• Auto123 reviews the 2023 Mazda3 Sport GT 4WD.
• If you needed more proof that cars are more fun than SUVs...
• The engine delivers 250 hp, though the only transmission is a six-speed automatic.
Even a cursory peek at automotive sales figures these days will tell you that in all likelihood, the car format’s days are numbered. The vehicles people like to drive aren’t, by and large, the same as the ones people used to like to drive. These days, practicality takes precedence over driving pleasure.
Admittedly, most modern SUVs and crossovers are easy and pleasant to drive day to day, especially because they are mostly based on unibody architectures. Yet, all those big, heavy, high-sitting vehicles can't compete with a good old-fashioned car when it comes to handling and agility.
I recently got behind the wheel of a 2023 Mazda3 Sport GT with all-wheel drive. And behind the wheel of the brand's smallest car - if you exclude the excellent MX-5 roadster - the least you can say is that it can quickly forget the advantages of SUVs when you find this sporty compact.
The exterior: not a Mazdaspeed, but...
When engineers finally succumbed to the temptation of pairing the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with the Mazda3 for the 2021 model-year, many nostalgic fans believed it represented the second coming of the Mazdaspeed3.
Alas, no. The Japanese carmaker is now aiming to improve its image to attract a more affluent clientele. The image conveyed by the Mazdaspeed badge is closer to the tuning scene of the 2000s, which is not exactly what the brand's strategists are trying for now.
In fact, when you look at the 2023 Mazda3 GT Turbo, you won’t find too many clues identifying it as a higher performance variant. No oversized wheels, no air intake on the hood, no aggressive bumper and no gigantic spoiler at the rear. There are a few distinctive elements, like the slightly larger exhaust pipes, 18-inch wheels with a gloss black finish, an applied finish on the side mirror shells and that little T-U-R-B-O badge on the rear trunk, but that's it.
In fact, the spunkiest Mazda3 in the lineup is almost too invisible on the road. Mind you, this appearance has its advantages for those not interested in standing out.
I have to admit, the build quality of Mazda's compact car is very good for a car that is competing largely with models like the Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra.
In fact, at a price of $37,400, this little car should theoretically be in the same league as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and even the Acura Integra, for example. But inflation in recent months has changed everything in the industry, so much so that a Honda Civic Si (the most expensive Civic) sells for $37,025 (including preparation fees). That's only slightly less than the Mazda3 Sport GT, which has all-wheel drive and even a more powerful powertrain (250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque) than the Si's (200 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque).
Granted, Honda's sporty Civic Si is a different, more delinquent kind of car, but still, it illustrates the envious position the 3 Sport is in right now.
- Its sleeper appearance
- Mazda's unique design
- Slightly larger exhaust pipes
- Why not a spicier version?
- The thickness of the C-pillars
The interior - the other side of the coin
It's clear that one of the missions of this Mazda3 is to put a smile on its driver's face, starting with the drive of course but also extending to the snappy interior and easy-to-find driving position (helped by the power-adjustable seats. However, this compact car's cabin isn’t the roomiest environment, nor does it offer the best rearward visibility.
The five-door version of the Mazda3 suffers from very wide C-pillars and a small rear window opening that almost turn its interior into an actual cocoon. Let's just say that if you’re a claustrophobe, this might not be the choice for you.
As mentioned, the Mazda3 GT's build quality is amazing for a car in this class. This is evident inside as well, for example with the soft rubber dashboard and the metallic touches on the steering wheel. I especially like the keys installed horizontally on the central part of the dash, like a keyboard. However, not all the buttons underneath are visible from the driver's seat, notably the one for the heated steering wheel.
The centre console is otherwise well laid out. There's a tiny lever for the driving modes, an electronic brake, a big knob for navigating through the infotainment system menus and a little button for the audio volume.
The problem is that it's not that easy to find your way around the wheel that serves as your go-to command centre. Yes, the screen is now touch-sensitive, but it's too distant from the driver, forcing them to stretch their arm.
Bottom line, the Mazda3 is a very pleasant car for driving fans, and for first-row passengers, but there's still work to be done, especially in terms of connectivity.
- Great dashboard
- Quality craftsmanship
- Cabin comfort (1st row)
- Rear visibility
- Space in the back
- Position of some buttons
On the road
Compared to the old Mazdaspeed3, this Mazda3 Sport GT is less explosive in its performance. First of all, the mere presence of the all-wheel drive system means that the driver doesn't deal with the torque effect delivered by that older model.
The same is true of the exhaust system's sound. The Speed3 was all about attracting attention, while this 3 Sport GT clearly prefers discretion. Now, I can assure you that the turbocharged 4-cylinder's rumble is not at all unpleasant, while the automatic transmission does an excellent job, even if it has to make do with only six gears.
The other point where the sportiest Mazda3 differs from its ancestor is in terms of comfort. The suspension is more the friend of occupants, and the seats are soft enough to support passengers for several hours. In the back, space is unsurprisingly much more limited, due to the sloping roof, but also because of the Mazda3's length, or lack of it.
Steering is also one of the 3's strengths, as is the responsiveness of the all-wheel drive system. We often think of Subaru when studly AWD systems are being conjured, but Mazda’s does an excellent job as well. Otherwise, yes, a good old-fashioned manual transmission would have been wonderful in this comfortable sports car. But the problem is that no one dares to buy such an option these days, except for the diehards.
- Excellent auto transmission
- Able AWD system
- Sound of the 4-cylinder
- No manual transmission
- Control of the infotainment system
After a week spent driving this compact and sporty car, the on-board computer showed fuel consumption of 9.4L/100 km. A satisfactory result considering the few episodes when my right foot was asking for more.
Here are a few of your questions about the 2023 Mazda3 Sport GT:
Can the 2023 Mazda3 Sport GT be considered a luxury car?
In the upper trims, the 3 comes close to the best small premium cars from Germany and Japan.
Is a manual transmission still available for the Mazda3?
Yes, but only on a few of the lower-range models.
Where is the Mazda3 assembled?
At the Hofu plant in Yamaguchi, Japan.
The final word
It's confirmed! The 2023 Mazda 3 GT Turbo 4WD has everything - or almost - to appeal to driving fans who don't necessarily want to drive an uncomfortable race car on a daily basis. It won't turn back the rush to SUVs, but it proves there’s a purer way to get around all through the year, even if trunk space is tight.
Honda Civic Si
Hyundai Elantra N-Line
Kia Forte GT
Volkswagen Golf GTI / Jetta GLI