. Consider this hatchback a four-plus-one with the center rear seat only suitable for short trips. The lip for the cargo area is also annoyingly high, although there’s a tiny bit more space back there than a GTI with the seats up. Figure 20.1 cubic feet (569 L) to 19.9 (564 L). Front seat comfort is good, with solid lumbar support and bolstering. A touch more upper back support would be nice, but that’s just me. You might not be built quite as strangely as I am.

What’s The Verdict?

Mazda 3 Turbo rear end
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Is the Mazda 3 Turbo enough to tempt capacitive-touch haters out of their GTIs? Well, yes and no. It’s genuinely quick, has excellent damping, and the steering’s actually quite good, but the car’s lacking a certain rowdiness.

The GTI is fun because of the limited-slip diff and choice of quick dual-clutch transmission or manual gearbox. A touch of anti-social behavior in an otherwise sensible package. Weirdly, it’s a similar story with most of the Mazda 3 Turbo’s competitors. The Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 is no longer a turd, the current one has a nice interior to go with a snappy dual-clutch gearbox and blow-off valve noises louder than farting after getting a Brazilian wax. A five-door Mini Cooper S is an absolute riot, even if the iDrive wheel spins the wrong way. Compared to these rivals, the Mazda just lacks immediacy.

Mazda 3 Turbo front three-quarter view wheels straight
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

After everyone who’s driven a Mazdaspeed3 is done speedrunning the five stages of grief, they’ll find an astonishingly good car behind the weight of Mazda’s sport compact heritage. The Mazda 3 Turbo has absolutely nailed premium harder than a 10-pound sledgehammer driving a stake into Dracula’s heart. The interior is gorgeous, one of the best on the market under $50,000. Sure, a BMW 2-Series Gran Coupe may feature nicer materials, but the 3’s interior has design on lock. The infotainment is head-of-the-class – minimalist, fast, easy to use. So much less clunky than the trackpad-addled mess Mercedes calls MBUX and the tile-based iDrive 7 in the 2-Series Gran Coupe. Add in beautiful styling, a tidal wave of torque, and incredible noise control, and you get a fantastic picture of where Mazda’s headed.

Mazda 3 Turbo steering wheel switches
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

After a week in this exceptionally lovely hatchback, I have pretty high hopes for Mazda’s next big step. The fundamentals are all here, great design, superb quietness, and excellent attention to detail. Unlike Acura’s insistence on transverse platforms, Mazda’s investment in a dedicated rear-wheel-drive platform for larger vehicles bodes well for having customers take the brand’s premium aspirations seriously. Plus, there’s no entry-level marque using identical platforms to steal some thunder. Every piece of switchgear is purely Mazda, something that can’t be said for most Lexus products. So, if you’re looking to treat yourself to a posh small car, it’s worth taking a look at a loaded Mazda 3 Turbo. At $35,765 including a $1,015 freight fee ($38,500 including a $1,750 freight fee if you’re Canadian like me), it isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s pretty solid value compared to the German competition.

Who Should Buy One?

Mazda 3 Turbo front corner close-up
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

So, who should buy this car? I say: recent grads working in tech who don’t want to look like douchebags, empty-nesters with a flair for design, anyone who had Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as a ringtone, “treat yourself” thirty-somethings, soft-spoken bespectacled professional creatives, people who brunch hard and often, gracefully-aging hipsters.

Lead photo credit: Thomas Hundal

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78 Responses

  1. Great review for a great car.

    Traded up the gf’s Hyundai Elantra to a Mazda 3 Turbo and it is def not a hot hatch. I like to call it a bruiser, it’s a modern day turbo 4-cyl muscle car (heavy, torquey and straight line fast) with GT cruising sensibilities (quiet, comfortable, nice interior) all dressed up in hot-hatch clothes.

    I prefer my GTI for fun driving but the 3 is a near-perfect daily, biggest gripe is the moped sized gas tank Mazda stupidly used. If a aftermarket gas tank with more capacity ever popped up I would legit consider the mod.

