2023 Mazda3 Review: Performance and luxury at a budget price

2023 Mazda3 Review: Performance and luxury at a budget price

Pros: Gorgeous design; fun to drive; upscale interior; powerful engines; available all-wheel drive and engine upgrade

Cons: Below-average fuel economy; tight rear seat; no high-performance variant; infotainment system won’t be for everyone

The 2023 Mazda3 is one of our favorite compact cars. It manages to combine an upscale interior with superb driving dynamics for a price that remains highly competitive with contemporaries like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Particularly when you get into the Mazda3’s higher trim levels and Turbo options, it presents itself as a legitimate entry-level luxury car alternative. Ask us if we’d rather have a fully-loaded Mazda3 Turbo or a base Mercedes-Benz CLA, and the answer will be Mazda3 every single time.

Driving enthusiasts will find a lot to love in the Mazda3, as Mazda still offers a nice six-speed manual transmission on the hatchback model. Neither this nor the Turbo come close to a Mazdaspeed revival, but they’re still legitimately fun cars to drive right out of the box. If it’s all-weather traction you’re looking for instead, Mazda has an answer there with a rare-for-the-segment all-wheel-drive option. As for the downsides, they’re all space and utility related. Both the sedan and hatchback have small rear seats for the segment, and despite the hatchback being shaped for greater storage, the cargo area is small (the sedan can actually hold more). Of course, you can toss down the seats in the hatchback for a lot more utility, but it’s a less-than-ideal vehicle for a four-person trip with luggage. Despite some of these drawbacks, we still highly recommend the Mazda3 to anybody who asks. The design may be going on five years old at this point, but it’s still the prettiest compact car you can buy, and the interior design remains unmatched at this price point. If you couldn’t tell by now, we really like the Mazda3.

Interior & Technology   |   Passenger & Cargo Space   |   Performance & Fuel Economy

What it’s like to drive   |   Pricing & Trim Levels   |   Crash Ratings & Safety Features

What’s new for 2023?

Mazda drops the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine option for 2023, but it also updates the now-standard 2.5-liter naturally aspirated engine for more power. A 5-horsepower increase means output is bumped to 191 horsepower, while torque remains the same at 186 pound-feet. Plus, Mazda reintroduces cylinder deactivation for 2023 (it was initially available before being dropped), leading to an increase in fuel economy over last year.

2021 Mazda3 Turbo

What are the Mazda3’s interior and in-car technology like?

The interior quite simply makes you go “wow.” A Toyota Corolla or Hyundai Elantra, which are actually quite nice, look and feel like they should cost substantially less – especially when comparing top trim levels. Whatever trim level of Mazda3 you’re considering, however, the key to its wow factor is how the Mazda’s design removes visual clutter by reducing switchgear and effectively hiding air vents and door handles. It just looks special. Honda gets close with the new Civic, but the Mazda3’s interior is still nicer.

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It’s also functional. The steering wheel, which looks sensational, is an absolute treat to hold. There’s considerable center console space, and Mazda’s tech interface, which had lagged behind its competition due to key usability issues, has been cleaned up. The dashtop screen is large and easy to see. The knob that controls it is large, not unlike BMW’s iDrive, and ergonomically placed on the center console. It’s not a touchscreen, though, as Mazda engineers determined that hunting for touch-operating icons can be distracting. They’re not wrong, and the higher-mounted screen is certainly easier to read at a glance. That said, there are a lot of people who don’t not care for this setup and specifically prefer a touchscreen like the ones offered in all the Mazda’s competitors. Specifically, the lack of a touchscreen can make it harder to select icons in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which were designed to be controlled by touch. There’s a reason the Mazda CX-50 now allows touch operation when using CarPlay and Android Auto, but that advancement unfortunately hasn’t made it to the Mazda3 yet. 

2019 Mazda3 hatchback2019 Mazda3 hatchback2019 Mazda3 hatchback2019 Mazda3

How big is the Mazda3?

The Mazda3 is average in terms of its exterior dimensions. It’s similar to, but a bit shorter than a Honda Civic, VW Jetta or Hyundai Elantra, but bigger than a Corolla. Front occupants will have space right on par with compact competitors, and with nice seats and seating position, it’s plenty comfortable. The back seat, by contrast, has the least amount of legroom in the segment. Admittedly, it would’ve been 10 years ago, but today it may feel cramped compared to the enormous Civic. The hatchback’s avant garde roofline also makes rear headroom tight and the unusually fat rear pillars make things a bit dungeon-y. Of course, some may consider that an acceptable trade-off for the 3 hatch’s unique look.

The sedan’s trunk is useful and managed to fit all six suitcases in our luggage test, but it must be said that its 13.2 cubic-feet of space is outdone by the surprisingly cavernous Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra trunks. The Mazda3 Hatchback cargo area jumps up to 20.1 cubic-feet, but that number is deceptive as it counts a lot of space up near the roof that isn’t particularly useful. We actually found the sedan can hold more than the hatchback when the back seat is raised due to it having a longer space. Fold that back seat down, though, and the hatchback obviously grants it far more space and versatility than the sedan can manage. There also isn’t much of a drop-off in space between the Mazda3 hatchback and the mechanically related Mazda CX-30 small SUV. 

What are the Mazda3’s fuel economy and performance specs?

Every 2023 Mazda3 comes with a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated inline-four good for 191 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. That makes it a powerful and torquey base engine for its class; some of its rivals’ upgrade engines don’t even produce that much. All versions come standard with a six-speed automatic, but the top-of-the-line Premium Hatchback can be outfitted with a six-speed manual (front-drive only), which will be the enthusiast’s choice. Front-wheel drive is standard with the automatic, and unusual for the segment, all-wheel drive is an option.

