The 2022 Mazda 3 makes a play for upscale compact-car buyers with a rich interior and cut-above handling. The 3 sedan and hatchback are compact entry-level cars with lovely interiors and lots of safety equipment. They’re competition for cars like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Hyundai Elantra.
The 3 has some of the same restrained elegance as Mazda’s crossovers, but the hatchback’s thick rear pillars block out the view and set it apart from the compact-car mainstream. Both the 3 sedan and hatchback wear a wide, shield-shaped grille with a forward cant, for an athletic look. It’s framed by thin LED headlights that fair into front fenders with gentle contours rather than sharp cutlines. The sedan’s more conventional shape tapers softly at the rear, while the shorter hatchback makes a sweeping uptick at the rear, with a hefty pillar that gives it an overall shape that’s awkward to most eyes, a charming throwback to others.
Mazda imbues the 3 with crisp handling. The Mazda 3 has grown refined over the years, with a more comfortable ride and still-crisp steering. It’s a cut above most compact cars.Base sedans have a 155-hp 2.0-liter inline-4 and a 6-speed automatic. It’s meager power for tight budgets—and it’s easily skipped in favor of the slightly higher-priced Mazda 3 with the 186-hp 2.5-liter inline-4. It’s more fitting for the car’s size, with ample low-end torque and linear power output, though it still takes a heavy throttle foot to extract all its potential. The bigger engine can deliver a 0-60 mph time in the mid-seven-second range.
A 227-hp 2.5-liter turbo-4 emerged last year. With 310 lb-ft of torque, it can push the 3 to 60 mph in under six seconds, but doesn’t have a peaky feel like the Mazdaspeed turbos of the past. The standard 6-speed automatic stays in the background with smooth shifts, but it has fewer gears than contemporary units, which leads to lower gas mileage ratings and fewer gears to stage for quicker launches or more relaxed highway cruising. Mazda still offers a sweet-shifting 6-speed manual on the 186-hp engine, but it’s rare. Mazda offers all-wheel drive for $1,400 on many versions of the 3; it’s standard on turbo-4 editions.
The 3 has lost some of the sprightly, eager feel from its past, but its more mature moves fit its added power. It has direct, nicely weighted steering, but its suspension tuning also allows for more lean in corners. That benefits its ride quality, but it feels less agile, even in turbocharged cars. A stiff body structure also helps smooth out its ride, as do its softly set dampers, the 3 can eat up smaller ruts and bumps, but the torsion-beam rear suspension setup gets less agile as the pavement condition grows worse.
The non-turbo Mazda 3 gets good gas mileage, while the Turbo models are thirstier. The EPA rates the non-turbo, front-drive Mazda 3 at 28 mpg city, 36 highway, 31 combined. The bigger 2.5-liter inline-4 checks in at 26/35/30 mpg and 25/33/28 mpg with front- or all-wheel drive, respectively, while the hatchback drops 1 mpg combined. With the manual, the hatchback falls farther to 24/33/27 mpg. Turbo-4 models get EPA ratings of 23/32/27 mpg with front-wheel drive and 23/31/26 mpg with all-wheel drive.
Mazda earns its way to the top of the small-car safety class. It’s very safe, with a five-star overall rating from the NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick+ award, thanks to “Good” adaptive LED headlights on higher-end models, though the rest have “Acceptable” headlights. Extensive safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control. Safety options include blind-spot monitors, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive headlights, and a surround-view camera system.
Inside, Mazda’s deft handling of color and materials yields a cabin with a low beltline, thin strips of bright metallic trim, and a high grade of finishes that look richer than most of its compact-car rivals. Though the 8.8-inch display isn’t a touchscreen, it’s integrated well into the top of the dash, and Mazda offers a range of color inside that has been all but abandoned by some brands.
A rich-looking interior dresses up average interior room. Mazda works some magic on its small-car interiors to dress them for success, but they’re still small. Supportive front seats help offset slim backseat and trunk space. Even the manual seats with cloth upholstery in the base 3 fit most drivers well, but all other 3 hatchbacks and sedans have power-adjustable driver’s seats and either synthetic or real leather upholstery, with heating and even cooling on top trims. All have good bolstering and support, and good range of adjustment for a fine driving position.
The 3 doesn’t have an abundance of interior storage, aside from the glovebox and a console tray that can house a smartphone charger. Rear-seat space barely allows a medium-size passenger to sit behind a tall driver; the sleek roofline shoulders some of the responsibility here. Three full-size passengers won’t be happy in the back seat, but two do fine. Pick the hatchback if you really need the room: its cargo space of 20.1 cubic feet handily beats the sedan’s 13.2-cubic-foot trunk, which gets trimmed to 12.7 cubic feet with all-wheel drive.
The Mazda 3 family skips some usual standard equipment, and its infotainment system proves balky without touch inputs. The $21,185 base Mazda 3 2.0 has cloth upholstery, keyless start, an 8-speaker sound system, 16-inch wheels, LED headlights, and an 8.8-inch infotainment screen with a rotary controller that won’t accept touch inputs, leading to long stretches of distracted driving and a steep set-up and learning curve. It omits Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which becomes standard on the 2.0 S, and helps cure some of the woes of the click-happy Mazda setup.
Spend at least $24,115 for the front-drive 2.5 Select, which has synthetic leather upholstery and 18-inch wheels, or $25,295 for the S Preferred, which has an 8-way power driver seat, heated front seats, and a sunroof, with a $1,400 option for all-wheel drive. Unless you need the gray paint, skip the $27,515 2.5 S Carbon Edition, which adds red leather upholstery and 12-speaker Bose audio. You’ll need to get the Premium trim to score a head-up display, navigation, paddle shifters, adaptive front headlights, and the choice of a 6-speed manual transmission. The $34,115 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus has all that, plus the strongest engine and standard all-wheel drive.
Mazda’s 3 is pretty close to perfect by impressing on many levels, the Turbo only makes it more so. For a reasonable amount of money, you get spunky driving dynamics, a comfortable and refined interior, and with the hatchback, stunning styling. Blend in Mazda reliability and the 3 becomes a standout. Small-car buyers would do well to add the Mazda 3 to their shopping lists because zoom zoom is alive and well.