  2. Great write up, exactly what I would hope for here. One unanswered question. From the article: “What you may not have realized is how the rear differential is mounted pretty far behind the centerline of the rear wheels. Both CV shafts have to come forward to meet with the hubs — seems like a pretty odd arrangement.” While this is an interesting observation, it begs for an explanation. Was this just a packaging decision, driven by the platform? Is there a suspension tuning reason? Or is it related to the AWD system? Seems like a missed opportunity to ask Mazda a question or two.

    1. Packaging hits the nail on the head. The forward edge of the torsion beam sits fairly tight to the trunk floor just behind the dip in the rear floor for the rear footwells, while the trailing edge of the torsion beam sits slightly above the nose of the rear differential. Pushing both the trunk floor and the torsion beam upward to make the diff sit square with the hubs would’ve compromised trunk space, so the current arrangement seems like the best practical compromise.

    1. It’s not brilliant but definitely not as bad as it seems from the outside. Mazda’s kept the interior C-pillar panels fairly flat which helps a lot. It’s not as good as GTI rear 3/4 visibility, but I wouldn’t call it much worse than on the outgoing Civic hatchback.

    2. Can’t comment on the hatch, but visibility was pretty reasonable out of the saloon model. I think the rear glass is bigger and the c-pillar is narrower. It’s still quite dark inside compared to the A-Class but I’m an engineer, so dark caves are kind of my jam.

    3. I agree. This has been my main issue with this generation. The engineering, as per Mazda design philosophy, has a;ways been above average in my estimation.

      But I have this weird desire to see out of my vehicles while I drive. Made the current Camaro a no-go for me too.

    4. i had a Grand Touring, non-turbo as a weekend Turo & it was VERY nice; but to answer @andyindividual specifically, the rear three-quarters blindspots are as bad as you’d think…

    1. You may have missed a step in getting your wife the Accord.

      First, have her drive a panther platform Lincoln Continental for several years.

      For phase 2, move her to a compact car, such as a Focus, to save gas.

      When she decides that’s too small because she was used to boatloads of space, get the Accord.

      (Worked for us, YMMV)

      1. My dad bought a Panther Mercury because he needed to haul people on a regular basis, the dealer was close and he did not want a truck. When he was done with it, he just got a Forester because it was good deal and all he needed. He used to joke that he would have his float boat PTSD triggered every time he got in a cab or airport limo.

  3. Created an account just to say that “Otis Redding in an Armani jacket” was the most vivid automotive character description I’ve read since Dan Neil’s take that the Audi S5 “feels as if it were dipped in hot-buttered sin” nearly 15 years ago.

    1. “What stuck with me throughout the full read, this thing takes 93 octane at 25mpg. That’s a bummer”

      Huh?

      “That charge air-cooling system helps the Mazda’s boosted engine to make 310 lb.-ft. (420 Nm) of torque on regular 87-octane gas. Not bad”

      1. You can run it on both 93 or 87, on 87 you get less HP and less torque but not a huge demerit. My car currently is sitting at an average of 26.5mpg. It’s not horrible but definitely worse than I had hoped for.

    2. Yeah, that sucks. My next car has got to do better than that, so this is right out on that basis alone. Shame about the shit stereo too, but at least that’s fixable if you’re willing to pay for an aftermarket system. Sounds pretty close to ideal, otherwise—lots to love, tolerable flaws, and the right balance of fun, relaxing, and practical that I’m looking for. That gas mileage is a straight dealbreaker though.

      1. The Mazda.ca site lists recommended fuel as regular 87. However, it also lists power as 189 HP and then lists the higher output numbers for when using higher octane. IMHO, 189 HP is just fine for a car like this (remember “relaxed but sporty cruiser”) and if you are feeling rich and randy, you get the option of moving to a higher grade fuel and unlocking some more potential.

        I am constantly surprised at how happy I am with around 170 HP in my Sportwagon of similar weight. Perhaps I have aged out of my past power addictions, but I just never feel like I need or even want more. It appears the Mazda has a good power band to make life effortless. That’s now more important to me.

