2022 Mazda 3 Review

2022 Mazda 3 - Forgotten Mazda 3 is the enthusiast's pick and it probably should be your pick.


Most recently redesigned in 2019, the Mazda 3 sees modest change with the introduction of a Carbon Edition. In 2021 it received a power infusion via an available turbocharged engine. A five-passenger compact, the Mazda 3 is unusual in the class as it is offered with front- or all-wheel drive and can be had as either a 4-door sedan and 4-door hatchback. Competitors are many and include the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Jetta.

Trim levels include the 2.0, 2.5 S, and 2.5 Turbo. The 2.0 comes with front-wheel drive. Standard on the 2.5 Turbo and available on the 2.5 S is all-wheel drive. Prices start at $21,150 and climb to nearly $34,000 on the 2.5 Turbo. The 2.0 gets 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. The 2.5 S comes with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that offers 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. 2.5 Turbo models get a turbocharged 2.5-liter four that makes 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Standard transmission on all models is a 6-speed automatic.

Safety features include forward-collision warning with braking assist, blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert, lane-departure waring, adaptive cruise control and a driver attention alert system, which is designed to detect driver fatigue and decreased attentiveness. The infotainment system supports both Android Auto and Apple Car Play and is controlled by a jog dial in the center console.

Offering three different engines, Mazda has covered all the bases with the 3. Though most buyers will be fine with the standard 2.5, those looking for a frugal and affordable, but fun-to-drive, compact can opt for the 2.0. On the flip side, enthusiasts have been screaming for the return of the MazdaSpeed3 and its back, at least in spirit, with the addition of the potent turbo 2.5.

Does this plan work? Yes and no. The base engine is underpowered for all but the most conservative drivers. It does provide a lower price point and reasonable fuel efficiency, at least. The mid-tier normally aspirated 2.5 provides acceptable acceleration from a stop and good passing punch. The engine can feel sleepy unless it set to SPORT mode. Most peg the 0 to 60 MPH time at about 8.5 seconds -- smack in the middle for the class. The new turbocharged engine is a literal breath of fresh air. It provides plenty of scoot, posting a 0 to 60 MPH time of about 5.7 seconds.

All engines engine mate well to the 6-speed automatic. No continuously variable automatic here, the conventional stepped-gear transmission provides a good balance of both spirited feel and smooth day-to-day operation. The all-wheel drive system quickly transfers power to wheels with the most grip when the road is compromised. Thankfully, it's standard with the powerful turbocharged engine.  

EPA fuel economy estimates for the Turbo are 23 MPG city 32 MPG highway and 27 MPG combined.  The 2.5 S with all-wheel drive nets 25 MPG city and 33 MPG highway. The new base engine rates at 28 MPG city and 36 MPG highway. In all cases, the 3 is slightly less fuel efficient than its competition, but within a MPG or two and all engines run fine on regular-grade fuel. In routine suburban commuting with the mid-tier 2.5 S, expect to average close to 28 MPG, perhaps as high as 32 MPG if you throw in some gentle highway cruising. The smallish 12.7-gallon fuel tank in the AWD model limits highway range.

For a generation now, Mazda has leaned toward the sporty spectrum when it comes to the ride-and-handling equation. So, it's no surprise that the Mazda 3 sports a firm ride that's both capable and athletic. That comes at a bit of a compromise, and some might find the suspension too firm on top-line trims with the 18-inch wheels.

Steering response is quick and precise if a bit light at times. Brakes provide adequate stopping power and no more. Turning circle is tidy, making the 3 very easy to drive in an urban environment. Regardless of model, the Mazda 3 remains composed and confident on the road and should be genuinely enjoyed by those that favor a twisty back road over a board-straight stretch of highway.

For the class, the Mazda 3 has a quiet cabin. There is some road and wind noise on the highway, but that's to be expected. The engine remains quiet and subdued in all but maximum acceleration. In general, this plays well with Mazda's desire to place the 3 as a premium compact.

That premium feel immediately carries over to the interior where Mazda has gone to great lengths to disguise the fact that the 3 is really a compact sedan with a sub-$30,000 price point. The overall design is clean and uncluttered, materials are a clear step up from competitors -- especially on top trims -- and the switchgear exudes a level of polish that's normally found in offerings from more expensive luxury brands.

Drivers face a traditional analog gauge cluster with a large speedometer flanked by a tachometer and fuel and temperature dials. There are a couple of programmable information screens in the instrument panel. A head-up display is offered. The infotainment screen is placed well-forward in the center of the dashtop. Due to that placement, it's controlled by a jog dial rather than being a traditional touch screen. It's an unfortunate setup that takes some getting used to and isn't entirely suited to the Android Auto or Apple Car Play interfaces. Below, there's a smattering of buttons and dials for the dual-zone climate control that provide only a modicum of functions if you don't set it to AUTO.

The front seats provide good leg, head and shoulder room. Comfort is adequate, but some might find the seats a bit firm on longer trips. Sedan or hatch, rear leg room is tight unless the front seats are moved well forward and rear head room is compromised by the low roofline.

The seating position is a bit low compared to most competitors save the Civic, meaning it's a bit of a stoop to get in and out. In addition, the front door openings aren't very wide. Visibility to the front and sides is adequate, but directly aft and to the rear quarter's visibility is limited by the sloping roofline and thick rear pillars.

Offering just 13.2 cubic feet of cargo volume, the Mazda 3's trunk trails class leaders. However, it does offer a wide opening. The hatch isn't much better offering a mediocre 20.1 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. As per the class norm, the rear seatbacks fold down in a 60/40-split. Interior storage is quite good with lots of open and covered bins throughout.

Bottom Line - The Mazda 3 continues to be one of the most refined and athletic compact cars. It also offers a wide range of engine choices and lots of standard safety and tech equipment. That combined with a high level of fit-and-finish provides a class-above experience. Still, pricing is slightly higher than most competitors, putting it beyond what buyers in this segment expect. This conscripts the 3 to find a niche among enthusiasts and those looking for a bit more than your standard compact fare.

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.