Mazda3: Compelling Case for Subcompact Motoring

CHATHAM, Mass. – Mazda produces vehicles I could own. Vehicles like the 2023 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo HB with Premium Plus Package in which I recently spent a week are ones I could envision spending my money to purchase.

And this statement equals high praise from an auto reviewer.

The comprehensively equipped subcompact hatchback (hence the “HB” designation in the model’s name) provides good fuel efficiency, superb performance, extensive advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and is, in the words of one observer in a local parking lot, “one sharp looking car!”

All of the above are traits of today’s Mazda vehicles.

Turbo powerplant provides the legacy zoom, zoom

I have driven several Mazda models with the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Skyactiv-G turbocharged engine and regardless of whether it is powering a compact sport utility vehicle (SUV) like CX-50 or subcompact SUV like the CX-30, the performance was strong, spirited and always available.

When run on premium 93-octane fuel, the turbo motor produces 250 horsepower and 320 pounds-feet of torque. When running it on 87 octane regular fuel, it can still pump out an impressive 227 hp and 310 lb.-ft. of torque.

The remainder of the powertrain includes a six-speed automatic transmission and the i-Activ all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.

Test numbers back up the seat-of-the-pants feeling as the Mazda3 Turbo reaches 60 miles per hour (from rest) in under six seconds according to trials by Car and Driver.

The other significant powertrain-related number I observed was 29.9, the miles per gallon the hatchback achieved during my test period. (The federal Environmental Protection Agency rated it at 27 mpg overall, 23 urban, 32 highway). The impressive part of the equation is this level of fuel efficiency in a vehicle with this kind of performance — and room for four adults (though the ones in the back of the subcompact four-door will be a bit pressed for legroom).

Performance means more than how quick a vehicle launches from a stop light, it also covers how that vehicle maneuvers when the roads get twisty.

The Mazda3 Turbo, like the other Mazda vehicles I have experienced, delivers the goods here. You can attack the curves with confidence, knowing the car will respond to your desires and needs.

The hatchback’s platform consists of a well-tuned MacPherson-type strut front suspension with stabilizer bar and a well-located torsion-beam rear suspension. Black metallic 18x7J alloy wheels wearing P215/45R18 all-season tires as well as housing the power-assisted, anti-lock braking (ABS) system’s four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated rotors in the front, solid ones in the rear).

Aiding these hardware pieces are dynamic-stability control, traction control and SKYACTIV-VEHICLE DYNAMICS: G-Vectoring Control Plus (GVC Plus) to enhance the vehicle’s handling characteristics.

The GVC Plus detects the driver’s steering operation (during a turn), then calculates optimal engine torque which it communicates with the engine. The result: the Mazda3 Turbo hatch drives as if it anticipates your every move.

This is a car which handles as well as it accelerates, providing an overall very satisfying driving experience.

i-Activsense, Mazda’s ADAS

Further enhancing the driving experience are the advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) Mazda includes under the i-Activsense moniker. These features include Mazda Radar Cruise Control with stop and go function; Smart Brake Support; Lane Departure Warning with Lane-Keep Assist; Automatic High Beam Control, and Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

Rounding out the full i-Activsense suite of safety features is Rear Direction Base Safety, which includes Smart Brake Support-Reverse and Rear Cross-Traffic Braking, a part of the Mazda3 Turbo HB with Premium Package.

This top-of-the-range model also brings ADAS like Traffic Jam Assist, 360° View Monitor and front and rear parking sensors.

Not part of the ADAS package, but a definite safety enhancement, the Active Driving Display, Mazda’s heads-up display, includes the usual content (like speed, navigation information) as well as ADAS alerts. The latter is not common (Mazda and the Korean triumvirate of Hyundai, Kia and Genesis), but really makes the head-up display a more useful driving tool.

Premium describes the furnishings, amenities and features

Inside the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo HB with Premium Package the design is fluid, simple, well executed, under stated and definitely lives up to the Premium part of its name.

The seats are leather upholstered, heated up front (electrically adjustable for the driver with two-person memory and power-adjusted lumbar support) and both comfortable as well as supportive when putting the car through its thoroughbred paces.

Controls for the automatic dual-zone climate-control system are clearly labeled as well as easy to find and use from their location at the center of the dashboard.

Above sits the 8.8-inch color display (not a touchscreen) in a well-conceived depression on the top of the dash. This design creates two optical illusions – it minimizes the intrusion of the screen, virtually shrinking it out of sight, onto the interior’s overall appearance while helping (along with a miniscule bezel around the screen) create the impression the screen is larger than its actual dimensions.

The location of the screen precluded it having touch control (too far from the average driver position to be operated safely), so two rotary knobs on the center console control the systems outlined on the screen including the (standard) navigation, infotainment, ADAS settings, general vehicle settings and communications.

The infotainment system includes the usual features like satellite radio, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, Pandora® Internet radio integration, voice command (steering-wheel activation), Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a 12-speaker Bose audio system.

A comprehensive automotive experience in a subcompact package

This is a fine place to spend time, as I was able to do during my week. Whether taking a 300-mile plus trip to The Submarine Force Museum and USS Nautilus in Groton, Conn., at highway speeds, or winding around the roads and towns of my home area of Cape Cod. Like other Mazda vehicles I have driven before, the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo HB with Premium Package was a car I really loved driving, really enjoyed spending time behind the wheel.

This complete package, including virtually everything necessary to meet the definition of Premium, resulted in a $36,895 ($35,300 plus two options — $395 for the snowflake white pearl paint and $135 stainless-steel bumper guards – and a $1,065 delivery, processing and handling fee) as tested price. In today’s automotive world, this package for this price is a value proposition.

Next week TBR Drives the 2023 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing

Mike Geylin
Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Editor-in-Chief at Hagman Media. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.