        1. I have a 2019 Jeep Renegade with the 1.3L turbo that has similiar recommendations regarding 87/91 for power. (dealer owned, needed a car replacement right before prices went coocoo-bananas)

          Even with 0% ethanol extra deluxe dino juice it gets WORSE mileage than regular 87. You can definately feel the extra little shove especially in traffic, but most of the time it just doesn’t make a difference in a modestly powered toaster.

  4. I have loved all the Mazdas I’ve owned and this looks amazing, but the no highs, no lows, just blows stereo is enough to put me off of this beautiful car. They would be better off going back to the Ford sourced stereos of old. With as long and loudly as people have complained about bose car stereos why any manufacturer would still use them is beyond me. We had to replace every component in my wife’s Altima to fix the terrible sound system it came with. Never again.

    1. If you’ve been driving Mazdas as long as I have, then you should already know to expect mediocrity at best from the Bose systems they provide. The term “Bosectomy” wouldn’t exist if not for Mazda.

    2. My 2014 Mazda5 experience has me wondering about Mazda’s shortcomings with stereos, auto transmissions, and tire selection.

      I just don’t get why all automakers don’t go with premium or near premium tires on every car! It’s the cheapest way to improve nearly all performance numbers at least a little.

    3. I own this exact same car except 2021. Honestly the stereo is one of the better parts of the car, and I’m pretty deep into audio. I think one of the main issues the author had here is that they covered up the subwoofer in the spare tire with a cargo liner. The stereo in this is honestly better than anything I’ve heard in a factory car under $40K. Yes it could use a bit more clarity in the bass department, but amazingly there actually IS bass. Also, yes it is a very u-shaped system, which is something I enjoy, but overall I don’t get the hate.

    4. I have a Mazda 3 Turbo hatch and I don’t really agree about the system being bad, although it did take playing with some of the strangely named/labeled Bose settings in the menus to get it sounding the way I wanted. The system tends to be given high marks by most other auto journalists , too.

      The biggest ding (for me) on the audio/infotainment system as a whole is the lack of wireless CarPlay/Android Auto. Thankfully the 2022 models moved the USB connections inside the armrest so the cord doesnt stick out of the dash anymore, but it is still a bummer if you are a Spotify/Tidal/Youtube Music/Apple Music/That One Weird Guy Who Only Listens to Flacs guy or gal.

      1. Yeah, I have a CX-5 Signature (all the bells & whistles Mazda has to offer) and I’ve gotten to the audio to sound pretty damn good. Plus I’ve gotten used to the controls being on the console and rather like them there. I’m surprised there was no mention of said controls in the review as it’s usually a bone of contention for a Mazda newbie.

  5. This is an incredibly rich, deep, informative review, and feels exactly in line with the site’s stated mission.

    I will say that my response to, “this is Mazda so it should work brilliantly,” is “This is Mazda so it should immediately begin audibly rusting.”

        1. Yeah the cars they’re talking about are based on a Ford platform, but were built by Mazda in Japan. But, everything bad about Mazda is Ford’s fault, even when it isn’t.

          1. I should’ve clarified in my comment, but it wasn’t meant as a dig at Ford, just that as a time reference the cars that came after that don’t have those issues. I’m somewhat of a fan of both Ford and Mazda, and my family has had many Fords with no rust issues (though we’re in Georgia).

      1. I was going to ask about rust as well. I collapsed the ‘frame rail’ of an ‘02(maybe?) Mazda3 with 1 pump of my jack-and it >looked< solid. Got to poking a bit, and that thing was held together by the paint & undercoat: I never rode in it again. And the interwebs swore at the time-some 10years back-that every Mazda was like that. Which I thought was a shame: Mazda does good design imo, and some of their paint is beautiful.

        So, I’m honestly asking if it’s safe to consider them again-and, if so, what year did it become so?

        1. My mother has a 2013 NC and a 2016 6 which have spent their life in Scotland and aren’t showing any signs of rust in the running gear. Given how much salt we throw at our roads and Mazda not having that rep here I think they must have solved the rust issues from the early 2000s.

  6. That 93 octane comment had me scurrying off for more details, since the wife’s Accord makes 252HP from 2.0L on regular unleaded.