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Fuel economy is 30 mpg combined for most versions with the automatic and front-wheel drive, but the base model achieves 31 mpg. Even a base AWD model is good for 30 mpg combined, but falls to 29 mpg in Premium trim.

The Mazda3 Turbo is a unique entry in the segment in that it provides a massive power upgrade without the sort of high-performance chassis upgrades you’d find in a Honda Civic Si or VW Jetta GLI. It features Mazda’s 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder found in far larger vehicles like the CX-9 and CX-50 SUVs. It produces 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque on 87 octane, but pump 93 octane, and those figures go up to 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. You can only get the Turbo with a six-speed automatic and all-drive drive. Fuel economy dips to 27 or 26 mpg combined, depending on which trim of Turbo you opt for.

2019 Mazda3 AWD

What’s the Mazda3 like to drive?

The Mazda3 is so much fun. We’ve already talked about the Mazda’s strong powertrain, but its ride and handling really make it something special. The steering weight is pretty much smack in the middle of the spectrum from light to heavy. It builds resistance naturally and even delivers some road feel, while every input returns exactly the amount of steering you desire.

The chassis then follows in kind, as it’s amazingly neutral with nary a hint of understeer. Body roll is very restrained. Over bumps, the car doesn’t get nervous, which is impressive considering its torsion-beam rear-end. It’s a car that begs to rip around corners. Thankfully, the Mazda’s ride quality doesn’t suffer much for its handling prowess. It’s certainly on the firm side, enough that some people used to particularly cushy cars might be put off. But the firmness is couched in excellent body control. There’s very little movement from bumps, and it feels downright European. Road noise and engine noise are hushed, too, making for a refined cruising experience.

The Turbo might sound like a performance model on paper, but it’s no Mazdaspeed3 revival. Yes, the Turbo is noticeably quicker in a straight line and makes a nice growl, but the engine is a lazy one. It prioritizes low-end shove over a sportier race to the top of the tach, and the six-speed automatic isn’t a speedy shifter. The Turbo’s suspension is only changed to account for the extra weight of the Turbo powertrain. It ends up riding a little firmer but handling a little worse than a non-Turbo car due to the smallest sensation of front heaviness not experienced in the naturally aspirated version. That said, the Mazda3 Turbo is still a great handling and driving car — just don’t expect anything as serious as a VW GTI or Golf R.

What other Mazda3 reviews can I read?

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Mazda3 Sedan and Hatchback Luggage Test | Trunk comparison

See how the luggage situation changes between the Mazda3 sedan and hatchback (plus the CX-30 SUV).

2019 Mazda3


2021 Mazda3 Turbo First Drive | A fun luxury alternative

Here’s what we thought about the Mazda3 Turbo after getting our first taste of the boosted version.

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2020 Mazda3 Hatchback Drivers’ Notes | Luxury with a manual

Here are all of our staff’s thoughts about the Mazda3 when it’s equipped with the six-speed manual transmission

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2019 Mazda3 First Drive | Defining the term ‘fun to drive’

Find out what’s new about the 2019 Mazda3, including its engineering, styling and feature content. Also included are our first driving impressions.

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2019 Mazda3 AWD First Drive | Unconventionally incredible

Our first drive of the all-wheel-drive 2019 Mazda3, the only vehicle in its class not made by Subaru that isn’t front-wheel drive. We find it’s a legitimate alternative to entry-level luxury sedans.

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2019 Mazda3 Drivers’ Notes Review

“The Mazda3 is the sportiest in the segment and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s dead-even with the Honda Civic for the top spot in the looks department.”

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2019 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD Premium Second Drive | Gushing about an exceptional car

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What is the 2023 Mazda3’s price?

The 2023 Mazda3 pricing starts at $23,615 for the S, including the $1,065 destination charge. That’s for the base 3 Sedan, which comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, an eight-speaker sound system, two USB ports, an 8.8-inch infotainment display and a full suite of accident avoidance tech (see safety section below).

The base hatchback S trim with front-wheel drive has a base price of $24,615 and is equipped with a similar level of standard features as the sedan. The only way to get the six-speed manual transmission is to get the hatchback in Premium trim, and it costs $30,215.

A Turbo Hatchback (cheapest way to get the Turbo powertrain) starts at $33,515. Opt for the Turbo Sedan in its Premium Plus trim — the only way the Turbo Sedan comes — and the price is $35,065.

Mazda3 Sedan

S: $23,615
S Select: $25,015
S Preferred: $25,615
S Carbon Edition: $28,315
S Carbon Edition AWD: $29,715
S Premium AWD: $30,515
Turbo Premium Plus: $35,065

Mazda3 Hatchback

S: $24,615
S Select: $26,015
S Preferred: $27,615
S Carbon Edition: $29,265
S Carbon Edition AWD: $30,665
S Premium AWD: $31,465
S Premium 6MT: $30,215
Turbo: $33,515
Turbo Premium Plus: $36,365

What are the Mazda3’s safety ratings and driver assistance features?

Every 2023 Mazda3 comes standard with the modern car basics, including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear- rear cross-traffic alert and automatic high-beams. Move up the trim ladder into the fully-loaded Turbo, and you gain niceties like rear automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, a 360-degree view camera and a traffic jam assist that functions as lane following at low speeds on the highway.

The Mazda3 sedan and hatchback received a Top Safety Pick+ award by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They got the best possible crash scores as well as the best possible ratings for the frontal crash prevention system and LATCH child seat ease of use. They got an Acceptable headlight score for the base trims, but a “Good” for Premium and Turbo trims. The NHTSA gave the Mazda3 similarly high marks in its crash testing, awarding it five stars for every crash test scenario.

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