The 2023 Mazda 3 entices as a compact car that looks and handles like a class above more than the competition. The Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback are compact entry-level cars punching above a class that includes the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Hyundai Elantra. Fun driving dynamics, sophisticated style, and a good safety make the Mazda 3 Hatchback a standout.
The 2023 Mazda 3 hatchback adopts a polarizing and stunning shape. The 3 hatchback wears the smooth elegance of other Mazda crossovers, but the solid rear pillars on the hatchback and the integrated roof spoiler over the raked windshield make it an avant-garde standout. A broad, shield-shaped grille leans forward, leading the long nose and short overhangs into a sporty profile. Smooth lines ease some of the anxiousness of other small cars beset by creases and cuts, giving the 3 a welcome maturity. Compared to the sedan’s more conventional shape, the shorter hatchback makes a sweeping uptick at the rear, with a hefty pillar that gives it an overall shape that’s a charming retro throwback while still being current and fresh; it’s one of our favorites.
Sharp handling and available turbo power make the Mazda 3 a fun ride. Mazda has refined and softened the Mazda 3 over the years to help it appeal as a daily driver, but it still retains its trademark handling and the turbo-4 makes it a standout. The Mazda 3 is front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive can be had on Carbon Fiber and Premium grades for $1,400 more while it’s standard on turbo-4 editions.
The Mazda 3 comes in two engines this year, with a 2.5-liter inline-4 making 191 hp and 186 lb-ft. The 6-speed automatic transmission lets it dig deep in the rev range, but the cabin can get loud and it’s a few gears short of being efficient. The better performance option is the Turbo model. Its 2.5-liter turbo-4 generates 227 hp and 310 lb-ft (250 hp and 320 lb-ft with 93 octane) that can go from 0-60 mph in less than six seconds, but it comes up short of the Mazdaspeed turbos of the past. A 6-speed manual can be had with the 2.5 S Premium, but it’s an odd duck as it only comes with front-wheel drive, and a manual cannot be paired with the turbo-4.
The 3 uses a front strut setup and a torsion beam rear suspension that promises to be more durable than a multi-link setup while also saving space and cost. Along with a stiff structure, the suspension doesn’t lose much on handling, either, with a planted feel that makes the hatch in particular flow with the curves of the road. Meanwhile the pleasant ride quality doesn’t suffer. The nicely weighted steering tilts toward Mazda’s sporty reputation and keeps it on par with the few remaining hot hatches, distinct from a sea of crossovers.
The 2023 Mazda 3 hatchback is fairly good on gas considering there’s no hybrid model. The base models are better, thanks in part to cylinder deactivation that shuts down two of the four cylinders when it’s not needed, such as cruising at highway speeds. The EPA rates those non-turbo models with front-wheel drive and an automatic transmission, the most popular in the lineup, at 27 mpg city, 36 highway, 30 combined. The hatch in Premium trim with the manual rates at 26/36/30 mpg, which is in the same range as the Mazda 3 with the automatic and all-wheel drive. Perhaps counterintuitively, turbo models are the least efficient, but they only come with all-wheel drive. The turbo-4 hatch comes in at 23/31/26 mpg.
For a smaller car, the 2023 Mazda 3 aces the crash test criteria. The small hatch earned a five-star NHTSA crash-test rating and a Top Safety Pick+ recognition from the IIHS, thanks in part to its standard driver-assist tech that helps mitigate or avoid a crash. Mazda equips it with automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control. The emphasis on safety can be a bit much for some things, such as needing to unlock the doors to open the fuel door or hatch. Safety options include blind-spot monitors, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive headlights, and a surround-view camera system.
Inside, Mazda stretches the low dash horizontally, and fashions it with thin strips of bright metallic trim, available leather upholstery, and a layered upper dash that flows over a line of vents and climate controls. It’s simple yet sophisticated, with a well-integrated 8.8-inch display and a console dial that isn’t cluttered with functions. We just wish there was simpler functionality with that interface. The available red-on-black or white-on-black leather pops like a luxury car.
A spartan but premium interior gussies up limited interior space in the 2023 Mazda 3 hatchback. Top trims of the Mazda 3 could be mistaken for premium cars with how well Mazda finishes the interior. The base trim has manual seats covered in black cloth, but they fit most body types well. Preferred and higher trims have synthetic leather with power front seats that are heated, but with just 5.5 inches of ground clearance and a low roofline on the hatch sits fairly low to the ground.
The rear seats have about 35 inches of rear legroom, but it doesn’t feel roomy. Four adults could fit, but only college students getting a lift home would be grateful for the longer ride in back. The 60/40-split rear seats fold down in either model, but the hatchback has much more cargo room at 20.1 cubic feet versus 13.2 cubes in the sedan. Storage space is limited, but side door pockets can fit larger water bottles and the shallow console can stow phones and other smaller items.
The 2023 Mazda 3 pushes into premium territory with top Turbo models, but its infotainment system needs an overhaul.
The base Mazda 3 S hatch starts at $23,550. The Mazda 3 earns points for value and good standard features, but its 8.8-inch display screen for infotainment is layered difficulty in executing the simplest functions. The voice commands are effective, but changing the radio station to anything other than presets takes several button presses or twists of the controller dial in the console. That dial makes navigation easy with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The $26,550 Mazda 3 2.5 S Preferred packages the best value with its heated front seats, power sunroof, and power driver seat. But if all-wheel drive is a must, the cheapest model with it is the $29,600 Carbon Edition sedan. It adds red leather upholstery and 12-speaker Bose audio. The $35,300 Mazda 3 Turbo Premium Plus hatch tops the lineup with standard AWD, leather upholstery, navigation, a surround-view camera system with parking sensors, and a 12-speaker Bose audio.
The 2023 Mazda 3 is pretty close to perfect by impressing on many levels, the Turbo only makes it more so. For a reasonable amount of money, you get spunky driving dynamics, a comfortable and refined interior, and with the hatchback, stunning styling. Blend in Mazda reliability and the 3 becomes a standout. Small-car buyers would do well to add the Mazda 3 to their shopping lists because zoom zoom is alive and well.
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