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2024 Mazda3: Proof that small compact vehicles can be exciting and a whole lot of fun

Meet a wonderful machine to drive
mazda3-teaser
The Mazda3 is similarly sized to its competitors, but you can get all-wheel-drive and a 250-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder. It’s a lot of fun to drive although not particularly thrifty if you drive in a fun manner. PHOTO: MAZDA

Buyers seeking a low-cost compact car still have several options, so long as they’re shopping for a non-domestic brand. In case you hadn’t noticed, Ford, Chevrolet and Stellantis (Dodge and Chrysler) stopped playing in that arena some time ago. 
Among the remaining players, the Mazda3 is offered in sedan and hatchback, and with non-turbocharged and turbocharged powertrains. 
Since its last major redesign for the 2017 model year, the Mazda3 has received only modest but regular design and content updates. Lately, the focus has been on providing premium-finish interiors, even for base trims, that avoid the stripped-down basic-transportation appearance. 
There’s nothing especially outstanding with regard to the Mazda3’s appearance. It’s certainly tidy. The grille looks similar to what’s found on the CX-30 compact utility vehicle and the larger CX-5, which isn’t a bad thing at all. For sheer sportiness, the hatchback edges out the sedan.

Sedan
For sheer sportiness, the Mazda3 hatchback just edges out the sedan, but colour and wheel selection can play into that. PHOTO: MAZDA  


In terms of size, there’s hardly any difference between the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. For length, width and wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) you could consider it a virtual tie. For cargo capacity, the Civic does manage to eke out a slight advantage. 
The Mazda3’s instrument cluster has a trio of easy-to-read gauges set inside a stylish soft-touch dashboard. The 8.8-inch and available 10.3-inch screens are perched atop the dash. A traditional shift lever takes care of the gear-selection duties. 
The split-folding rear seat is a bit tight for space, which is typical of most compact vehicles, while legroom in back could be classified as adequate.

Interior
Lately, the focus for the Mazda3 has been on providing premium-finish interiors, even for base trims, that avoid the stripped-down basic-transportation appearance. The instrument cluster has a trio of easy-to-read round gauges is set inside a stylish soft-touch dashboard. PHOTO: MAZDA


Where the Mazda3 punches above its class is under the hood. For 2023, Mazda deleted the 155-horsepower 2.0-litre base engine, which left the healthier 191-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder as the starting point. Optional was a turbocharged 2.5 that puts out 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque when burning 87-octane gasoline, or 250/320 when fed 93-octane premium.
For 2024, there’s no change.
Interestingly, these are the same engines offered in the rest of the Mazda lineup, other than the MX-5 sports car and eight-passenger CX-90 utility vehicle, which has an inline six-cylinder.
What you won’t find in the Mazda3 is a hybrid option.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard for the base Mazda3, while a six-speed automatic is optional, but standard in upper trim levels and with the turbo engine. 
Likewise, all-wheel-drive is available with nonturbo-equipped 3s, but is standard with the turbo.
For lowest fuel consumption, the base 2.5 with the automatic transmission is rated at 8.4 l/100 km in the city, 6.3 on the highway and 7.5 combined. 
The base GX sedan starts at $27,600, including destination charges, while the hatchback Sport GX starts at $28,300. The six available trims come with a fairly comprehensive list of active-safety technology, including blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, active cruise control, lane-departure warning/lane-keeping assist and driver-attention alert. 

Rear
A six-speed manual transmission is standard for the base Mazda3, while a six-speed automatic is optional, but standard in upper trim levels and with the turbo engine. Photo: Mazda


The top-tier all-wheel-drive GT Turbo hatchback test vehicle ($40,300) came with a power moonroof, navigation system, leather-trimmed upholstery, heated power-adjustable driver’s seat and premium 12-speaker Bose sound system.
The turbo engine is a little slow to get rolling but it pulls hard in the midrange — say 4,000 rpm — which is great for quick passing maneuvers. You can rev it out to the 6,500 rpm redline, but there’s not much point. Go ahead and manually shift the steering-wheel-mounted paddles at 4,500 rpm for maximum enjoyment, but expect to go through some extra fuel driving in this manner.
The automatic transmission always seems to select the appropriate gear and is much preferred over a continuously variable transmissions found in the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla.
The suspension is forgiving (and quiet) on rough and uneven pavement and the car’s flat cornering prowess adds to the fun factor. A hatchback that masquerades as a sports car would be an apt description.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive and the infotainment and climate controls are easily mastered, although they’re operated with a dial that takes getting some getting used to. 
With the Mazda3, the automaker has created a distinctive compact car with an upscale presence plus a level of performance that the competition can only envy.
We’ll call it what it is: a wonderful machine to drive.

Dash

What you should know: 2024 Mazda3
Type: Front- /all-wheel-drive compact sedan and hatchback
Engines (h.p.): 2.5-litre I-4 (191); 2.5-litre I-4, turbocharged (227/250)
Transmission: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic (opt.)
Market position: The Mazda3 is an example of the automaker’s effort to elevate its entire vehicle lineup to a greater degree of standard luxury along with enhanced performance and competitive price points. 
A very controlled and quiet ride is the Mazda3’s advantage.
Points: Sedan and hatchback designs maintain a familiar yet evolving appearance. • Conservatively styled gauges and controls shun the trend to giant displays. • Both standard and available powerplants deliver ample thrust. • It’s surprising that a hybrid is not available. • The fun-to-drive factor comes as standard equipment. 
Active safety: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (std.); active cruise control (std.); front emergency braking (std.); inattentive-driver alert (std.); lane-departure warning (std.); pedestrian warning (std.)
L/100 km (city/hwy): 8.4/6.3 (base 2.5)    
Base price (incl. destination): $27,600

BY COMPARISON

Honda Civic

  • Base price: $28,750
  • FWD sedan, hatchback; up to 200 h.p., 315 h.p. in the sporty Type R.  

Subaru Impreza

  • Base price: $29,300
  • AWD hatchback; 152- or 182-h.p. four-cylinder engines with CVT.   

Toyota Corolla

  • Base price: $26,400
  • Smart looking FWD, AWD sedan and hatchback; hybrid option.

– written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media

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