The Best Hatchback For Under $40K

by  Anthony Fongaro

I love a good hatchback. They offer added practicality with driving dynamics and options similar to their sedan counterparts. Like I said when I talked about wagons, hatchbacks are far-and-few in-between. Although you can’t get a diesel in hatchbacks anymore (thanks Volkswagen), you can still get regular engines along with hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and EVs. Since there aren’t that many hatchbacks in the United States, competition is fierce. Vehicles like the Nissan LEAF made EVs “affordable” while the Volkswagen Golf really brought hatchbacks to the massive. Ironically, my test car is what I think is a fantastic hatchback should be.

Now, this is a combination of a review plus my pure opinion of hatchbacks as a whole. When this press car was dropped off, I knew it was the highest trim level. What is this vehicle that I adore? The Mazda3 AWD hatchback. This review was one of the easiest to do because a friend of mine has a 2019 Mazda3 AWD. Since I’ve been a passenger in it, I’ve used the infotainment system, felt the drivetrain, and noticed the interior in detail. Although he has the preferred trim level, my test car was the highest Prestige trim level.

All Mazda3 hatchbacks get the same 2.5-L I4, dubbed “SKYACTIV-G”. Since it doesn’t have a turbocharger, it makes 186-horsepower and 186 lb-ft. Although it gets to 60 MPH in 7 seconds thanks to a 6-speed automatic, it doesn’t feel particularly fast. That isn’t really the point of the 3 or any Mazda. No, they’re all about handling and the handling of the 3 AWD is almost surprising. Even though the AWD system isn’t necessary, it is nice to have the added security while I drove in bone-dry weather. I’m sure it’s helpful in snow but for me, it was just a waste of weight.

Along with the engine, there are a few standard features across the board. The shark-like front-end has LED headlights and LED daytime running lights. Around the back, there are LED taillights. When the hatchback debuted, some thought the side view was a bit controversial due to the window design and large blank rear section. I think it’s quite smart and handsome. The front-end is definitely the best part of the exterior design. Front-ends that have shark-like designs are some of my favorite and Mazda did a great job.

The real star of the 3 is the interior. Wow. The materials are so high-end! Seriously, I’ve sat in Audi and Mercedes-Benz interiors with more plastic than the 3. Remember, this hatchback starts at $25,000 and anyone sitting inside of it will be thoroughly happy. The seats are comfortable and heated as well as the steering wheel and Mazda was smart with the infotainment system. Mazda uses an 8.8” screen with a rotary dial and secondary buttons. The screen is recessed back so you can clearly see it and the usage of a rotary dial means the screen is always clean and utilizing it while driving makes if safer than a touchscreen.

The central display has a 7” digital dial which can house a massive speedometer. My Prestige trim level has a head-up display with navigation, speed limit, and your current speed. Preferred and Prestige trim levels get a Bose 12-speaker audio system and it sounds great. Along with the board, the 3 gets adaptive cruise control with stop and go and blind-spot monitoring. The steering wheel has your standard audio and cruise-control controls while the Prestige has paddle-shifters. Finally, all have dual-zone climate control.

This is all good, but why is this the best hatchback for under $40,000? First off, the new engine that’s coming out. Mazda is going turbo with a 2.5-liter I4 producing 250-horsepower and 320 lb-ft with their AWD system. The turbocharged engine is going to significantly help with the performance and the decrease in the 0-60 MPG time. What’s great about the regular 3 sedan and hatchback is you have a premium feeling interior. Although it feels a bit cramped, the trimming makes up for it. Having an easy-to-use infotainment system is one of the most important aspects of a vehicle and the rotary wheel is the easy-to-use controller.

Which Mazda 3 AWD (future turbocharged engine) should you get? I had the Prestige model and it was wonderful. That said, you don’t really need it unless you want a sunroof and premium leather. The lesser Preferred is appropriately named. The Preferred has handsome 18” wheels, a good number of exterior paint colors, and a powered eight-way driver’s seat. Both front seats are heated. Preferred trim levels are the entry to the upgraded Bose sound system. If I had the choice to get the Mazda 3 AWD, I would get the turbocharged engine, red exterior, and beige interior. 

If you absolutely need a head-up display, leather instead of leatherette seats, and a beautiful red interior, go for the Prestige. You pay $2,000 more but may not get as good deals as the Preferred. I would stay away from the entry-level 3 just because the Preferred package has some more standard features. That said, the 3 is deeply impressive with a plethora of standard features. That interior is downright beautiful and is on par with entry-level German luxury brands costing almost twice as much. If you want the sedan, go for the sedan. Personally, as I said, I would get the hatchback. Either way, you’re getting one of the best vehicles for well under $40,000.