With the 3, Mazda has managed to shake the cages of juggernauts like Toyota, Honda and Nissan, but with way less resources. Remember, Mazda is a relatively small player compared to most Japanese brands
What Mazda loses in corporate weight; it makes up for with creativity. The secret behind the Mazda3’s success has never been rationality, but rather eye-catching styling, an attractive price tag and a driver-oriented process. The current generation car brings these qualities up to an all-new level.
Introduced during the 2019 model year, this fourth generation Mazda3 carries over through 2022 unchanged. Mind you, it’s not like it needed much improvement. The Mazda3 has been crowned both 2020 and 2021 AJAC Canadian Car of the Year.
Sexy styling, fantastic build quality, a wide variety of available configurations, and an even larger focus on driver enjoyment, all offered at a decent price, allow the latest 3 to stand tall over solid rivals. We’ll even add stellar reliability to the list as Mazda3 owners have seen very little issues with their cars except for regular maintenance and, for some reason, rapidly degrading brakes.
The Turbo is the top dog Mazda3, selling at about $35,000 while offering the most power and creature comforts. While base Mazda3s come with front-wheel drive and a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, the Turbo gets all-wheel drive and a much more potent turbocharged 2.5-liter unit. It’s good for a Subaru WRX-rivaling 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. That kind of power allows the turbo 3 to hit 100 km/h from a standstill in just under 6 seconds.
Sadly, that engine can only be mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Don’t get us wrong, we like this transmission. It operates fluidly, and albeit the fact that it’s a bit low on gears by modern standards, it does a fantastic job of properly exploiting the engine’s powerband.
But we feel this drivetrain deserves a manual gearbox. It’s even more frustrating that some of the Mazda3’s lower trim levels offer a stick option.
There’s also a catch to the horsepower and torque figures. They’re only available when the car is fed high octane fuel. On regular pump gas, the Mazda3 Turbo’s output drops to 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. The upside is that it will let you run it on 87 octane, a compromise some competing hot hatchbacks don’t allow.
Between Warm and Hot
The fact of the matter is that the Mazda3 Turbo – whether it be a sedan or a hatchback – was never intended to be a sports car. Mazda doesn’t want people to mistake this for a Mazdaspeed3.
The performance therefore sits somewhere between warm and hot. Yes, the Turbo is quick off the line. It’s just quick, period. Catch it during a rolling start, and it’ll rapidly drop a few gears and sprint forward with eagerness. But it’s never brutal per se. If anything, this feels more like a European luxury car than a modified compact.
And that’s no coincidence. In case you haven’t been keeping track, Mazda recently took on the task of rivaling premium brands. And we’ve seen convincing results from its Signature series CX-5 and CX-9 SUVs. The trend continues with this Mazda3 Turbo, as well as the CX-30 Turbo subcompact crossover released last year.
Could be a Luxury Car
Inside, the Turbo’s cabin is just as beautifully crafted as its exterior. Everything has an organic, sensual look to it, with a clean, uncluttered dashboard design, premium materials, and impeccable build quality. It’s so good, it could very well wear an Audi badge.
Unfortunately, that cabin suffers from ergonomic pitfalls. The A pillars are very aggressively raked – a result of that sexy styling -, to the point where a tall driver can easily knock their head on their way inside. That pillar, which is also thick, leads to a claustrophobic cabin experience and limited visibility. There’s also a very tiny rear window that’s positioned way too high which further limits rearward visibility.
Finally, while this hatchback is a practical piece of machinery – yielding up to 1,330 liters of available cargo space when the rear seatback is folded flat -, the rear seat itself is not what one would consider spacious. If a tall driver is sitting up front, good luck fitting your knees behind that seatback. In that respect, a Civic hatchback is much more appealing.
Beyond these issues, the Mazda3’s readouts and infotainment system are both pleasant to look at and operate. Mazda continues to hang in there with the rotary knob dial to operate its system. Very much like BMW’s iDrive setup, its intuitive, quick to react and easy to comprehend. However, I still don’t understand why Sirius XM forces me to save my favorite channels to cycle through them.
It’s the Drive that Seals the Deal
Where the Mazda3 Turbo shines the brightest, is out there on the open road. Not only is the extra power and torque highly appreciated, but this compact car also exhibits fantastic chassis composure, quick turn in and a downright pleasant ride. The suspension tuning is brilliant in the sense that it soaks up harsh roads, but also allows the car to be firmly planted to the ground. It’s the kind of sweet spot we would normally associate with a BMW.
There’s also fantastic sound insulation, to the point where it somewhat dilutes the excellent engine’s butter smooth performance. Part of the reason the 3 Turbo never feels fast behind the wheel is how quiet and civilized it is all the time. Look at that speedometer, however, and you’ll notice how quickly you’re covering ground.
The Mazda3 Turbo is a sporty hatchback that’s all grown up and now wears a suit to go to work. It’s quicker than the old Mazdaspeed3, yet it’s as refined as an Audi. Sure, it’s deeply flawed in important areas, but we prefer calling them quirks. Because at the end of the day, it’s impossible to dismiss Mazda’s excellent execution of the modern hot hatchback.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.