2022 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo AWD Review

That the Mazda3, a five-door hatchback, even exists in the U.S. market in 2022 is shocking. It seems like every new vehicle introduced is a crossover or being marketed as such. Kia has the brilliant Carnaval minivan, yet all the messaging around it is how it’s “like an SUV.”

Mazda in the past positioned itself as the sporty Japanese brand with their iconic ZoomZoom campaign, but in recent years they have run away from that. All that is left of that legacy is the MX-5. So when Mazda put out that they were placing their 2.5-liter turbo with AWD into the Mazda3, visions of reliable Golf R came to mind. So with that measuring stick, I welcomed this Mazda as the first car to review in 2022.

Styling

The overall styling of the Mazda3 is, to my eye, awkward. Proportions for a five-door hatchback don’t work, at least from the profile view. The hood is quite long, the doors shorter, and the hatch area almost non-existent. The overhangs front and rear make the wheelbase looks incredibly long, but that’s an optical illusion because that space doesn’t translate into interior cabin room. Finally, on this model and this color combination, the chrome trim around the side windows doesn’t fit the rest of the package.

2022 Mazda3 profile

The front end reflects Mazda’s current design language. The pulled-back eyes of the headlights and the large grill give it a predatorial fish look. Overall it comes off as aggressive and handsome.

2022 Mazda3 front view

The rear of the Mazda3 is fine. The slope of the rear glass and the styling of the taillights continue the aggressive theme.

Interior

Sitting in the driver’s seat of the Mazda3, there is little to complain about. The oxblood red and black colors of the interior are familiar in the Mazda and one of their best combinations. The materials used throughout the interior are fine, but given the $35,000 sticker price on this car, if it got any more expensive, you’d be wanting something better.

The driver’s seat was comfortable, the steering wheel had plenty of adjustment, to the point I found myself adjusting the seat a little farther back than I usually do. Instrument gauges are large and clear, and the HUD system is excellent. Large and bright without being obtrusive, it did its job in that I rarely felt the need to take my eyes off the road and look at the gauges.

I have one beef with Mazda and how they do heated steering wheels. The heating elements they have only cover the 2-4 and 8-10 O’clock positions. Driving this car in January in Detroit, when the temps were in the high teens and low 20s, the difference of the different areas of the wheel was striking, especially when not wearing gloves.

Trying to get into the driver’s side back seat with the driver’s seat adjusted for me at 5′ 10″ was not great. My feet had to be turned sideways to fit in, and once in, my knees were against the back for the front seat. The photos may not appear to illustrate the lack of room until you look at the front seat in relation to the B-pillar. In the back seat, headroom was OK, and if the driver’s seat was moved forward an inch or two, you could be comfortable back there for a while.

The cargo area was pretty standard in size for what remains of this class. However, there is a reasonably high liftover then the drop to the cargo area’s floor. Also, when dropping the rear seats, they did not fold flat. That is a personal peeve that I have. Between the high liftover and the seats not folding flat, I did not try to see if either of my Irish Wolfhounds would fit.

Infotainment

Supposing you’ve never used a Mazda infotainment system before, the navigation can take some getting used to. It’s not bad. It’s just different. After years of using this system in various Mazda’s, it still takes a minute to be reaccustomed to it. Generally, the scroll knob is quite good, and when in doubt, there are hard buttons to get you back to the start. In the last years, Mazda has also made their screen touch-sensitive so between the two, after a few days to can get where you need to. Some of this is made mute by Apple CarPlay and AndriodAuto, but those are only done via a USB cable. There is no wireless.

Sound from the audio system is good enough for most people. It’s a BOSE system and sounds like one. The old cliché goes, “no highs, no lows, must be BOSE. That is generally true here. There are lows, but they are muddy, and the highs thin and tinny. There is an equalizer to help midgate this, but most people won’t bother.

Drivetrain

Offered is a 2.5-liter turbo inline-four producing 227 horsepower and 310 lb/ft of torque with all-wheel drive. But only available with a six-speed automatic transmission.

