Last year I was able to put some serious miles on the new-gen, 2019 Mazda3 sedan, which is basically the same car as this one here, minus the bubbly butt. As I noted in 2019, I was pretty floored by what Mazda had pulled off in terms of refinement and character, managing to build a fun-to-drive sedan that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. My only complaint: the suspension was too stiff.
The 186-horsepower engine under the hood of my recent test car was the same one I experienced in the sedan: a Skyactiv 2.5-liter four-cylinder with variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation. The same goes for the transmission: a six-speed automatic equipped with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
Judging from behind the wheel of the Mazda3 hatchback, nothing’s really changed. The cabin looks the same because it is the same, and that sense of Japanese minimalism still prevails. The gauge cluster features a combination of analog dials with a digital screen built into the speedometer, which makes it feel like it hasn’t gone full cyborg yet—unlike the BMW M8 I recently drove.
But Mazda bills itself as a more upscale, more performance-oriented alternative to Toyota or Honda, and that means the car should at least have some sporting pretenses. In order to get a good feel for this, I decided to tackle the Nürburgring.
No, not that Nürburgring, but Indiana’s version of it. Established by good friends of mine, the Schweinefiletring (yes, it means pork filet ring) is a combination of 175 miles of country roads that recreate the shape of the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Supersized, of course. This one also offers multiple stops along the way where you can eat Indiana’s famous fried pork tenderloins, and once a year it can be driven to raise money for charity.
I chose the Pork ‘Ring more to get out of the city than a burning desire to blitz country roads, which is why I brought the fam along for the ride. After all, butts in the backseats are always good for feedback. You know, kids tend to say the darndest things like, “dad, the A/C sucks,” “the seats are hard,” or “there aren’t any chargers back here,” or “it really is a shame they never delivered on the promise of a modern Mazdaspeed3, because this platform’s handling dynamics are truly exceptional even at the limit.” Gotta love ’em.
Right away my first impression was that the hatchback’s ride quality was better than the sedan’s. The roads encountered were admittedly quite tight, where oftentimes second gear was more than enough to carry speed through the corners. Regardless of the road surface or layout, the little Mazda3 pounced along from corner to corner like it was a breezy, Saturday afternoon drive. Oh, wait…