The 2023 Mazda 3 delivers a premium driving experience at a compact-car price. It is not easy for smaller manufacturers to keep up with the big nameplates such as the Civic and Corolla. In a world where most manufacturers gave up on compact economy cars, Mazda 3 is one of the few options available offering a unique value proposition. For many years, Mazda has been offering both sedan and hatchback, but unlike the other entries, it also can be equipped with optional all-wheel-drive and a turbocharged engine that puts the Mazda 3 in a unique spot.
In typical Mazda fashion, the exterior design is striking with its sculpted lines, bold grille and sleek headlights. The GT trim comes with blacked-out accents, so there are minimal chrome parts. The front fascia is undoubtedly Mazda and Soul Red Crystal Metallic colour is one of my favourite options in this segment. The Mazda 3 might not be the newest kid on the block, but it is still one of the best-looking compact entries available, and it looks much more expensive car than it actually is.
The front end looks exactly the same, regardless if you choose the sedan or hatchback. However, the biggest difference is where you look at the side profile. One of the most striking features of the Mazda 3 is the long hood, emphasizing the sporty character. The hood flows smoothly into the front fenders, giving the Mazda 3 a muscular and athletic look. The hatchback Mazda 3 has a controversial C-pillar design which is more of a love or hate relationship.
The Mazda 3 hatchback’s rear design is just as sleek and sporty as its side profile. The car has distinct and unique design elements in the rear that sets itself apart from the other hatchbacks in its class. Angular-shaped taillights are the most important design elements that give the Mazda 3 a sportier and more aggressive look. The taillights, spoiler, bumper, and trunk all come together to create a nice balance of elegant and sporty design language.
The interior and dashboard design is something other manufacturers should take note of, there are lots of teachable points here for everyone. The dashboard is driver-centric and makes the driver feel like part of the experience. It offers minimalist and modern design elements, but the material choice and build quality is the most impressive part of the interior. The whole upper dashboard is wrapped in leather and soft-touch materials.
There are still physical buttons and they all feel high-quality, but the number of buttons isn’t overwhelming, as they are all placed carefully in a minimalistic fashion. The steering wheel is thin and has a large diameter, giving you a premium feeling more than the other non-luxury entries in this segment. The only gripe I had about the whole interior was the glossy black plastic trim used in the center console, which looks great only when it is clean.
The 8.8-inch infotainment system might look small by today’s standards, but it is mounted high on the dashboard, far from the driver, giving the driver better overall visibility. The screen resolution and image quality are very good, including the rear-view camera and 360 camera that comes standard with the GT trim. It also comes with the latest Mazda infotainment system, which is one of the most intuitive options available. You can go through the menus easily with the rotary knob located in the center console.
On the other side, the instrument cluster is still half digital and half analog and the digital part isn’t the best when it comes to customizable options and screen layout. There is also room for improvement when it comes to the adaptive cruise control capability. It actually works well and is easy to use with the buttons located on the steering wheel, but it is missing the lane-centering feature. You also cannot disable the lane keep assist feature permanently, meaning that you have to disable it every time you drive it.
Mazda 3’s front seats are quite adjustable (10-way) and comfortable for even large adults like me. At 6’1″, I had zero issues when it comes to the overall legroom and headroom in the front. The driver’s seat also has a memory function, which is something you would find in the luxury segment. Due to the dashboard, small windows and a huge c-pillar, visibility is the biggest problem for the driver, but that also means the driving position is quite sporty and gives you the feeling the dashboard is wrapped around the driver as you sit pretty low.
The hatchback Mazda 3 might not be the optimal choice if you have a large family or planning to carry people in the back on a regular basis. There are the CX-30, CX-5, CX-9 and the upcoming CX-90 which all would have been a better choice for larger families, but the Mazda 3 hatchback can accommodate average-sized adults in the rear seat comfortably. It’s usually the small rear windows that give a claustrophobic feeling to the rear seat passengers. If you put a rear-facing child seat, you have to move the front passenger seat quite a bit forward and only small adults can sit in the front. Also, there are no USB ports, no heated rear seats, and no HVAC vents for the rear passengers, so the rear seats are where you feel most of the cost-cutting measures in the interior.
The Mazda 3 hatchback doesn’t have class-leading numbers when it comes to the overall interior space, but you should still set your expectations accordingly if you are shopping for a compact hatchback, including the trunk space. The 2023 Mazda 3 hatchback offers around 20 cubic feet (566 L) of cargo space that can go up to 47 cubic feet (1334 L) if you fold down the rear seats.
If you are a driving enthusiast, Mazda got you covered with several different trims, engine, transmission and drivetrain options. There are two different body styles, three different trims, three engines and two transmission options. Also, all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive are available depending on which trim you choose. It is quite uncommon for this segment to have several different options to choose from. However, if you stick with the front-wheel-drive and hatchback (Sport), you can get the 6-speed manual transmission in all trims.
Our tester is the GT trim, and it comes with the 2.5L naturally aspirated Skyactiv-G engine with cylinder deactivation feature, generating 191 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. Although there is a more powerful 2.5L turbocharged Skyactiv engine option, it is only available if you choose the all-wheel-drive and the 6-speed automatic transmission. The naturally aspirated 2.5L is not the most refined engine as you would hear a lot of valvetrain noise, but it offers a decent amount of torque in the mid-range that allows the driver to keep the RPMs relatively low. Of course, if you want more oomph and a punchier bottom end, the turbo engine is the way to go.
The Mazda 3 is one of the few compact cars available with the stick shift, except for the hot-hatch entries like the VW GTI. However, the 3 isn’t competing with the hot hatches even with the powerful 2.5 turbo engine. You will find the calm character and premium feel is what makes the Mazda 3 unique against the competition. The throttle response, engine character, steering feeling, suspension setup, and the rest of the car want to isolate the driver from the road imperfections.
Despite having a torsion beam in the rear, Mazda did a fantastic job with the suspension tune, there is no harshness at low speeds, and it is almost impossible to feel the difference compared to the other entries with an independent rear suspension setup. It is much more engaging to drive with a stick shift, but choosing the manual transmission will not change the character of the vehicle. It has a quite soft clutch pedal for easier operation, and tall gear ratios like the 6-speed automatic transmission, focusing on refinement and fuel economy. Long story short, you are still getting a premium compact hatchback which is far from being a hot hatch.
The manual transmission Mazda 3 is a dying breed not just because of its character and driving dynamics. Some “bigger” manufacturers not only gave up on the stick shift, but they also completely gave up on the sedans and hatchbacks. Mazda still offers several different choices in the compact car segment, which is an admirable decision for a smaller manufacturer.
Regardless of the transmission and engine choice, the 2023 Mazda 3 still continues to be my favourite compact hatchback, despite its deficiencies. It might not be the most practical entry, but it is competing with the bigger nameplates in its own unique way, and it is still appealing to the audience mainly because of its unique design language, refined character, different drivetrain options, and most importantly the premium driving experience for a non-premium price tag.
|2488cc, naturally aspirated inline-4
|Transmission & Drivetrain
|6-speed manual & front-wheel-drive
|191 hp @ 6000 rpm
|186 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
|3379 lb – 1533 kg
|Fuel Economy (Combined)
|26 MPG – 9.0L / 100 km
|Price (as tested)