    On regular gas, this uses 25% more displacement to make 23 less (227) horsepower and doesn’t get to peak torque until 2500 RPM, whereas the Accord is there at 1500, albeit at a lower peak number (310 vs 273). I’d rather have the torque earlier without the fiddly valve.

    Whatever Mazda was trying to do with this engine, they did it poorly to require that pain at the pump for full performance.

    1. And I guess my main concern is I just want companies to be able to sell enough of these to continue making them and giving people the option for something that is more fun to drive, a better value, better looking, highly practical, and gets better fuel economy.

  7. Absolutely stellar review. Really informative, tells me everything I need to know and makes me really sad that I can’t get the turbo AWD in saloon guise in the U.K. Totally agree about that piano black though. I test drove the courtesy car from the servicing department and you could see the centre console was dinged and worn, even with the dealership cleaning the inside out between each driver.

  8. Excellent review and I just wish David Tracy would STFU and stop inserting his editorial comments into someone’s article. Let the author shine and stop breaking the flow with your bullshit commentary. I love your writing in YOUR articles, but you really interfere with other authors to make some dumbass statement like you will allow Miller Beer reference. Back the fuck off. All the love.

    1. Good grief. What a whiny little brat rant that was. Thankfully it appears you are in the minority. One of the reasons for editor’s notes being italicized is so readers can choose to simply skip over a block of italicized text & go to the next block of non-italicized text. Easy-peasy.

  9. They’ve gotten a lot of details right, but that body style is not appealing at all. Such a sloping roofline and enormous C-pillar make this a pretty poor design. And the visible glass area of that rear hatch window looks like a submarine porthole. That rear photo looks like a fat, saggy blob. Not sure why you would consider that a pratical, useful hatchback compared to what we used to get from the word.

  10. How bright is the dash + screens + buttons at night, and how dim can you make it? So many new cars have so much light inside at night that it kills visibility down the road and causes crazy eye strain after 30 minutes or so. I’ve taped paper over screens and panels to fix this

  11. Oof, I was all in thinking it would be a great next car. Then I saw Mazda didn’t offer a 3 pedal option. I guess it’s true: There aren’t really any decent manual cars being sold new anymore. By decent I mean useful, not insanely priced and overall fun to drive.

  12. Funny enough, the BMW/Mini B48 motors don’t even HAVE a blow off or diverter valve. It’s all controlled with the dual vane turbo and an electronically controlled wastegate and throttle body fluctuations. I was disappointed when I started modding my Clubman JCW.

  13. I really love the look of this generation 3. I love how much quieter the new Mazda 3 is as well. If I were going to upgrade from my 2016 3, this would be at the top of my list along with the new Civic Si.

  14. Dave Coleman for the win.
    This guy is one of the reasons this thing doesn’t suck and, if anyone were to check, likely has a great “Dave Point.”
    1,000 internets to anyone that can explain the reference.
    Also, if you ever wanted to see a Miata powered by a Hayabusa engine, Dave is your guy.

  15. This is a really nice looking car. I’ve cross-shopped Mazda with every VW I’ve owned and they’ve always come up short in the interior. Nice to see that maybe changing? I’ll never understood why more people don’t buy a hatch like this, particularly with a turbo and AWD. Shame about the no manual, but that battle was pretty well lost decades ago, so that any are available anywhere is a continued (pleasant) surprise. 25mpg is really shit, tho.

  16. Beautiful car and I’m sure it drives great, but if it’s the same 2.5L turbo they were using in the Mazda 6 the gas costs will absolutely slaughter you. My buddy had that setup and he was getting under 20mpg(!) at times. Granted, he’s an aggressive driver but he replaced it after only a year with a hybrid Camry and gets well into the 30s driving the exact same way.

  17. I really wanted to like this generation of Mazda 3 a couple years ago when I was looking for a new car, but sitting in it feels like being in a cave if you’re not looking forward. The rear window is truly atrocious, like the gunport on a bunker from inside. It’s such a beautiful machine, but they sacrificed the greenhouse for style, and I couldn’t get past that. If I’m in a car I want to feel like I’m part of the world around me as a travel through it, not separated from it. It’s such a problem whenever I go to auto shows, it seems modern vehicles have such high beltlines and minimal concern for good views.