If you keep the transmission in the “Sport” setting, it’s fine. Otherwise, it’s eager to upshift and very reluctant to downshift.

Powering the 2022 Golf GTI is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that develops 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. The Civic Type R is also a 2.0-liter turbo-four-cylinder making 305 horsepower and 295 lb/ft of torque. Finally, the VW Golf R has 315 horsepower and 295 lb/ft of torque from its 2.0-liter turbo inline-four. All three of these are offered with a manual, though only the Golf R has AWD.

And there lies the dilemma for the Mazda. It sits in no-mans land. Less power than the three rivals, no manual, and the added weight of AWD. More power and better transmission, yes it could be a rival for the Golf R. Leave it as a front-driver with more power, and it could be more of a competitor at least for the GTI, perhaps nipping at the heels of the Honda. Mazda needs to decide what they want this to be and then have another go.

On the road

While I had this in for review, we had snow and slush on the roads, but there was no chance for rally car fun. Even with the traction control disabled, the automatic transmission and electronic e-brake made drifting this around pointless. That said, it handed the roads just fine.

The ride and comfort were good. The shock tuning was spot on. No harshness was felt through the chassis on the various potholes and frost heaves. Steering had good weight, and feedback was OK for an electronic system.

The EPA rates this Mazda at 23 city, 31 highway, and 26 combined. I found the highway numbers to be about 26 and the combined to be 22-21 mpg. Now, I do want to make this point. This winter, in my personal car, and other press cars I’ve had in, I’ve found the fuel economy to be coming in 2-4 mpg BELOW EPA number across the board. I checked with a few colleges in the area, and they have all experienced the same thing, so maybe it’s just this year’s formulation of winter fuel in the area.

Conclusion

There is much to like in the Mazda3. The interior is relatively nice, the ride is good, the styling is OK in areas, and the fact that it’s a five-door hatch and not another crossover or SUV are all points in its favor. But at $35,810 as stickered, the only option being $395 for the Grey Metalic paint, the value proposition isn’t there unless you are a diehard Mazda fan. Would it be more reliable than either VW Golf choice? Most likely. Could you buy this for sticker, unlike the Honda? You bet. The problem is, Mark 8 Golf infotainment issues aside, both cars do pretty much everything better than the Mazda3. So the potential for a genuine rival is there, but the execution is lacking.

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7 responses to “2022 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo AWD Review”

  1. Sjalabais Avatar

    Excellent review! But did I catch that right, there’s no bluetooth? My 2012 Leaf has that. I also agree on the styling, as I’ve wanted to like the 3, but considered the profile awkward. Does it offer less space than the competition? Last, but not least, heated steering wheels have turned from a luxury to a necessity in my neck of the woods and only heating specific areas seems downright stupid. How many pennies can they have saved here? Or is this meant as education – “keep your hands here”? Would be interesting to hear a Mazda spokesperson commenting this.

    1. Eric Trytko Avatar

      It does have Bluetooth, just no wireless CarPlay or AndroidAuto. Sorry of that was clear.

  2. crank_case Avatar

    The phrase is “made moot” by the way, unless carplay actually does cause the sound to cut out. 😉

    1.  Avatar

      that would be mute.

  3. Slow Joe Crow Avatar

    I’ve been low key looking at Mazda3’s since my wife complains about the difficulty of seeing out of our CX-5. The AWD is nice for getting the ski trails but I will have to think about how much ground clearance we need. The CX-5 has been on some challenging stuff so I want something that can hack heavily rutted dirt roads. Perhaps a Mazda 3 with a lift kit and a ski rack? Either that or a serious look at a CX30

  4. George G Avatar

    I had a gen 2 mazdaspeed 3. Really fun little car. If this car would have been offered with manual, I would have bought it. It’s a non starter with only a slushbox.

  5. writemyessaysos Avatar

    Interesting review, went to see pictures and read the whole article) Well written, cool presentation, well photos, unusual location – I wanted to see the car clean, but the photos directly from the test drive. Good luck to the author)

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