Words by Dakota Jensen
Photos by Jessica Voruda & Jennifer Jensen
The Mazda3 Hatchback is, above all else, built for the most luxurious comfort Mazda has to offer. From its swooping and sexy body, to the extravagant décor of the interior, to the gentle almost unnoticeable hum of the engine, this vehicle makes one thing clear…the comfort of the occupants (at least those in the front seats) should stand above all else. So let’s dive into the details that Mazda paid such good attention to.
This will sound a bit odd, but the exterior of the Mazda3 Hatchback brought me to an almost indescribably transcendent state. While there is nothing to boast about in the sharp and menacing department, this vehicle zooms forward into its own lane, ignoring the modern and somewhat boring current automotive design theme that is popular with today’s stylists. The car’s front end shouts “Mazda”, flaunting the clearly identifiable Mazda grille, with a semi-sharp swooping effect on the lower rim of the front bumper. The curvature ever so delicately makes its way around either side of the vehicle until it bends into the more traditional side profile of a true hatchback. The rear end is rather sleek in contrast to other entries in the hatchback genre. This is a welcome change, and adds an exquisite finish for the exterior ensemble. The Soul Red Crystal Metallic adds a classical feel that seems to be uncontested by Mazda’s competitors. It has a depth to the finish that makes it appear almost liquid.
As gorgeous as the exterior is, the interior is where this vehicle truly separates itself from its peers. Mazda’s interior designers must have had free rein to let their imaginations run wild when creating the innards of this 3 Hatchback. The red leather trim leaves the eyes in a paralyzed state of awe, and I found myself almost inadvertently staring back at the trim. However, while the interior certainly evokes excellence, appearances can be deceiving. The interior looks like a cushiony cloud of cowhide, but there are areas that left me yearning for more padding, or at least a better layout.
Take the driver’s armrests on both the driver’s door and the center console. Places where anyone behind the wheel would rest their elbows unless they were tackling a racetrack…something you most certainly will not do in this car. You will find that both of these constant contact areas are lacking in the padding department and instead leave you to rest your weary elbows on harsh plastic. On the plus side, these areas will undoubtedly wear well over time.
The center console provides simplicity above all else, and it is much appreciated. Manufacturers nowadays have sought to give drivers everything they need at the tips of their fingers, while simultaneously destroying the convenience of having commonly used items controlled from the center console. Why can’t turning on your heated seat just be a button? The Mazda3 Hatchback manages to provide access to the most frequently used items as dash-mounted buttons and provides additional features in the driver display. These items are accessible through steering-wheel-mounted buttons leaving the center console area to be a clean design.
The instrument gauges are semi-electronic. The little Mazda loves to use a digital warning in the speedometer to let the driver know if they are over the posted speed limit. As one who considers limits as more of a suggestion this feature can be a bit obnoxious. The Mazda also tends to bury some of the items I was looking for in sub-menus under the main menus on the screen. The functions involving Bluetooth and navigation connect to both the center console and to the driver dash screen, which helps, but some of the functions can be a bit cumbersome to access.
For example, while trying to connect to Bluetooth I found it quite difficult to navigate to the screen to do so. It’s not the end of the world or as bad as some other cars, and familiarity with the car would probably ease some of the challenges I faced during my short time with the 3. The automotive industry is living with technology as a double-edged sword. The choice is whether or not to flood the driving space with buttons for every feature the car has on offer, or to limit the number of buttons and create a menu system for the driver to work their way through. With the Mazda3, the company chose the latter and in this case I believe Mazda made the right choice.
Arguably the most important feature of the inside of the vehicle…the seats…were a bit of a letdown. Looking through the cabin, it is an absolute gorgeous place to be but you would think that the one place where a driver would spend the bulk of their time would be far more comfortable. After all, they LOOK confortable! However, the seats simply don’t live up to the visual hype. They are not really uncomfortable but they lack that indescribable quality that makes a seat fantastic. There is not enough bolstering to support spirited driving and, quite frankly, my body was a little sore after driving for only half an hour. This was a regular occurrence throughout the week.
Seat adjustability is better than some competitors with such niceties as lumbar support. So the seat can be adjusted to fit the driver, but if you try to move around, forget it. Mazda likes their drivers to set it and forget it…then don’t move and drive in a mannequin-like state only moving your arms (not resting them on the sides as previously discussed) and your feet.
The rear seats, if you would even call them that, serve better as additional storage than seats. Maybe put your dogs back there and take them for a spin because kids won’t fit. The rear seats can be folded down to expand the trunk space, which also is somewhat limited due to the aggressive styling of the back end.
Finally, how does the Mazda3 Hatchback perform? The short answer is, not great.
Its sexy form and relatively low curb weight are pushed along by a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder that produces a not-inconsequential 186 hp at 6000 rpm and 186 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. That powertrain is mated to a six-speed automatic that does a decent job of holding gears when driving spiritedly and returns modest mileage ratings. We saw a bit under 30-mpg in our combined driving over the course of a week. I would not suggest using the steering-wheel-mounted paddles to shift the gears. Just leave the transmission in drive. In my opinion Mazda should just leave the paddles out. This car was not meant to outpace its competitors, it was meant to give a better driving experience. But in doing so, Mazda neglected to give this car the one thing that could have set it apart, true soul.
When I really tried to work the Hatchback, to really make it go, to push it, to achieve speed, the Mazda3 let me down…the car just feels slow. There are several contributing factors to this lack of excitement.
First, the luxurious feel of the car leaves the driver cocooned and belies any sensation of speed. The car is well damped and the view out is somewhat limited so perception of speed is negligible. Second, the cabin is soundproofed so well it is almost impossible to hear when, or even if, the engine is doing its job. Third, and most importantly, the vehicle is really not that fast. It looks like it should be a speed demon, but like its cousin the Miata, more effort was put into other areas than outright speed.
While driving, it felt as if I needed to really work the engine to push the car along at even normal speeds. The Mazda3 acts as if it can achieve great strides in speed but it can’t quite clear the hurdle. The 3 leaves the driver very wistful.
That being said, drive the Mazda3 causally and it really shines. The composed chassis and sound deadening make this a smooth and composed driving partner. It is quiet and the interior is good looking so it is never a boring place to be. If this is what Mazda’s designers and engineers had in mind (and I have a sneaking suspicion it is), then they did a marvelous job.
Overall the Mazda3 Hatchback is a comfortable car that looks fantastic. It is not optimized for long distance travel or short speeding spurts. It is certainly not designed for the track. It is however, a comfortable and luxurious alternative to other small cars. It is pricey in this segment of the market, but for the discerning buyer that is looking for a partner to head to and from work, to tune out the world, and to just enjoy a calm driving experience, the Mazda3 Hatchback could be the perfect answer.