The Mazda3 AWD Turbo Sedan –
MAZDA GIVES A HOT HATCH THE BOOT
Typically, if given the choice between a compact hatch and that same platform with a trunk, I’ll go with the hatch; I like the versatility of a 5-door, and generally prefer its shorter footprint. Whether it’s Golf vs. Jetta, Focus vs. Focus or, back in the day, Audi’s A3 hatch vs. its sedan counterpart, I’ll take the hatchback, thank you very much. But that take has been upended by a week spent in Mazda’s Mazda3 sedan, ‘cuz I’m thinking it gives the hatchback the boot…uh, so to speak.
As has been almost endlessly noted, the sedan – anyone’s sedan – is presumably on life support. The domestic OEMs have all but abandoned the format in the volume segments (try shopping for Ford’s Fusion or Chevy’s Impala), and while the Germans and Asians show more loyalty to the category, for every sedan introduced or refreshed they’ll give you three crossovers. And here’s where Mazda again upends the argument; not only is the Mazda3 sedan (possibly) more compelling than its hatch counterpart, with its dynamic performance the thing punches well above its weight.
The big news here is what’s under the hood. For several model years Mazda has been gravitating to a near-luxury spec, for what we’d guess are two compelling reasons. First, building cars in Japan is more expensive than building cars in Korea. And with Toyota, Honda and Nissan able to build in volumes Mazda can’t match, they often sell ‘em with incentives Mazda doesn’t want to match. So, rather than chase Altimas in the showroom, Mazda’s business team would rather pursue Audi.
In its designs and appointments, Mazda has been hitting homeruns. Its sheetmetal is both stylish and mature, while interiors look as if they might have come from European design studios and not Mazda’s Hiroshima HQ. It was only when putting your foot down that you’d be underwhelmed; even with 2.5 liters of naturally aspirated four, the Mazda3 won’t surprise or delight anyone. And while its MX-5 Miata has done more with less for its 30 years, the Miata is a visceral experience you might not want in a compact 4-door sedan.
For this model year Mazda has taken the sorely (from my viewpoint, desperately!) needed step of boosting the Mazda3 performance via their turbocharged 2.5 liter four cylinder, the same mill they’ve been installing in the CX-5 and CX-9 crossovers. With 250 horsepower (using Premium unleaded) and 320 lb-ft of torque driving all four wheels through a 6-speed auto, those 250 horses (227 using regular fuel) propel the Mazda3 sedan’s 3,400 pounds with quiet authority. This, notably, is performance for adults and not, back in the carmaker’s MazdaSpeed days, the Hooligans.
Sufficient power is only as good as its platform, and a Mazda platform rarely disappoints. With its low center of gravity sitting within a 107-inch wheelbase and 183-inch overall length, the Mazda3 feels comfortable and composed in a way that eludes most of its natural competitors – and all of the compact crossovers. And while you big(ger) folks might wish for a tad more hip or shoulder room, there’s always Noom to go with your Zoom.
For those caught in the sedan vs. hatchback vortex, know that the sedan’s trunk offers 13 cubic feet of storage space, augmented by a rear seat that folds. Subjectively, I also like the way the trunk offsets the front overhang visually; the hatch, some 8 inches shorter, doesn’t pull the same trick. I also like the greenhouse of the sedan, while the hatchback’s thick C-pillar imposes an almost cocoon-like feel when behind the wheel; that’s fine for caterpillars, less so for drivers.
With all of the Mazda3’s turbocharged, all-wheel drive goodness, I continue to wish for more intuitive control of its infotainment. And while the Premium Plus trim supplies all of the nanny aids a nanny might possibly want, it also pushes the MSRP to over $32K. That number is way south of Audi’s A3, but way north of Hyundai’s top-tier Elantra.
Recently, an editor at Jalopnik posed the ‘what would you drive if you had just one car’ question. And while I’d typically suggest VW’s GTI, this new turbocharged Mazda3 is a compelling alternative. When it comes down to writing a check, it might just give a hot hatch the boot…