Despite having been around for nearly two decades, the Mazda3 is relatively new to the compact car segment. In Japan, it was originally known as the Axela, a mashup of the words accelerate and excellent, which is fitting as the Mazda3 has been the option for those who want a compact car, but don’t want to lose touch with the road. We spent a week with the 2022 Mazda3 Sport GT Turbo to see how much zoom-zoom this little Mazda packs.
On the topic of zoom-zoom, the Mazda3 Turbo delivers. In its most frugal form, the Mazda3 comes with a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive, however, that isn’t what we have here. The range-topper GT Turbo offers a 2.5-liter turbocharged four engine good for 250 horsepower at 5,000RPM, and an astonishing 320 lb-ft. of torque at just 2500 RPM. Those numbers drop about 10% with the use of 87 octane fuel over 91, however it’s nice to have the option to use either. This engine is only available with an automatic transmission and Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive system.
The power figures look good on paper and they translate well to the road as well. We found that since the engine is turbocharged and the drivetrain is a little bit heavier with all-wheel-drive, the Sport GT doesn’t really feel quick off the line. At highway speeds it has passing power and then some.
For a compact commuter car, this Mazda3 was unexpectedly quick and we were happy to see a conventional automatic transmission here in place of the widely adopted CVT. There are paddles to tap, however they don’t seem to have much of an immediate effect on the situation. In contrast the sport mode does a good job of livening throttle response and makes the transmission behave nicely.
The 2022 Mazda3 Sport GT Turbo also behaves well when it’s shown some corners. The MacPherson strut suspension coupled with a torsion beam in the rear isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but it’s simple suspension done right. The suspension was definitely tuned towards a sportier driving style, and as a result we felt that at times ride quality suffered as vibrations from uneven road surfaces were allowed to transmit themselves through the cabin. Those buyers looking for a performance-oriented drive probably won’t care, however those looking for a comfort-oriented grocery getter will need to look elsewhere.
Steering feel is good and in comparison to some of the competition, the Mazda is quite engaging. Even with the all-wheel-drive system in our test car, it managed to feel nimble and had very little understeer. Our top-trim tester had the full suite of i-ACTIVSENSE features such as blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, radar cruise and lane keep assist, not to be confused with lane centering. Overall, we found that most of the features worked fine however we were glad to see they can be easily disabled as at times they hinder driver focus.
A head-up display was also fitted to our test car and we found it was well lit and was of good quality, although a little under-utilized as the only information available was speed, speed limit and blind spot monitoring. Other manufacturers such as Acura do a much better job using the HUD to its full capacity. We also found that the gauge cluster followed a similar theme, although the center portion is digital, there is not much information it can display or customization that can be done.
Rounding out the tech in the Mazda3 is the infotainment, and unfortunately it was one of the true let-downs. The user experience can only be described as frustrating, the overall design of the menu system seems uninspired and even a simple task such as changing from one radio station to the next requires multiple button presses. Luckily, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available and although they are not the easiest to use on the strictly controller-based system, they make the lacklustre infotainment a bit better to use.
We can say that one element that was top notch was the material quality on the interior. The seats were well bolstered and all touch points and even areas such as the upper dashboard are soft touch. For this price point, the Mazda3 is very impressive. The only areas of improvement are the piano black trim bits. This tester had 23 kilometers on it at pick-up and the trim were already lightly marred; we fear that for the long term they will damage easily. Rear legroom is tight and for my six-foot self, the rear seats are not an option for anything other than short trips.
The base Mazda3 Sport is the $22,200 GX model. For that price you get the base engine, front-drive and a manual gearbox,l with an automatic available for $1,300. The volume-selling GS model competes closely with the 2022 Honda Civic Hatchback which has a starting price of $28,000 for either the manual or CVT transmissions, making the Mazda cheaper.
The Sport GT Turbo model doesn’t have a direct competitor from Honda as the most powerful Civic Hatchback only comes with the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine good for 180hp, a nearly 70hp delta from the Mazda. For a more-direct comparison in power and price, we think you’d have to look at offerings from manufacturers such as Hyundai with their Veloster N, keeping in mind that the Veloster is more expensive and still less powerful than the Mazda but does deliver a much more engaging driving experience. Our tester came in at a grand total of $36,750, which includes a $450 paint job.
We think it’s clear that the 2022 Mazda3 Sport GT turbo excels in the power for price category. If you are looking for a fun daily driver, the Mazda3 Turbo is an excellent option. If having all-wheel-drive is important for you, the Mazda3 does also check that box, however if having the best infotainment tech is a priority, we suggest you look elsewhere.