Road Test: 2023 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD Turbo
Design + Performance Value
The 2023 Mazda3 is the last remaining sedan in the Mazda line-up. Offered in both a sedan and hatchback, if a car company needed to have just one four-door non-SUV, then they couldn’t do much better than the Mazda3.
The Mazda3 hatchback cuts a figure with a refined design that is as eye-catching now as when it was introduced in 2019.
The 2023 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD Turbo is fun to drive, which is no surprise. If you have ever driven a Mazda, you will know that, top-to-bottom in their line-up, they make the best-handling cars and crossovers that aren’t marketed as a pure sports model.
The Mazda3 is offered with two engine choices, with either front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). Clean Fleet Report drove the Mazda3 Hatchback AWD Premium Plus with a turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces either 227 horsepower (hp) and 310 pound-feet of torque (lb.-ft.) of torque when using 87 octane, or 250 hp and 320 lb.-ft. of torque when pumping 91 octane. So, based on your budget and the need for more oomph, going for high-test could be worthwhile. The Mazda3 comes with a 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
The EPA rates the Mazda3 Hatchback AWD at 23 mpg city/31 highway/26 combined. Opt for the FWD model, and those numbers increase to 26/33/29. In 261 miles of city and freeway driving, we averaged 24.1 mpg, which is a bit below its rating, but not noteworthy for its class. Fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific, and represent the reviewer’s driving experience using the dash gauge computer. Your numbers may differ.
Driving Experience: On the Road
While the Mazda3 is not offered in a high-performance model, that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the most fun compact cars to drive. It is agile, responsive and nimble; it wants/begs you to seek out curves, yet has a compliant highway ride. The accurate steering begins with independent MacPherson struts front and rear, dynamic stability control, traction control and Bridgestone Turanza 215/45 tires on 18-inch alloy wheels.
The key suspension technologies are the G-Vectoring Control system, and the i-Active AWD, which uses instantaneous driving data to anticipate wheel slippage and improve traction. When cornering, the G-Vectoring Control adjusts engine torque to shift weight, increase steering response and apply a bit of brake to seamlessly aid in making cornering easier. How well does the 3,393-pound Mazda3 AWD handle? In its own way it gives the 2,493-pound Mazda MX-5 Miata a run for its money.
There is one driver selectable drive mode of Sport, where the automatic transmission shifts are quicker than the default Normal mode. If you choose, paddle shifters and a manual option allows you to control all the shifting. The turbocharger is refined with no lag, offering near instant response. When tromping the accelerator in Sport mode, the engine noise increases a bit and then becomes quiet at freeway speeds. With a 6,200 rpm redline, acceleration pulls strong in the 3,500-5,500 rpm range, producing 0-60 times in the low 6 seconds.
We did not test the Mazda3 with the 6-speed manual transmission, which is only available with front-wheel drive. Improving on the low 6-second range for 0-60 should not be expected, as automatic transmissions are so good now that manuals usually don’t improve on them. However, we’re big fans of manual transmissions (and Mazda makes a great one), so you can expect your driving fun to increase as there just isn’t anything that can match gliding through the gears on mountain twisties.
Driving Experience: Exterior
Following its “Kodo–Soul Of Motion” design language makes the Mazda3 one of the most unique and noticeable compact cars on the market.
The flowing design of the hatchback is dominated by the back half of the car, where the large C-pillar styling is the only one of its kind on the road. The distinct appearance on the Mazda3 hatch begins with the blacked-out front grille and the slender LED head and daytime running lights. The Mazda designers did something that Clean Fleet Report wishes other car company’s would adopt—eliminating the clunky faux air scoops on the outer corners of the fascia, replacing them with curved panels. This one little thing makes all the difference in the car looking smooth and classy, not bulky.
Design cues for the Mazda3 Hatchback include a long hood, laid-back windshield, short overhangs front and rear and the distinctive rear hatch with an integrated spoiler. Clean Fleet Report’s Mazda3 was painted in Snowflake White Pearl, a $395 option, with the only chrome found on the Mazda logo badges front and rear, some petite side window trim pieces and the twin exhaust tips. The red tail LED lights were the only color on our car, which gave the backend a menacing look.