    1. If you really love the 3,but hate the lack of visibility, I have a genius solution: walk to the other side of the Mazda showroom and take home a Miata instead. No pillars! Great visibility! Just, uh, don’t ask about cargo space.

  18. This is a good review. I now know that these cars are really quite nice inside in most of the ways that matter to me, as well as being really exceptionally lovely on the outside, which I already knew. I also know that the driving experience is good but not excellent, and that the big power doesn’t exactly translate to big fun. Also, the sound system sucks. All very good information.

    Honestly, it sounds like it ticks a lot of my boxes. I’m low-key interested in something that’s kinda the opposite of my NA—something comfortable and quiet, something with good cargo space and AWD, but not a crossover, not ugly, not totally soul-crushing to drive, and something just a little bit “different”. This gets pretty close… except that I’m also looking for something that’s good on gas. I can’t keep having a goddamn 1996 Miata be my most efficient vehicle, this is 2022 and we can do better than that.

    Is there a premium, AWD version of this car with a more efficient, less powerful motor? Honestly, that sounds like it would be fine by me. Merely adequate power doesn’t sound like it would ruin the car, since driving fun isn’t what this car is about. As long as the handling and steering feel are still there, I’d be fine with like 180 hp or so if the gas mileage was somewhere in the 30s.

    Anyway, it’s a good review.

    1. Thanks! I have some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that there’s a naturally-aspirated version that gets almost everything from this loaded Turbo. You lose a few minor (frameless rear-view mirror) and less minor (heated steering wheel on US models) features, but you save several thousand dollars while keeping all-wheel-drive, adaptive headlights, leather seats (non-perforated, but still), and all that jazz.

      The bad news is that fuel economy is a complicated story. For full transparency, I live in Toronto and conservatively estimate that a good 65 percent of my driving in this Turbo model happened on free-flowing off-peak highways. Toronto city driving is a slog though, so any huge city fuel economy weaknesses show up on my typical drive cycle. This leads into the naturally-aspirated model, which only gains a rated 2 mpg combined, but that’s all from city cycle gains. Prior experience with naturally-aspirated Skyactiv Mazdas suggests it should be easy to beat the naturally-aspirated car’s EPA rating, but I haven’t put enough mileage on that particular model to really say.

    2. That’s pretty much my situation (although with a 2017 ND rather than the NA). I’ve not seen any sign of the Turbo in the U.K. sadly and I was looking for a three box, so I went with the 3 Saloon Skyactiv-X. I matched the stated MPG rating on the test drive according to the trip computer, which landed on 52 imperial MPG. I drove it up country roads, back on the highway and then through a nasty snarl zone of an industrial estate. It matched the Corolla Tourer on the same test circuit for efficiency which was pretty impressive and drove really nicely. Thomas is bang on about the cabin noise. The Toyota rode better but the Mazda was quiet. The visibility is also better in the saloon since the rear glass is bigger.

  19. What a great review. More in depth and entertaining than any I’ve ever read in Car And Driver.

    I’ve never owned a new car. New to me yes, but never NEW. Hell, I’m 40 and have never made car payments.

    Im at that point in my life (as an empty nester who listened to Maps on repeat) that I’m considering one. Always been a Mazda fan.

    Looking for something a little refined but practical. Something between econo box and luxury sedan with a little bit of fun sex appeal.

    This is a viable option. Hmmm…

    Thanks Thomas.

  20. I really appreciate the well written review. It looks like it’s just me, but I disagree about the car’s styling. The fine details are nice, but I can’t stand Mazda’s fish-mouth grills and the overall shape. Controversial take, but I’d pick the new WRX over this looks-wise, and the new WRX is only meh for me.

  21. I’ve been poking at buying a new car. Saw one of these on the lot. It really is a pretty automobile.

    Maybe in a few years when prices have stopped being so astronomically bad.

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