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Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

2024 Mazda3 Sedan 2.5 T, Premium Plus, AWD

2024 Mazda3 Sedan 2.5 T, Premium Plus, AWD right front
Mark Savage
Savage On Wheels
2024 Mazda3 Sedan 2.5 T, Premium Plus, AWD right front

Hooray for the folks who still enjoy driving a car because cars handle better, are quicker, and simply more fun to drive than, well, everything else.

Likewise, three cheers for Mazda, which continues to produce cars that are zippy, nimble, and more fun to drive than, well, most everything else, at least in an affordable price range.

Today, all the glory, laud, and honor go to Mazda’s Mazda3 (which is not so clever at vehicle naming). Mine was a dark metallic gray (aren’t most?) Mazda3 sedan 2.5 T Premium Plus. This is the upscale turbo version with AWD, so it's top-level.

That color, which Mazda calls Machine Gray Metallic, was a $595 add-on and is one of four colors that cost extra; just black and ordinary gray are standard. Yet, for my money, Mazda’s Soul Red Crystal Metallic would always be the best red in the industry.

So, with a turbo on Mazda’s standard 2.5-liter I4 powerplant, the compact sedan jumps to life with 227 and 250 horsepower and 310 to 320 pound-feet of torque, depending on your pump gas. That’s right, this screamer will deliver 250 horses if one fills the tank with premium 91 octane. Naturally, that costs substantially more, but it’s counterproductive to skimp on the oats when one wants more ponies.

For the record, Car and Driver magazine reports that the Mazda3 hits 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, which is faster than a Ferrari 348 (1993 model) or Jaguar E-Type (1967 model), both of which take 5.8 seconds. Among more modern metal, the Mazda is in league with the Subaru BRZ and BMW X1 and just a click off Subaru’s racy WRX that packs 271 horses, but at more than $40 grand.

In other words, the Mazda3 is quick but not a neck stretcher. Still, its light and quick handling make it an autocross darling and a hoot on twisting county roads. Plus, the 6-speed SkyActiv-G automatic smoothly meshes with the turbo and includes a Sport mode toggle on the console. Tap it forward, and the 3’s RPM jump, and the car accelerates as fast as a teen approaching free pizza.

You’ll want to toggle back to normal once up to speed, though, as Sport will suck more of that precious premium gas and also cranks the engine noise up a bit.

As this trim includes AWD, the adhesion and control are good on slushy snow and rain-soaked streets, which were plentiful during my test.

Ride—well, that’s mostly OK. The 107-inch wheelbase helps and also provides a decent interior room. But the tight suspension that aids handling could prove too firm for some folks. The three are definitely aimed at the younger set.

Looks are low and lean with 18-inch black alloy wheels adding a racy look. I like the sedan’s shape and the use of a chrome accent that runs above the side windows and finishes like a reverse Nike swoosh behind the rearmost side window. Note too that Mazda offers a hatchback edition that looks pretty swooshy itself, offers more cargo room, and is considered a step up, so costs a bit more. Mechanicals are the same as the sedan.

Inside, the metallic gray Mazda3’s interior looks and feels more upscale than one might presume standard in a modestly priced sport sedan. First, it’s two-tone with a black upper dash and lower door trim with a creamy ivory mid-dash facing along with door trim. Seating is perforated leatherette that feels pretty luxurious too. Let’s face it fake leather has replaced the real deal now.

Mazda3’s dash also includes a slim chrome trim and the console has a gloss black top. The steering wheel, which really should be a racy flat-bottom design, is wrapped in a black leathery substance for good grip.

From a looks standpoint everything appears great, easy to see and read with a new bigger 10.2-inch infotainment screen that is standard at this trim level. Yet it remains the confusing and awkward console-dial controlled Mazda screen that is difficult to use while driving. Even sitting still, it takes a while to dial in a new radio station. Touchscreens with tuning knobs are preferable.

On the positive side, this turbo version includes a good heads-up display so a driver needn’t look away from the road to avoid a speeding ticket, or miss a turn’s apex.

Seats also are quite comfy, well-shaped and the driver’s is powered while the passenger’s is manual. Front seats are heated too, as is the steering wheel although its button is a bit hard to see tucked under the Auto climate control dial. Still, once you’ve found it you can feel around for it there.

Overhead is a small sunroof while below the center stack is a wireless phone charger, an improvement from earlier models. Other pluses include the 360-degree camera and a fine Bose sound system along with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The sun visors also have extenders and get this, a driver can actually deactivate the annoying rear seat warning chime.

2024 Mazda3 Sedan 2.5 T, Premium Plus, AWD rear seat
Mark Savage
Savage On Wheels
2024 Mazda3 Sedan 2.5 T, Premium Plus, AWD rear seat

Safety equipment is well represented too with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure alert and lane keeping assist, plus automatic high-beam headlights and a driver attention alert that was thankfully not as sensitive as others I’ve tested lately.

Gas mileage remains OK considering the emphasis here is on quick acceleration. I got 25.5 mpg in a mix of city and highway and the EPA rates the Mazda3 at 23 mpg city and 32 highway. Towing is not recommended for the Mazda3.

But giving a fast, fun ride to three of your besties is encouraged, and at its pricing you may even have cash left for hot wings and tacos.

The base Mazda3 with front-wheel drive and a 191-horse non-turbo version of the 2.5-liter I4 lists at $25,335 with delivery. There are six more trims leading up to the tested ultimate Premium Plus version with AWD. Its sticker is $36,615, with delivery, and the test car added just the fancier paint to end at $37,210.

A Preferred trim at $27,355 could be the best choice for folks wanting more amenities, but not needing the extra pony power. It includes heated seats, the power driver’s seat and two seat memory settings. AWD becomes available on the Premium model that costs $31,515.

Folks wanting a blacked out version as is popular of late can opt for a Carbon Turbo model ($34,115) with the peppier engine and black wheels, gloss black exterior trim, red contrasting stitching on the seats and a special exterior color called Zircon Sand Metallic. I’d call it metallic tan.

What else compares with the Mazda3? Well, mostly imports such as the Honda Civic Si, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf, Hyundai Elantra and Subaru Impreza or recently tested Crosstrek. Dodge’s Hornet could be another, yet pricier, option.

FAST STATS: 2024 Mazda3 Sedan 2.5 T, Premium Plus, AWD

Hits: Quick handling, strong power, plus AWD. Sporty looks, leatherette interior looks and feels luxurious, big screen, HUD, sunroof, heated steering wheel and front seats, 360-camera, smart cruise and safety systems, Bose stereo, wireless charger, and supportive front seats.

Misses: Clunky console-controlled info screen makes finding a radio station tough while driving, ride is stiffer than some may like. Flat-bottom steering wheel would be nice.

Made in: Salamanca, Mexico

Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4, turbo, 227-250 hp/310-320 torque

Transmission: SkyActiv-drive 6-speed, automatic w/sport mode

Weight: 3,395 lbs.

Wheelbase: 107.3 in.

Length: 183.5 in.

Cargo: 13.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 23/32

MPG: 25.5 (tested)

Base Price: $36,615 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $35,650


Machine Gray Metallic paint, $595

Test vehicle: $37,210

Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com

Mark Savage writes the auto review column, Savage On Wheels, for WUWM (formerly for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Savageonwheels.com. He is the former executive editor of American Snowmobiler magazine and FineScale Modeler magazine, both part of Kalmbach Media in Waukesha.
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