CHATHAM, Mass. – Whenever I get to sample a Mazda, I find myself looking for challenging roads, knowing the experience will be fun because I had been in this position before. Driving the value-packed 2022 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo Hatchback AWD with Premium Plus Package continued my positive association with the Japanese company’s well-designed, well-engineered and well-thought-out vehicles.

The top of a seven-trim Mazda3 Hatchback lineup, the Turbo I drove came with a comprehensive array of performance pieces, amenities, safety/advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and fun, while still retailing for a shade over $35,000 (including the $1,015 delivery, processing and handling fee) and returning 30.1 miles of motoring for each gallon of gas consumed.

The fun begins under the flowing body panels

The heart of any vehicle with a performance slant is the engine and the Mazda3 Turbo’s Skyactiv 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant pumps out a willing 250 horses along with 320 pounds-feet of torque (on 93-octane premium fuel; 227/310 respectively on regular).

The power heads to the four wheels through an automatic six-speed transmission and standard all-wheel drive (AWD) system.

The suspension features MacPherson-type struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear with dynamic-stability- and traction-control systems to help keep the hatchback going where the driver wants it to go. The power steering has electric assistance.

The power-assisted braking system incorporates anti-lock (ABS); electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist; and four-wheel discs (ventilated 11.62 inches in the front, 10.43 solid in the rear).

The Premium Plus package brings 18-inch black alloy wheels fitted with P215/45R18 tires.

The pieces are straight forward but the Mazda engineers worked their zoom, zoom magic on them to produce a small hatchback that is both comfortable in which to ride and a blast to drive hard (or even moderately hard).

Comprehensive ADAS

Opting for the Turbo Premium Plus version means this Mazda3 Hatch was filled with advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). The list includes automatic high beams; lane-departure warning; lane-keep assist; Mazda Radar Cruise Control with stop-and-go; surround-view camera (including low-speed forward vision); blind-spot monitoring; smart-brake support; Rear Smart City Brake Support with rear cross-traffic alert and braking; traffic-jam assist, and traffic-sign recognition.

The heads-up display included in the Premium Plus package, very legible even in bright sunlight, displays the major ADAS warnings (like blind-spot alert, along with cluster-information like speed, navigation instructions and radio station/channel) which further helps the driver maintain eye contact with traffic. Again, a small, but thoughtful touch Mazda engineers incorporate to enhance the overall driving experience.

Interior filled with technology, amenities and conveniences

The Mazda3 – whether sedan or hatchback – may be the company’s subcompact car, but there is nothing entry-level about the interior of the Turbo with Premium Plus Package.

The seats and steering wheel are leather covered (heated up front), the driver’s having power adjustment and – unusual in a car in this class – two-position memory (including the outside rearview mirrors). This adjustability, along with the heated steering-wheel’s ability to be adjusted for reach and rake, means finding the perfect driving position is just a matter of time.

Once there, all the controls are easy to reach, familiar for anyone who has driven a modern Mazda car or sport-utility. Two rows of well-identified, center-of-the dash switches allow easy operation of the dual-zone climate-control system.

Inset into the top of the dash is the 8.8-inch display at the heart of the navigation-equipped infotainment system (this positioning is easy for the driver to see, yet, thanks to the shallow indentation in which it sits, blends in smoothly with the interior).

The system, which includes SiriusXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and integrated Pandora Internet radio, is controlled by the large Mazda Commander dial on the console.

Rotating the dial, moving it left-and-right, or depressing it moves between infotainment, information and vehicle-settings screens and allows for selection of the various different functions.

Buttons surrounding the Commander dial allow for immediate access of the home, navigation/map, radio and favorites screens (favorites can include radio stations, satellite channels and navigation locations with unique settings for “home” and “work.” In addition, there is a smaller rotary dial for audio volume.

Augmenting these controls are rocker switches on the steering wheel – including the voice-activation switch which can also control the infotainment.

Speaking of audio, a 12-speaker Bose Premium Audio system pumps out the sound.

The system requires some time to learn its tricks and capabilities, but once mastered, is simple to use.

Big value in a small package

The Mazda3 2.5 Turbo Hatchback AWD with Premium Plus Package represents a lot of car in a modest-sized package. There is terrific, real-world performance with well-engineered pieces providing a fun-to-drive package. A full complement of ADAS and safety equipment. The latest technology and amenities in the luxury feel interior. And all for $34,400!

Fun, value and frugal at the pump – the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo Hatchback AWD with Premium Plus Package is a unique, wonderful car with a presence bigger than its dimensions.

Next week TBR Drives the Kia EV6 electric sport utility.