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  • Writer's pictureMarc Gonzalez

Mazda3 GT Turbo AWD

The Mazda3 has been, since its introduction in 2003, a compact sedan by the Japanese manufacturer. The fourth generation has brought this vehicle to a new dimension, flirting between the 'traditional' and the 'luxury' automakers, with its stylish design and excellent interior. Now, the question is, is the GT Turbo worth the extra money compared to the regular version? That's what we're here to find out; we drove it on a long-distance trip of nearly 1500 km (930 mi) to get a better feeling of the vehicle in different situations. Our test vehicle was manufactured at the Hofu, JPN plant with an MSRP of $36,750.

We've already tested this vehicle before, so the design part of the review will be short, but the main thing to note here is that the design hasn't aged one bit since its early days in 2019. The striking lines still make for a classy design with a touch of sportiness. If you want more details about this, I recommend you read our original post here. In a sentence, the Mazda3 is the uncontested king in terms of exterior style in the compact sedan category!

The interior still looks great, although it's starting to show its age. Part of the gauge cluster is digital, but the amount of information it can display is limited. The integration is excellent since it still shows the tachometer at all times, whenever you feel like shifting through the gears using the paddle shifters or when you put the gear lever in Manual. The steering wheel is also still pretty thin; some of our teammates liked it, and others didn't. The quality of the materials is still impeccable; almost everywhere you put your hands, it's soft leather which is a great feeling. The center console remains unchanged, with the 8.8-inch infotainment screen placed horizontally and controlled by the knobs under the gear lever. No wireless Apple Carplay or Android Auto and no touchscreen is a little disappointing. On the flip side, the optional 12-speaker Bose sound system is excellent.

We tested the front seats for long trips, and they did an excellent job of keeping both front occupants fresh even after three hours of non-stopped driving, which is fantastic. They offer a decent amount of support in the lower back, improving long drives comfort. The knee and legroom are alright in front, even though the vehicle is not that large. No one sat in the back, so we don't have a precise impression of the rear seats, but we expect them to do a good job since they look comfy as rear seats go. Headroom for passengers is limited in the back due to the sloping roof; this may also pose a problem when a parent is helping their child buckle up. Despite this, the indicated ISOFIX ports and rear anchors make it super easy to install a child seat in the back of the Mazda3. Finally, a word on the trunk space, it's enormous, and it fits all of our stuff with some room to spare. The Mazda 3 is a compact family car, after all!

Now we're getting to the driving part; how did this version compare to the rest of the family? Let's start with the numbers; the highest trim gets a 2.5L turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque with premium 93 fuel. With regular 87 fuel, these numbers drop to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque; the Japanese manufacturer states that whichever type of gas you use in the vehicle won't affect the engine's durability. They engineered it to be running on whatever fuel the owner chooses. This four-banger is coupled to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering and a drive mode selector, although it is more of a toggle switch between Sport mode on or off. All this power is delivered to all four wheels thanks to the i-Activ AWD to help counter the oversteer feeling from having over three hundred pound-feet of torque on the two front wheels.

With the numbers out of the way, on the road, we had plenty of time to test the vehicle's abilities in the Adirondack region in Upstate NY. There are many positives about the driving experience of the Mazda3 Turbo, starting with the excellent handling. On a twisty road, this vehicle's attributes will shine the most; you will feel connected to the road. The steering is sharp and precise; you can take the car where you want it. The suspension is also a little tighter than the base model to help with the added weight, and it also does a fantastic job delivering a firm but pleasant ride. Finally, the all-wheel drive was a considerable part of our enjoyable road trip. Mazda calibrated it with such fine-tuning that coming out of a curve, you could push the car to accelerate instantly. The power is delivered quickly to the wheels needing the most traction. We had so much fun exiting the curves fast; it was delightful! Finally, the low center of gravity keeps the vehicle planted on the ground, which is great for a spirited drive.

There were a couple of minor disappointments; the biggest would still be the brakes. We've pointed this out before; you must push it down hard to make it stop appropriately at a stop light. The transmission was a bummer: a six-speed transmission today is fine, but many competitors of the Mazda3 Turbo offer seven or eight-speed. In this case, the acceleration is adequate (5.8 s to 100 km/h, 5.5 s to 60 mph), but it is more focused on efficiency and comfort. It could use more punch to bring it to the levels of a VW Golf R, for example, because even in Sport mode with the paddle shifters, it still felt short on a straight line. A manual transmission would be a welcomed option here. We didn't feel an increase in power using the premium 93 fuel, which was a bummer. The difference was barely noticeable.

Anyone expecting this Mazda3 to be a modern take on the previous Mazdaspeed 3 will be disappointed. It's a better proposition for the everyday driver, but a track-focused person will tell you the engineers needed to push it farther. The main focus was to bring extra power while not compromising on comfort, especially pricing. Because at $36,750, it's a deal for nearly 250 hp and over 300 lb-ft of torque, with a distinguished interior and an iconic design. A road trip only makes you appreciate this compact sedan even more, either with two or four occupants.

Mazda has lent us this vehicle as a press vehicle. We have no affiliation with Mazda Canada. The above reflects our personal opinion.

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