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Review of Mazda 3: The Best Car of 2022

The 2022 Mazda 3 aims to attract sophisticated compact-car buyers with a luxurious interior and exceptional handling. Both the 3 sedan and hatchback are compact entry-level vehicles boasting attractive interiors and a plethora of safety features. They compete with cars such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Hyundai Elantra.

The 3 possesses a degree of understated sophistication similar to Mazda’s crossovers. However, the hatchback’s thick rear pillars obstruct the view, setting it apart from the mainstream compact cars. Both the 3 sedan and hatchback feature a broad, shield-shaped grille with a forward cant, creating a sporty appearance. This is complemented by slender LED headlights that blend seamlessly into the front fenders with subtle contours rather than harsh lines. The sedan has a more traditional shape that tapers gently at the rear, while the shorter hatchback exhibits a sweeping uptick at the rear, along with a substantial pillar that lends it a distinctive shape – one that might seem awkward to most, but a charming throwback to others.

Mazda has equipped the 3 with precise handling. Over the years, the Mazda 3 has evolved to offer a more comfortable ride and still-maintains sharp steering, placing it a notch higher than most compact cars. The base sedans are fitted with a 155-hp 2.0-liter inline-4 engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission. Although this setup may suffice for those on a tight budget, it can easily be overlooked in favor of the slightly more expensive Mazda 3 equipped with the 186-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 engine. This engine is better suited to the car’s size, delivering ample low-end torque and linear power output, albeit requiring a heavy throttle to unleash its full potential. The larger engine enables the car to achieve a 0-60 mph time in the mid-seven-second range.

Last year saw the introduction of a 227-hp 2.5-liter turbo-4 engine. With 310 lb-ft of torque, it can propel the 3 to 60 mph in under six seconds, without the peaky feel characteristic of Mazda’s past turbos. The standard 6-speed automatic transmission operates smoothly, but it offers fewer gears than contemporary units, resulting in lower fuel efficiency and fewer gears for quicker acceleration or relaxed highway cruising. While Mazda still offers a delightful 6-speed manual transmission on the 186-hp engine, it has become a rarity. Additionally, Mazda offers all-wheel drive for $1,400 on many versions of the 3, with it being standard on turbo-4 editions.

The 3 has shed some of its lively, eager character from the past, yet its more mature performance matches its increased power. It boasts direct, pleasantly weighted steering. The suspension tuning allows for more body roll in corners, enhancing its ride quality, although it feels less nimble even in the turbocharged models. A rigid body structure also contributes to smoothing out the ride, along with softly set dampers that enable the 3 to absorb smaller ruts and bumps. However, the torsion-beam rear suspension setup becomes less agile as the pavement conditions worsen.

The non-turbo Mazda 3 delivers good fuel efficiency, while the Turbo models are thirstier. According to the EPA, the non-turbo, front-drive Mazda 3 achieves 28 mpg city, 36 highway, and 31 combined. The larger 2.5-liter inline-4 engine delivers figures of 26/35/30 mpg and 25/33/28 mpg with front- or all-wheel drive, respectively. The hatchback variant records a slightly lower combined mpg of 1. With the manual transmission, the hatchback’s fuel efficiency drops further to 24/33/27 mpg. Meanwhile, Turbo-4 models are rated at 23/32/27 mpg with front-wheel drive and 23/31/26 mpg with all-wheel drive.

Mazda has established itself as a leader in the small-car safety segment. The vehicle boasts a five-star overall rating from the NHTSA and has been bestowed with a Top Safety Pick+ award, courtesy of its “Good” adaptive LED headlights featured on higher-end models, whereas the rest are equipped with “Acceptable” headlights. A wide array of safety features are included, such as automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control. Optional safety equipment comprises blind-spot monitors, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive headlights, and a surround-view camera system.

Internally, Mazda has effectively utilized color and materials to create a cabin with a low beltline, fine strips of bright metallic trim, and a premium quality of finishes that exude a more opulent feel compared to most of its compact-car rivals. Despite the 8.8-inch display not being a touchscreen, it is seamlessly integrated into the top of the dashboard, with Mazda offering a variety of interior color options that have been all but abandoned by certain brands.

A luxurious interior compensates for limited interior space. Mazda has worked its magic on the interiors of its small cars to heighten their appeal, despite their compact dimensions. While supportive front seats help accommodate for the limited backseat and trunk space, the latter remains somewhat restricted. Even the manual seats with cloth upholstery in the base 3 are suitable for most drivers. Furthermore, all other 3 hatchbacks and sedans come with power-adjustable driver’s seats and either synthetic or genuine leather upholstery, enhanced by heating and cooling functions in top trims. All seating variants provide excellent bolstering and support, along with a wide range of adjustments that contribute to a superior driving position.

The Mazda 3 lacks ample interior storage, aside from the glovebox and a console tray suitable for a smartphone charger. The rear-seat space scarcely accommodates a medium-sized passenger seated behind a tall driver, with some of the responsibility lying with the sleek roofline. While three full-size passengers may find the back seat uncomfortable, two passengers will find it adequate. Consider the hatchback if additional room is required, as its cargo space of 20.1 cubic feet decisively outperforms the sedan’s 13.2-cubic-foot trunk, which is further reduced to 12.7 cubic feet with all-wheel drive.

The Mazda 3 lineup does not include some standard equipment usually found in its segment, and its infotainment system proves to be cumbersome without touch inputs. The base Mazda 3 2.0, priced at $21,185, features cloth upholstery, keyless start, an 8-speaker sound system, 16-inch wheels, and LED headlights, coupled with an 8.8-inch infotainment screen with a rotary controller that does not support touch inputs, resulting in prolonged periods of distracted driving and a steep learning curve. Furthermore, it does not include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are standard on the 2.0 S, effectively addressing some of the drawbacks of the click-oriented Mazda setup.

For a more enhanced experience, consider the front-drive 2.5 Select, priced at $24,115, which comes with synthetic leather upholstery and 18-inch wheels, or the S Preferred at $25,295, featuring an 8-way power driver seat, heated front seats, and a sunroof, with the option of all-wheel drive for an additional $1,400. Note that the $27,515 2.5 S Carbon Edition, offering red leather upholstery and a 12-speaker Bose audio system, should be avoided unless the grey paint is an essential requirement. For a head-up display, navigation, paddle shifters, adaptive front headlights, and a choice of a 6-speed manual transmission, opt for the Premium trim. The $34,115 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus encompasses all the aforementioned features, along with the most powerful engine and standard all-wheel drive.

Mazda’s 3 impresses on multiple fronts, with the Turbo variant only enhancing its appeal. It offers spirited driving dynamics, a refined and comfortable interior, with the hatchback boasting striking styling – all at a reasonable price point. Factor in Mazda’s reliability, and it’s evident that the 3 stands out from the competition. Potential small-car buyers should definitely consider adding the Mazda 3 to their lists, especially since the essence of “zoom zoom” is still strong in this model.

Image Source: O P Z Creative / Shutterstock

 

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