The 2023 Mazda3 is a solid contender in the compact segment, offering three engines and two body styles to pick between, as well as available all-wheel drive (AWD).
There’s still a sedan version available but my tester was the Sport, which is Mazda-speak for hatchback. Beyond that, it was the top-level GT Turbo, which includes standard AWD for its nearly $40,000 pre-tax asking price.
The Mazda3’s styling is understated, smooth, and elegant, and it should age gracefully where more angular models may end up looking dated. The cabin is also elegantly designed, with soft-touch dash panels that nestle the 8.8-inch centre screen. My tester was finished with red leather upholstery, a no-charge option over the stock black interior, but it’s only available with certain exterior colours. On most trims it’s paired with a black dash, but on turbocharged models the dash is red, too.
In crash-testing by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2023 Mazda3 Sport received the top five stars for front crash and rollover results. While it hasn’t yet received side crash and overall ratings, it’s basically unchanged from the 2022 model that got five stars for all; new testing is needed because the 2023 model now contains standard rear side airbags.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awards it the highest Top Safety Pick+. The not-for-profit organization is gradually rolling out a new side impact crash test that better simulates being hit by a larger SUV, and while it wasn’t included in the IIHS’s overall ratings at the time of this writing – that’ll happen sometime in 2023 – the Mazda3 gets the top “Good” rating in the new test as well as the old one.
All trims include such driver-assist technologies as blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and the rearview camera that’s mandatory on all new vehicles, but you have to get at least the GS, one up from the base GX trim, to get emergency front braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and driver attention alert. The GT trims further add emergency rear braking, traffic sign recognition, 360-degree cameras, and a head-up display. In days gone by the last item was a chintzy-looking plastic piece that rose up out of the dash, but now it’s projected onto the windshield where it’s easier to focus your eyes.
All trims include such features as LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, 8.8-inch centre screen, and seven-inch LCD instrument cluster display. Rather surprisingly, you have to move up one trim to the GS to get heated mirrors, and that next-up trim further adds such items as dual-zone automatic climate control, a heated steering wheel, and rear-seat centre armrest. The GT further includes leather upholstery, 10-way power driver’s seat with memory, sunroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror, premium stereo, satellite radio, and navigation.
The Mazda3 has an easy-to-use climate system, with dials for temperature and with buttons for the fan speed, heated seats, and steering wheel. But the centre screen isn’t touch-activated and it’s a clunky system to use. You first tap buttons to bring up the screen and then use a joystick to make your selections, and some require several steps to get what you need. Some functions are also voice-controlled, but everything should be simple and quick to use.
Finally, while the key fob itself is large, it only has tiny buttons on the side that can be difficult to see and fiddly to operate. When I’m walking toward my vehicle in a dimly-lit parking lot, I want big buttons that are easy to use.
The Sport offers the inherent practicality of a hatchback for stowing cargo, but at 569 L with the rear seats up, it trails key competitors; the Honda Civic hatch has 693 L and the Subaru Impreza, which only comes as a hatchback, has 588 L. The seats fold in a 60/40 split to carry more stuff, with a total of 1,334 L available in that configuration.
Small-item storage is good up front. The console box cover can be closed all the way as an armrest, or slid back to reveal an open cubby. There’s also storage in the box itself, but you must slide the lid all the way back before you can lift it up.
The Mazda3’s seats are very supportive and comfortable for long drives, with bolsters that keep you centred against the cushion but aren’t in the way when you’re getting in or out. They come with three levels of heat and get quite warm at the highest setting, as does the steering wheel. The rear seats have the expected legroom for a vehicle of this size and will contentedly handle all but the tallest passengers. This Mazda’s ride is more on the sporty side than most in this segment, but it’s still sufficiently smooth and quiet.
The Mazda3 starts with a 2.0L four-cylinder making 155 hp that’s available in front-wheel drive only, and then gets a 2.5L that makes 191 hp and comes in front- or all-wheel drive. The GT trim comes with the 2.5L but can be optioned to the turbocharged 2.5L four-cylinder like this tester, which comes exclusively with AWD. The 2.0L and the 2.5L with front-wheel drive can still be had with a six-speed manual transmission, which is exceedingly rare these days, but AWD models come only with a six-speed automatic.
The turbocharged engine makes 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque on 87-octane gasoline. If you’re willing to pay up for 93-octane, the numbers rise to 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. It’s a sweet little engine, with strong acceleration and virtually no lag, including during highway passing, as well as good manners and no hint of excess muscle when you want to take off smoothly and moderately from a stop.
Driving Feel: 9/10
The Mazda3 may be in the entry-car segment, but it doesn’t drive like a grocery-getter. The steering is well-weighted and responsive, there’s lots of steering feel, and this little car does a beautiful job of hugging the corners. However, as with the engine, it’s sharp but not overly so, and the response isn’t so quick that it feels twitchy and too-sporty on the daily drive. It’s well-planted on the highway, is easy to manoeuvre in parking lots, and the brakes stop it smoothly and confidently.
Fuel Economy: 7.5/10
The turbocharged 2.5L is rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 10.1 L/100 km in the city, 7.5 on the highway, and 8.9 on the highway. In my cold-weather week with it, I averaged 9.4 L/100 km.
The turbo is naturally thirstier than other Mazda3 engines, where the 2.0L rates at 7.7 L/100 km and the 2.5L gets 8.1, both in combined driving. It’s also higher than competitors, but you’re also getting all-wheel drive, which is rare in this segment. One that does have it is the Subaru Impreza, which rates at 7.6 L/100 km combined; but at 152 hp it isn’t as powerful as the Mazda3’s larger engines.
The Mazda3 Sport starts at $24,650 for the GX with the 2.0L engine and manual transmission, including delivery, and rises to $39,150 for the GT Turbo AWD. It’s likely most buyers won’t go all the way to the top with the turbo, and the GT with the non-turbo 2.5L is a good option at $34,750 in front-wheel drive, or $36,750 in AWD. By comparison, the Subaru Impreza with standard all-wheel drive runs from $25,458 to $35,058. The Honda Civic Hatchback is priced between $32,025 and $39,025, while Toyota’s Corolla hatch is $26,264 to $32,664.
For an everyday driver, I’d probably look at the non-turbo GT in AWD, which offers the same features list as the turbo, but at a lower price. In either case, I’d look at the 2023 Mazda3 Sport for its good looks, great handling, and comfortable seats.
|Peak Horsepower||227 hp @ 5,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||310 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||10.1 / 7.5 / 8.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||569 / 1,334 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2023 Mazda3 Sport GT Turbo|
|Price as Tested||$39,500|
$250 – Polymetal Grey Metallic paint, $250