Car Review: The Mazda3 Turbo is 10 pounds of fun in a 5 pound bag. Is that good or bad?

This Mazda3 is an outstanding piece of engineering: a gutsy sports car wrapped in a hatchback package. On paper, it’s just about the perfect vehicle. Once I get myself and the kids in, it’s also nearly ideal. It’s the transition part that’s the problem. More on that in a moment.

To back up, this little Mazda checks all the boxes: a hatch (practical), all-wheel drive (useful in winter), a low center of gravity for excellent handling (an advantage over tall SUVs) and what I expect to be a stone cold reliable, traditional automatic transmission.

Mazda then strapped a turbo onto this already-solid package in order to get you into some real trouble. The four-cylinder puts out 227 horsepower and a grunty 310 pound-feet of torque on regular gas, with those numbers going up to 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque on premium. With my foot as its willing partner, we averaged 23.5 miles per gallon around town. (It’s also available, for less monies, as a non-turbo. You can get it as a sedan, too.)

I further enjoyed its niceties, including heated front seats and a moonroof. Thanks to the options checklist, those seats were leather-trimmed, and there were helpful front and rear parking sensors along with a 360-degree camera view. It passed my “It has a spare tire!” test, and it looked mean in a stone blue with black wheels.

Unlike my experience with the otherwise sublime Mazda CX-90 SUV, I had no problems getting the car to agree with my iPhone, though the rotary-controlled non-touchscreen took some getting used to. It gets great safety scores, including a “good” mark on the newer, tougher side-impact test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

To get this 2024 Mazda3 2.5 T Premium Plus Hatchback AWD, it will set you back $38,265, by the way. Hefty, yes, but keep in mind the average new vehicle cost: $47,401 in January, according to Kelley Blue Book.

I would be asking for the dealer paperwork, if only my kids and my 6-foot-1-inch frame could get in and out of this little beast.

If I didn’t duck ever so exactly when getting in, my ear would have whapped the side of the roof. Blame the handsome and aggressively raked windshield, made less handsome with, potentially, my blood on the side. The raked roofline also does you few favors when trying to wedge a child into the back seat, especially a less-than-compliant one. Luckily, mine were always excited to take the Mazda3, even though this meant bending one of them nearly in half to get him into his toddler seat.

I fully realize the architectural compromises I’m looking for – a higher roof, a longer wheelbase – might turn the Mazda3’s sharp silhouette into something resembling “The Car Built for Homer,” but there must be a middle ground somewhere. To be fair, this is hardly a Mazda problem. The compact class is simply that, as I learned when the much-ballyhooed Toyota GR Corolla’s minute size crushed some of my other hopes and dreams.

So, if you just drive yourself and another person around and are not overly tall, I cannot recommend the Mazda3 highly enough. In fact, with only minor cajoling, I convinced my brother-in-law, at a wiry 5-foot-8, to get one, which he loves. However, if you are like me, a slightly tall person who values the integrity of the side of your skull and the sanity of your family, you sadly must move on from this perfect-in-theory machine.

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John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP.

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