Driving Experience: Interior
Interior materials and build quality give the Mazda3 an up-market look. The minimalist design—a solid black color scheme with gloss black and aluminum accents—was pleasing to the eye. Cloth is standard, but on the Premium trim level the leather seats were firm and comfortable. The tilt-and-telescopic, heated steering wheel, with cruise and audio controls, gave a comfortable and easy-to-find driver seating position. The driver seat on the Premium model gets power adjustments, including lumbar, along with heat and memory, while the passenger gets heat and manual adjustments.
The power glass moonroof, carpeted floor mats, illuminated door sills and cargo cover were nice features, but the rear seat—not so much. Leg and shoulder room is tight. Make sure to duck when entering/exiting or you will bump your noggin.
Remember that C-pillar that makes the Mazda3 hatchback look so great? From the inside it creates a problem—a lack of visibility out the rear of the car. In addition to a small rear window, there are some blind spots. So what to do? You can use your power exterior mirrors that tilt when in reverse, use the backup camera and 360º monitor, and also rely on the blind spot and lane departure technology. Or, you could opt for the Mazda 3 sedan, which has excellent visibility and retains all the fun-to-drive nature of the hatchback. The sedan will give up the extra cargo space a hatch delivers, so if hauling things is your thing, stick with the hatchback and use your mirrors.
Up front, the dash layout is simple and logical. A big thank you to Mazda for the head-up display. The three round gauges, with black faces and white letters, were easy to read in the 7-inch LCD driver information display. The round knobs for the dual zone automatic climate system were conveniently placed above the center console.
The leather-covered shifter is joined on the console by the Sport mode selector, the electronic parking brake, auto hold and the infotainment controllers. Other convenience features include rain sensing windshield wipers, wiper deicers, power side mirrors with memory, keyless entry, push button start/stop, Homelink auto dimming rearview mirror and a 60/40 folding rear seat.
The 8.8-inch color display, which is not a touchscreen, is standard on all Mazda3 models. Rising from the dashboard, it is home to the Bose premium audio system that comes on the Premium and Turbo models. With 12 speakers, the sound quality is excellent for the AM/FM/MP3/AUX HD radio, SiriusXM, Pandora, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Mazda Connect connectivity system includes navigation and Bluetooth.
Mazda’s audio system interface has been updated and we especially like the 50(!) channel presets. But the operation requires multiple steps to control a single function. In time, as an owner who is using it daily, it may become an easy operation that can be done all by touch. With the excellence of the Mazda line-up, their engineers could easily design a more user-friendly interface.
The 2023 Mazda3 comes with an extensive list of standard and optional safety features, including front, side and knee airbags, rearview camera, four-wheel power disc ABS braking system, a tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking sensors and an anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer.
The 2023 Mazda3 has been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and received 5 Stars, its highest safety rating, for front driver and passenger side and rollover collisions. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety(IIHS) awarded the Mazda 3 its Top Safety Pick+.
Pricing and Warranties
The 2023 Mazda3 Hatchback base prices, including the mandatory destination and handling fee of $1,065, range from $24,615 to $36,365.
The 2023 Mazda3 comes with these warranties:
- Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles
- Bumper-To-Bumper – Three years/36,000 miles
- Roadside Assistance – Three years/36,000 miles
- Anti-Perforation – Five years/Unlimited Miles
Observations: 2023 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD Turbo Premium Plus
The 2023 Mazda3 Hatchback, with a base price under $25,000, is a lot of car for the money. Step-up to the Mazda3 Hatchback AWD Turbo Premium Plus that Clean Fleet Report drove, and the experience becomes even more enjoyable. Mazda didn’t build a hot hatch, but it certainly is a sporty hatch that is comfortable and fun to drive.
The front cabin is roomy and storage capacity with the rear seat up is 20.1 cubic feet. With the rear seats folded, it expands to 47.1 cubic feet. When behind the wheel, you will appreciate the i-Active AWD system and the G-Vectoring Control that make the Mazda3 AWD a pleasure to drive.
This is a very fine vehicle. If you are looking for a sporty small car, with attention-getting design, then the 2023 Mazda3 hatchback should be on your shopping list.
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Story and photos by John Faulkner.
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