When you’re car shopping, you can’t help but notice that the auto industry tends to think as if cars have natural competitors, but shoppers don’t think that way. You may find yourself debating between an appealing SUV and a compelling sedan, for instance. Or considering whether a well-equipped affordable car or an entry-level luxury car is the best investment.
The 2022 Mazda3, for instance, is a mainstream compact sedan. But every review says that it drives like a luxury car. The 2022 Audi A3 is a luxury car. How does a well-equipped Mazda3 compare with Audi’s subcompact luxury sedan?
A side-by-side comparison will help you decide whether the top trim of Mazda’s
little sedan can punch with a luxury featherweight.
Mazda specializes in making cars at mainstream prices that could be mistaken for luxury cars. The 2022 Mazda3 may be its signature product. It has the characteristics of an affordable compact car – 4-cylinder engine choices, city-friendly size, starting price under $25K. But take it down a winding road, and you could be forgiven for thinking it was a German luxury car.
To ring the bell on a fair fight with an Audi, we’ll use the top-of-the-line 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus. It starts at $33,450 (plus $1,065 for delivery) and uses a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine making 250 horsepower and has all-wheel drive (AWD) standard.
Precise handling balance: The Mazda3 gets its maybe-this-IS-a-luxury-car feel from its G-Vectoring Control Plus system. It varies the power at each driven wheel, even subtly braking one at a time when needed, to keep the little car’s composure in hard corners. Torque vectoring makes the Mazda3 a lot of fun to drive.
250-horsepower turbocharged engine: The Mazda3’s popular 186-horsepower engine is fun. But if you’re spending in the low $30,000 range, Mazda offers a 250-horsepower, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that beats some entry-level luxury cars. It requires premium fuel, however, to get the most punch. On regular octane, it’s still good for 227 horses.
Traffic Jam Assist: A sad truth – when you buy a car because it’s fun on a mountain road, you still tend to get stuck in traffic commuting in it. Mazda’s Traffic Jam Assist pairs adaptive cruise control with a stop-start function and a lane-centering system that makes minor steering corrections up to 40 mph. It helps ease the workload when you can’t enjoy that great handling.
2022 Audi A3
The Audi A3
The Audi A3 is the front door to the German luxury automaker’s lineup. It starts at $34,900, plus a $1,095 destination charge. That price gets you a 201-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with a mild-hybrid system that helps it achieve up to 38 mpg. Audis are known for crisp handling, but this is the entry-level model. To get luxury car goodies like an adaptive suspension and more power, you’d need to upgrade to the S3, which puts it out of this price range.
Audi A3 highlights
Mild-hybrid system: The 48-volt mild-hybrid system in the A3 serves two roles. It makes the little A3 more fuel-efficient than most of its competition, good for up to 38 mpg on the highway. It also provides a brief 12-horsepower boost to aid acceleration.
Audi Virtual Cockpit and MMI Touch Display: Audi’s digital display system places a high-resolution digital screen in front of the driver in place of the usual dials. Drivers can configure it using steering wheel controls, so your hands never have to leave the wheel, and your eyes barely move from the road to page between navigation and entertainment controls. When you need to use the central touchscreen, Audi’s MMI system gives you a 10.1-inch surface with acoustic feedback.
Luxury car caché: Why buy a base model A3 over a top-spec Mazda3? If you want to dip your toe into the luxury car waters, the A3 is a fantastic, practical way to do it.
The 2022 Mazda3 and Audi A3 compete in different classes, but a well-equipped Mazda and a base model Audi can compete in a fair fight. They’re both known for crisp handling, offer turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, and look great inside and out.
The Mazda3 earns its reputation as a great driver’s car with its pinpoint handling and an available 250-horsepower engine. In 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus form, it includes luxury features like leather upholstery and a 12-speaker Bose sound system. The Audi A3 is a luxury car. Even in base trim, it offers a similar level of luxury and better fuel economy, though it lacks the Mazda’s torque vectoring system and gives up 49 horsepower to the less expensive car.
Only your needs and desires can tell you where you’d be happier with a fully loaded affordable car or an entry-level luxury car. But we find them surprisingly equivalent in this case.
2023 Audi A3
$33,450 (prices start at $21,150 for base 2.0 model)
2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with 48-volt mild hybrid system
250 hp @ 5,000 rpm
201 hp @ 4,200 rpm
320 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
221 lb-ft @ 1,450 rpm
7-speed dual-clutch automatic
23 city/32 highway mpg (FWD)
29 city/38 highway (FWD)
186-horsepower 4-cylinder, all-wheel-drive
306-horsepower S3, 401-horsepower RS3, all-wheel-drive
3 years/36,000 miles
4 years/50,000 miles
5 years/60,000 miles
4 years/50,000 miles
Max Seating Capacity
Shoulder Room, Front
Shoulder Room, Rear
13.2 cubic feet
10.9 cubic feet
This story originally ran on KBB.com.