On the road in the test: Mazda 3 Premium Plus Hatchback – Courier-Gazette & Camden Herald | CarTailz

The last two years and more will have dramatic short- and long-term effects on the automotive industry. Automakers without a diverse portfolio – namely trucks for this market – lack the broad income levels of some competitors and the necessary capital to finance ambitious projects such as electric vehicles or other alternative fuel projects.

If you’re an automaker that’s heavily focused on sales here in America, now the second largest new car market after China, and your portfolio was heavily biased toward conventional cars and car-based crossovers, you’ll inevitably be forced to align with other larger automakers that might were once major competitors or not if you want to forge a way forward.

Subaru works with Toyota. Honda is collaborating with GM on BEVs. Mazda also shares the technology with Toyota. Computer chip shortages, supply problems and the dizzying array of new sources needed to manufacture electric car batteries will force some brands into long naps. The list of BEV start-ups that have failed this year is already almost a dozen. I suspect that some of the better-known names in auto companies will soon succumb to the harsh realities of projected power shifts in the industry.

How does all of this fit around this week’s Mazda 3 hatchback? While the pool of suitable compact cars available to American drivers is shrinking every year – the Corolla, Civic, Elantra, Sentra, Impreza, Jetta and Forte are among Mazda’s remaining competitors – this small Asian automaker has taken the 3rd to the premium end driven the segment with an interior design closer to Audi than its contemporaries. Beautifully crafted with textures and details favored by the Germans, the Mazda feels and looks premium.

With three powertrains — two versions of the 2.5-liter plus base output of a 2.0-liter that works with six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, front or optional ($1,400) AWD — the Mazda can be picked across multiple trim lines feature tiers to meet budgets from $22,215 all the way up to our top Premium Plus Hatchback list for a whopping $35,810.

What is missing? Ah, any reference to alternative energy. There’s no hybrid model and no BEV version of the 3. With car sales slowing, the period and buyers’ strenuous efforts to buy five-door crossovers, many with battery power of some sort, Mazda is scrambling to make a more competent 5-door is commendable but seems a tad behind the trends. This is helped by Mazda’s emphasis on adding CX-50, CX-70 and CX-90 crossovers in the coming months.

A side profile of the hatchback. Tim Pluff

The 3 is a strong performer. The 2.5 liter turbo engine with 227 hp is sophisticated, crisp and very linear in its power distribution. Thrust is immediate and without drama, as the turbocharged engine’s torque (310 lbs/ft) creates efficient and fast driving as a subtle strength of this small car. Fuel economy isn’t terribly sacrificed either, with the EPA rating the 3 at 23/31mpg, with actual mileage being an mpg higher in our AWD sampler. Other models of the 3 gain EPA numbers as high as 28/36 mpg.

This refined presentation again reflects a certain German leaning towards vehicle performance, supported by a chassis that is compliant, controlled and comfortable. The steering and braking feel exceeds the accepted level of general indifference, giving the Mazda driver that small dose of “Zoom-Zoom” personality that the brand likes to brag about.

The hatchback promises more space, but the 3-sedan is actually more spacious inside for people. Visibility is also significantly better in the sedan, as the curvaceous hatchback body uses thick roof pillars at every point to obstruct the outside view more than the sedan. The VW Golf, a shorter five-door, feels quintessentially convertible compared to the snugness of the 3-seater hatchback.

The interior of the Mazda 3. Tim Pluff

The clarity of the Mazda info screens has been improved; However, the fiddly console controller for the central info/entertainment screen is far too distracting for simple inputs. Entertaining in the showroom, it proved a steep curve for on-road comfort. It would also be good for the vehicle to keep your driving selection from start to start, elements like the heated seats, heated steering wheel or disabled lane keeping feature. Re-engaging the controls at every boot becomes an unnecessary annoyance.

The Mazda 3 has carved a very specific niche for itself in the compact car segment. It drives like a more expensive German car, with the look and feel. When the market gravitates toward alternatives, will enough buyers embrace this form of sensible transportation?

Tim Plouff has been testing automobiles for more than 20 years.

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