2022 Mazda3 Hatchback Turbo is an everyday almost-hot hatch
The Road Beat reviews the 2022 Mazda3 Hatchback Turbo. Is it a true hot hatch?
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman for The Road Beat.
What Is It?
Mazda's cute and great 3 (and yes, Mazda does spell it as one word: Mazda3, not Mazda 3), but in hatchback guise rather than the common sedan configuration. The hatchback adds what should be better practicality as well as swoopy looks that resemble the Giugiaro-penned (read: sensationally styled) Alfa Romeo Brera. This model also has their potent 2.5L inline-four that's boosted by a turbocharger to up to 250 horsepower and 310 pounds of torque. Add in all-wheel drive and this 3 hatchback becomes an alluring everyday prospect that might be able to etch its way into true hot hatch stardom.
The sharp, creasing body panels that pinch their way to its butt make this an attractive car in this reviewer's eyes. I know others who thought it ugly, but having been a huge fan of the Alfa Brera I saw in Scotland once, I dig the Hatchback's looks, especially over the quaint sedan. And because it's both a Mazda, and this happens to be their top-line trim, inside is a wonderfully endowed and luxurious interior for any car costing under $40,000. The red leather is particularly tasteful and makes a statement towards its intended charisma. A lot of people simply don't get it: Mazdas make the nicest interiors for the money. The quality of the leather and switchgear is just better than competing brands. Let it be said, however, that this example is the pinnacle of Mazda3s, being the Premium Plus, so lesser cars won't be quite as impressive. But, it will make you want to reach for that top-shelf item.
But, the best part of perhaps any Mazda is just how composed and natural they feel on the road. Steering is natural in response and weighting, and there's a hint of feedback even. Navigate some corners and the 3 just flows through with a fluidity not found in most rivals. Up the pace and the balance contained within the chassis can be realized, with minimal understeer and an urging to drive quicker. The poise and composure brings to mind memories of E46 BMWs like the 330i, and that's a big compliment.
Power is there when needed because, thanks to the turbo powerplant, 0-60 MPH happens in six seconds, with grip aided by the all-wheel drive system to get you moving with little fuss. There is turbo lag if you try shifting yourself via the stick or paddles, but there's a tasty dish of midrange punch from 3,000 RPM and up, and it even makes an okay sound for a four-banger. Fuel economy is respectable at a tested 32 MPG on the highway and 26 overall average, too. However, a similarly powered BMW 3-series these days will do over 40 on the highway from their own turbocharged four-cylinder.
As good as the Mazda3 drives, it isn't sharp like a Golf GTI. The steering is on the slower side, for example, and there's more body roll which prevents tire adhesion from being higher. It's a great steer, but this isn't the sports car that a proper hot hatch can be; just lacks the overall cunning and involvement. As an everyday hatch with power, it succeeds wondrously, but the fizz isn't quite there.
Make no mistake, this is a small car, and rear seat space and headroom isn't particularly boastful. Adult passengers can fit back there, but it's not an entirely happy place to be. Ditto for the cargo area, which despite being a practical hatchback hold, the volume inside isn't much better than the 3 sedan as, though you can put some taller items inside, the sloping rear glass prevents total utility. Oh, and blind spots are definitely present here because of the thick c-pillar/rear quarter panel area.
Despite the power ratings, the Mazda3 turbo never really feels that quick, and it did make me wonder and question the claimed power ratings. The last Jetta GLI I drove, with less power on paper, felt faster, and so is a Golf GTI. Maybe the aging, but still smooth, six-speed automatic is to blame. Eight, tightly spaced ratios would surely unleash extra acceleration and better fuel mileage.
And I have to bring up the infotainment system, because while it's improved over prior model years, some functions can tedious, such as scrolling through radio stations even. You really have to take some time to set-up some presets otherwise it's a endless circle of procedure. Lastly, for a small car, the price is anything but, with an as-tested MSRP of $35,810.
So, should you?
The most obvious alternative is a Volkswagen Golf GTI (a Golf R is significantly more expensive), and though the German is a true hot hatch and a hoot to drive, the Mazda has a much nicer interior quality, bordering on actual luxury. I like the Mazda 3 Hatchback more than the sedan myself just because I like the swooping 'shooting brake' design of it that harkens back to some more Italian designs. And it is somewhat more practical than the sedan though not notably so in the real world. But, I digress. What we have here is a beautifully made hatchback with driving chops to back it up. Just don't expect it to be a sports car-lite hot hatch.
2022 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo AWD Hatchback Premium Plus
As-tested price: $35,810
Pros: Great interior, great to drive
Cons: Pricey, lacks the sharpness and tactility of a true hot hatch
Verdict: Not the hot hatch it could have been, but a brilliant everyday hatch