After seven years and an entire generation, there is finally another turbo-charged Mazda3. But Mazda will be the first to tell you that it is by no means a successor to the wild Mazdaspeed3, hence the lack of the name. After we’ve ridden it, we’ll be second to tell you the same thing: this is definitely not a Mazdaspeed3. It’s a whole different beast, but it’s still a good ride and helps make the 3 a believable, affordable alternative to an entry-level Audi or Mercedes.
The turbocharged 2.5 liter engine is largely the same as Mazda used in the CX-9 and the turbocharged CX-5. It puts out the same 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque on regular fuel (or 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque at 93 octane) but has been tweaked to fit in the Mazda3’s smaller engine bay. The biggest change is the use of an air-to-water intercooler that is built into the intake manifold, reducing installation work. As a bonus to the fit of the engine, Mazda notes that the overall length of the intake lines is shortened, which should improve responsiveness.
While we can’t talk about the improvement, the engine’s responsiveness and power delivery is incredibly smooth. It feels as close as a turbo engine can be like a supercharged or naturally aspirated engine. It’s easy to specify exactly how much power you need and there is never an unexpected boost in turbo boost. All of the torque is also available in the low rev range so it can be accelerated effortlessly, especially considering how much less mass the 3 has compared to its turbocharged crossover siblings.
The gentle, relaxed acceleration corresponds to the high aim of the Mazda3 Turbo and is even cheap compared to engines from Audi and Mercedes. These engines respond similarly, but deliver their torque in a quick rush rather than a gentler use of the Mazda.
The turbo engine doesn’t lose much of its efficiency either. The naturally aspirated all-wheel-drive Mazda3 reduces fuel consumption by just 1 mpg overall. The sedan gets a total of 27mpg and the hatchback 26. The only real downside to the engine is that it is a bit noisy when accelerating and gives off a low growl. The smooth power transfer arguably takes away the excitement often associated with small turbo cars, but as we said earlier, this is not a Mazdaspeed successor.
Like the engine, the powertrain is closely related to other existing Mazdas. The stock six-speed automatic transmission is basically the same as the CX-9 and CX-5, but its case has been adapted to the 3. It is gradually showing its age, as the shifts are relatively sluggish and six gears are selected as opposed to eight, which has become the more common minimum. This is particularly the case when compared to the snappy seven- and eight-speed dual-clutch automatons of the entry-level luxury cars that Mazda is targeting. However, the 3’s heavy fuel economy would suggest that its efficiency doesn’t suffer from the lack of gears, and it remains an impressively responsive and smart transmission. It selects gears and downshifts immediately. It also adjusts the firmness of the shifts, choosing smoother and slower shifts when driving smoothly, and making for faster and sharper shifting when driving hard. Sport mode also keeps the gears longer. Neither normal nor sport modes do an excellent job of braking when downshifting. You should therefore switch to manual shifting for the sportiest driving.
The all-wheel drive system is similar to that of the naturally aspirated Mazda3, but the rear differential mount has been reinforced to accommodate the extra torque. The system also has some interesting features. It is designed to measure the vertical load on all four wheels. When there is more weight on a tire or tire, you have a larger contact area and more grip. And with more grip, you can handle more power. So the system keeps track of where the weight is and sends it to the end of the vehicle. This means that when you accelerate, more power is sent to the rear, where the weight puts a strain on the tires. Mazda doesn’t say exactly how much torque can go back, but it does stand out. As you turn a corner, you’ll feel the rear wheels pushing the car around, resulting in a more neutrally balanced feel that’s closer to a Subaru or even rear-wheel drive than a regular Mazda3. It’s a fun feeling and something you usually associate with more expensive cars. Another benefit of all-wheel drive is that torque control is virtually eliminated under normal conditions (a patch of gravel or water can still do something if the front wheels slip).
The chassis and suspension of the Mazda3 Turbo are almost untouched. The front springs have a higher spring rate to accommodate the extra weight of the engine, but only for the purpose of adapting to the aspirated model. Mazda also added a stiffer steering arm for a better feel, but that change was applied to regular models as well. The G-Vectoring Control system, which slightly reduces the power when turning in order to shift weight to the front / steering wheels, has been optimized more aggressively in sport mode. Otherwise, the car is just like your regular Mazda3 all the way down to the rear of the torsion bar.
It has a nice ride and handling balance that is wrong on the strength side, despite having a stiff chassis and very well-controlled body movements. It would be nice to have an adaptive chassis like some more expensive cars, just for the wider range, but we’re happy to have a well-balanced setting for driveability and handling rather than two mediocre ones. The car is also generally quiet with just a little road noise. The body rolls a bit in the corners, but feels light and ready to turn. The back end feels a little nervous, despite not being upset about bumps. The steering is very smooth and precise, but the feedback is limited. The steering weight is relatively light and the sport mode adds a bit more weight which feels nice when driving more aggressively. While the G-Vectoring control settings are more aggressive in Sport mode, it’s really hard to spot.
The rest of the car remains essentially unchanged regardless of the new, more powerful engine. The interior is still elegant and beautiful. The switchgear feels good when you push and turn. The materials include synthetic leather on the dashboard and seats in the basic Turbo models, as well as improved real leather on the seats in the Premium Plus version. The driver’s position gives most drivers enough headroom and legroom to be comfortable, but the back seat remains cramped, especially considering the hatchback’s headroom. If anything, that’s one more reason, if not in a good way, that the Mazda3 looks more like a Mercedes A-Class, a BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé or an Audi A3 than a Honda Civic or Hyundai Elantra.
The Mazda3 Turbo models are also quite well equipped: sunroof, two-zone automatic climate control, heated seats and steering wheel, Bose audio system with 12 speakers, heads-up display, automatic high beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistant, automatic emergency braking and monitoring of the dead Angle. The Premium Plus model has a navigation system, an automatically dimming driver’s mirror, parking sensors, a 360-degree camera, automatic rear emergency braking, adaptive stop-and-go cruise control and traffic sign recognition.
The infotainment system is responsive and easy to navigate with clean, simple lettering and graphics. There is no touch surface, so infotainment inputs are left to the setting wheel and voice control. It lacks the flashiness and technical things of luxury automaker cars. There is no ambient lighting, advanced navigation and a simple instrument panel screen that can display travel information, driver assistance status and other related information in addition to speed. You are also limited to a single instrument and infotainment design. On the other hand, the cabin is a quieter and more relaxed place, especially at night, compared to the relative disco parties of the luxury alternatives.
Speaking of luxury alternatives: They are all significantly more expensive than a Mazda3 Turbo. The Mazda starts at $ 30,845 for the sedan and $ 31,845 for the hatchback. The Premium Plus package adds $ 2,550 to the sedan and $ 2,850 to the hatch. Its next premium competitors, the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class, start a little more than $ 3,000 more but have less power, no standard all-wheel drive, and no hatchback option. And to make them more comparable, you spend around $ 6,000 more.
So, no, the Mazda3 Turbo isn’t the third coming of the Mazdaspeed3. But that’s fine. It’s still pretty quick, and about the most fun Mazda3 you can get (one argument can still be made for the manual naturally aspirated Mazda3) while remaining comfortable and refined enough to be an enjoyable daily driver. It’s also excellent value for money that brings much of the luxury car experience for thousands less. It’s in a class of its own.