Mazda is in a very interesting place right now. The Japanese auto giant has always been known for offering buyers a unique blend of value and performance. However, changing sales dynamics and a surge in SUV demand have forced Mazda to alter its sales plans, with the company putting a greater emphasis on SUVs. That has come at the cost of some of their sedan entries, with the Mazda6 being axed a few years ago. The 2023 Mazda3 is now the lone sedan entry, but does the compact four-door still have the magic needed to help it retain its enviable balance of performance and value? Or has the relentless march of SUVs taken away some of its luster?
Mazda3 Styling Is Aging, But It Still Looks Elegant
Mazda has not made any major changes to the exterior styling for 2023. As a result, its elegant suit of clothes is starting to show its age, but unlike other models that have seen minimal updates for long periods of time, the Mazda3’s passage through time is not as obvious, and from some angles, the Mazda3 still looks modern and fresh. The front fascia is reminiscent of recent Mazda concepts, and the bold front grille is complemented by the organic flowing lines that define the front bumper and headlights. The side profile leads the eye to the back end, where crisp taillights and a similar clean design define the rear bumper.
The Mazda3 is also available as a hatchback, but if we had our choice, we would go for the sedan. While you do lose cargo space and versatility, the hatchback’s rear styling is not as sharp as the sedan’s, and the sedan makes better use of its proportions which helps create a more balanced look. The Mazda3 is expected to bring the fight to rivals like the Subaru Impreza, Honda Civic, and Volkswagen Jetta, and its refreshing to see that the Mazda has a leg up over the Impreza and the Jetta in this category though the current generation Civic has done a good job making up for lost ground.
Premium Materials And Comfortable Cabin Make Mazda3 A Special Breed
Slip inside the Mazda3, and you’ll see that the cabin is refreshingly familiar. The interior still has an organic design theme, and it does a good job replicating what you might see in a BMW or Audi product, especially in specific colors. Premium Plus models like our example get heated leather front seats, with the thrones doing a good job delivering plenty of long-haul comfort. While the bolstering here is not as extreme as a more performance-oriented compact, it is enough to keep occupants in place in moderate cornering and other types of spirited driving.
The infotainment system is still a balky awkward thing to use, with a large controller knob taking the place of a traditional touchscreen. But a welcomed change for 2023 is that Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are now standard on all models, with both systems (Android in our case) significantly improving the usability of the infotainment system, especially when typing in directions for a destination. The back seat is typical for the segment, with headroom tight for taller adults, but the cushions provide good support. The rest of the controls are laid out in a logical manner, but cubby storage is adequate when compared to some of its rivals, with the door pockets not having room for larger water bottles or other objects.
The trunk is spacious, and in our testing, it managed to swallow slightly more stuff than the hatchback model, with our tester handling a heavy load of groceries during its stay with us. The cabin also does a good job of keeping excess noise out of the passenger compartment, with only the faintest whispers of wind noise and the roar from the tires disrupting the calm.
Turbo Engine Is Still Performance Champ, But Base Engine Makes Stronger Statement
Performance for the 2023 Mazda3 is still a strong selling point, but the company used the opportunity to do some minor shuffling in the engine lineup. The base 2.0-liter engine has been dropped and in its place is the formerly optional 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder that now makes 191 hp (a gain of 5 hp) and also gets cylinder deactivation too. Our example arrived with the optional 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which remains exclusive to higher trim levels.
This engine makes 250 horsepower but only on a diet of premium unleaded fuel. Switch to regular, and the horsepower dips to 227, though the torque number remains unchanged at 310 lb-ft. A six-speed manual continues to be present on front-wheel drive models, but all-wheel drive versions get a six-speed automatic. That’s still a few cogs short of some of its rivals, but it did allow our all-wheel-drive tester to make the sprint to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds.
But while the turbo engine grabs the majority of the spotlight, the new base engine does a much better job of being a strong value play for Mazda buyers. We had the chance to drive such a model separately at our local Mazda dealer, and the 2.5-liter certainly has more low-end torque and while it does give up some smoothness to the turbo, we think that it can still suit the needs of buyers just fine and as a result, it’s a tougher call when choosing between the two engines. If you want pure outright performance, then the turbo four will be the way to go, but if your looking for a balance of fun, fuel economy, and a few dollars off the price, then the naturally 2.5-liter might win you over once you get to know it better.
Handling is still smooth, but there were times when the suspension temporarily got knocked out of its comfort level by some of Michigan’s notoriously bad roads. However, smoother pavement helped it get back into the swing of things in short order. Braking in our tester was also strong and composed, with little drama and plenty of bite to help bring the fun to a safe stop when needed.
Pricing for the 2023 Mazda 3 starts at $23,615, which will get you into a base 2.5 S model with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive isn’t available until you hit the $27,010 Preferred model, with the models below it all being front-wheel drive only. Our Turbo Premium Plus tester had a base sticker of $35,560, with a few minor accessories pushing it close to the $36,000 barrier. That’s still a relatively good bargain for a compact car, and it also allows the Mazda3 to occupy a unique niche in the marketplace.
The Honda Civic, for example, offers a crisper design, but it does not have optional all-wheel drive, and it has a noticeably weaker engine lineup. The 2023 Subaru Impreza sedan has all-wheel drive standard, and it also has a slightly lower price point. That said, the Impreza will be switching to a hatchback-only offering in 2024, and the Turbo Premium Plus model is more powerful than the Impreza’s beefier cousin, the WRX.
It will be interesting to see where the Mazda3 goes in the next few years, especially if the company chooses to continue taking a methodical approach to updates for the slick compact. Either way, the 2023 Mazda3 in any trim is still a potent pick for compact buyers, and it has just enough of a distinct personality to make it a true contender in the segment.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.