The 2023 Mazda3 was one of those cars that I needed to check my disposition to Mazda vehicles at the door. It’s been a minute, but I’ve owned two Mazdas (neither a Miata) and I have fond memories of their “zoom-zoom” combination of torquey-fun and stylish, stand-out looks. Hatchback? Not so excited – but you can call me a convert.
If you look at the Mazda lineup and don’t count the iconic Miata, the Mazda3 is the last of the cars standing. Available as a hatchback or sedan, and offering an impressive mid-$20,000s base price, it still has the capacity to battle on fuel economy, and with recent upgrades in turbo power and all-wheel drive, it creates a very fun driving experience.
My tester was the top-end Premium Plus Mazda3, meaning it had everything that could define the hatchback as being a premium interior and a great turbo-AWD combo. Adding the turbo powerplant will mean to get all the fun out of the engine you will need to feed it premium fuel, and that may be one of just a few gripes about this Mazda.
I’m not even going to try to explain what makes this Mazda3 so attractive. You either get it – or you don’t. Many people just don’t like hatchbacks, but this one, with its diving hood, low nose, brash grille, and sliver-wrap headlight assembly is sporty. The bulbous rear quarters may feel more SUV than a sedan, but that’s always been the attraction (it just happens to pay off when inside the cabin).
My tester featured 18-inch black alloy rims that looked aggressive and very contemporary with the stunning machine gray metallic paint hue back deep and rich from tip to toe. The hatchback door gets a little extra personality by passing over the rear taillights and diving back into the interior. It wasn’t necessary, but that’s why it’s a Mazda.
My Mazda3 featured the upgraded 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. If you need some context – that’s really in the fun zone when your car weighs less than 3,300 pounds.
My biggest gripe about the Mazda3′s configuration, especially when the AWD option is employed, is the standard 6-speed automatic. It’s capable of doing plenty, but in an era when 7- and 8-speed transmissions rule the day and the technology that drives them makes it a better combo, you have to wonder what it could be.
The Skyactiv and G-Vectoring Control programming does translate to a little bit of disconnect to the driver’s immediate demands. I found the Sport drive mode was the best way to mitigate some of that challenge. Isn’t it always the best option? Gas mileage is rated at 23 MPG city/31 MPG combined.
From leather-trimmed seats, 360-degree view monitor, traffic jam assistance, sign recognition, and navigation upgrade, the Premium Plus package adds a lot of upscale feel to the cabin. Front-row passengers will find the seating position to be a bit low, but visibility remains excellent. Power controls are part of the high-end trims and it helps find a perfect position.
Rear-seat passengers will find sparse space and elements in the back. If this is premium, I need to see some better padding, some charging ports, and maybe even some HVAC controls. The great upside to the hatch is there’s ample cargo space when the rear seats are down.
I like the look and feel of the dash. Premium materials are adequate for this sportier approach, but with a price closing in on $38,000, you had better be ready to upgrade moving forward. Another point of contention was the interface with the navigation system. It feels outdated and slow.
Overall, at a final top-end price of $37,095, this Mazda3 may be just a bit too expensive to attract the drivers who are still looking for this great performance combo with AWD. There are so many SUVs offering a hatch’s convenience, though none look this cool.
• John Stein is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience driving, testing, and writing about the automotive industry, its latest innovations, and vehicles.