The license-plate holder on the car reads, “Feel Alive”—evidently the latest take on Zoom-Zoom, Mazda’s tagline from its “What Do You Drive?” campaign. Which continues, “At Mazda, we believe if it’s not worth driving, it’s not worth building.”
This one is worth building, and driving. Think of it as the ride a driver might move up to when maturity beckons and the boxy silhouette of a hot hatch has gotten stale. It’s a five-door sedan, still small, but with a fastback, coupe-ish profile and sports-car power and performance. On premium gas, the 2.5-litre Four makes 250 horsepower and an astonishing 320 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough zoom-zoom to make us grateful for all-wheel drive.
But this is no rowdy rally-racer for the street. It’s a grown-up car, almost Audi-like in refinement. The 6-speed automatic transmission plays a big role here, and the trainload of torque more than makes up for any loss in shifting response. The Premium Plus trim package rounds out the sophistication with a classy cabin and a full slate of convenience, comfort and safety features.
The most affordable Mazda3—with yesterday’s infotainment system, 155 horsepower, front-wheel drive and a manual gearbox—costs less than $23,000. Then the choices begin: An upgrade to 186 horsepower—or 255? All-wheel drive (automatic transmission only)? Sedan or hatchback? How many electronic toys? At the top of the heap is our every-option sample, maxed out but still very reasonable at $33,890. That’s about three grand less than today’s average sticker, but for a car that’s well above average in every other respect.