Cars > Driven

Mazda 3 2.0 Fastback HEV: The enthusiast’s mild hybrid

Propulsion tech adds to more driving fun

A driver’s car is a rare thing nowadays. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Compact cars are a dying breed these days. Everybody wants crossovers and pickup trucks, and what few offerings exist make a weak argument when you inevitably get less utility for the same budget.

With the exception of B-segment cars like the Toyota Vios and the Honda City, traditional compact “family” cars like the Honda Civic and the Toyota Altis are becoming rarer and rarer these days.

But Mazda still firmly believes that there is still a market for a driver-focused compact, and has recently bestowed a mild-hybrid drivetrain on the 3. Even though the fourth-generation platform dates back to 2019 BC (Before COVID), it’s still one of the best-looking compacts on the road today.

Taut, muscular flanks, tires nicely filling up the wheel wells, and a greenhouse area that sacrifices visibility for aesthetics. You get some huge blind spots at the back, but such is the price of good looks.

Muscular flanks, a high beltline, and relatively small windows for a sleek and confident look. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

And now it gets hybrid tech if you’re willing to ante up the P280,000 premium over the P1,510,000 non-hybrid Sport. But it’s not a full hybrid.

In this Mazda’s case, the 24V system uses an integrated electric motor that generates 6.8hp and 49Nm of torque. A lithium-ion battery stores energy from regenerative braking, too.

Total system output is 163hp and 213Nm, a respectable 9hp and 13Nm over the non-hybrid variant. But the electric motor doesn’t have the juice to propel the car without the internal-combustion engine (hence, “mild hybrid”).

What it does is take some of the load off the ICE so you don’t have to step on the gas so much for mundane stop-and-go driving. And at the top end, a little more power is always appreciated.

The hybrid system uses regenerative braking to store energy in a lithium-ion battery. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The powertrain itself is satisfying to use, if not especially powerful. The hybrid system does give it a slightly more eager step-off, and it’s entertaining to watch the system working on the display. The automatic is lazy in normal driving conditions, shifting into the tallest gear whenever possible and with a very gradual engine response.

But selecting “Sport” and working the paddle shifters makes the car come alive out in the hills. The system will allow you to downshift to a low gear as long as it doesn’t exceed 4,000rpm, and will hold that gear almost to the redline.

The engine is the same as the non-HEV, but gets an integrated electric motor. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The 2.0-liter engine makes a pleasant growl, too, perhaps to make you feel better that you had to get this one rather than something much more fun and irresponsible like the MX-5. Vibration is practically nil even at high engine speeds, and only the smell of a cooking transmission will eventually clear the red mist from your eyes.

It's a compliment when we say a new car drives like an old BMW. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

All the good traits that made the 3 such a good driver’s car are still there.

The steering is sharp and communicative, with just the right amount of effort. The all-disc brakes are powerful and easy to modulate. The suspension is taut and borderline harsh over uneven pavement, but it’s a joy to push hard in the twisties with relatively flat cornering, a flickable tail, and predictable trail-braking.

Note that you’ll want to turn off the lane-keeping assist if you want to play, otherwise the car will artificially stiffen up the steering and be a killjoy.

Mazda engineers have always been one of the best when it comes to handling characteristics, and what makes the 3 all the more special is that it’s still a regular passenger car with a very athletic side to it.

The 45-series Bridgestone Turanzas aren't very grippy, which makes them more fun to slide around. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Helping in this regard are its 45-series, 18-inch Bridgestone Turanzas. They’re not especially grippy, but they are predictable when they’re about to break traction, adding to the fun factor if you like a little bit of slipping and sliding on your Sunday drive.

The driver-centric cockpit will make you want to find some quiet roads for some playtime.
Probably the best-looking tiller in this class. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The cockpit also helps in this regard. The driving position is cozy, with a power-adjustable bucket seat that has good support at the thigh, torso, and lumbar regions to keep you in place.

The instrument cluster combines traditional analog with digital. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The instrument panel takes a page from BMW with crisp, no-nonsense letters and numbers in black and white. The speedometer is digital, but rendered in such a way as to make it look analog to match the tachometer.

It needed to be done this way to incorporate a small info display at the center. It’s a very elegant way of displaying information without looking gimmicky, which has become all the rage these days.

The infotainment screen is not touch-sensitive. How retro.
Navigating the various functions is done with the rotary dial. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The infotainment screen sits atop the dash and is something of a throwback, though. Instead of a touchscreen that has become the norm already, it’s still just a screen whose functions can be accessed via a rotary dial and some buttons beneath the shifter—again taking a page from vintage BMW.

There are shortcut buttons to access navigation, music, and such, but—at least with Apple CarPlay—accessing tracks and selecting playlists is tedious. You must jog the dial left or right or press it to work the user interface, and this can be highly distracting while driving. Siri is your friend in this case.

Materials are great with solid build quality all throughout. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The fit and finish are excellent. While the cabin is mostly done in black and gray, the materials all look and feel high-quality. Everything you touch like the door handles, the buttons, and even the surface of the dashboard all look like they were made with great care.


Which is not to say that it’s perfect. As highly appealing as the 3 is as a driver’s car, it might not do so well as a family car. Space in the back seat is tight (as it always has for this model), roughly similar to a B-segment car like the Honda City. The rear seat back is also as stiff as an ironing board.

There's decent space for groceries with the seats up.
A flat load floor makes it very useful. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The D-pillars are also very thick, so looking in the rearview mirror is akin to looking out through the gun slit of a bunker. Fortunately, the five-door configuration allows you to expand the limited cargo space, from 454L with the seat backs up to 1,142L with the seat backs down.

Very few regular (non-sports) cars beg to be driven hard in the hills like the 3. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

So, does the mild-hybrid tech also lower your fuel consumption? Yes, but not drastically so. With our managing editor’s 2.0 Sport as a baseline, he gets around 6-8km/L in the city and 13-14km/L on the highway.

With the HEV, I got as high as 18-19km/L on the highway just cruising at 80-85km/h, but repeated stops for photos and a long afternoon navigating through the chaos of Cavite brought city fuel efficiency to 9.5-10km/L.

The improvement is there, but if you’re looking to buy this car for fuel savings, consider that the nearly P300,000 difference between this and the non-hybrid Sport will also buy you a lot of fuel in the first place.

You can choose which driver aids to turn off if you like.
And you'll be fiddling with your tunes a lot because the stock Bose system is wonderful. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Aside from the hybrid tech, the HEV also gets a full suite of advanced driver aids like adaptive cruise control, 360° cameras, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, automatic smart braking, automatic high beams, and a driver monitoring system. The non-hybrid only gets blind spot monitoring, reverse camera, and rear cross-traffic alert.

All the other goodies are shared across the board, including the excellent 12-speaker Bose audio system; front, side, and curtain airbags; dual-zone auto climate control; stability control; paddle shifters; a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat; and a power sunroof.

Finally, like all locally available Mazdas, this also comes with a five-year free service plan.

Cars with a soul are few and far between these days. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Bottom line: Don’t expect super savings in fuel if you opt for the HEV. You’ll have to do some number-crunching to figure out if the premium and the extra maintenance cost for that lithium-ion battery will work out in your favor or not.

If, however, you simply want the best 3 yet—one that’s truly loaded with everything and is still a ball of fun and just so happens to give you more range on a tank of gas—then your HEV is calling.


Engine2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline with 24V mild-hybrid system
Transmission6-speed automatic
Power162hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque213Nm @ 4,000rpm
Dimensions4,460mm x 1,785mm x 1,440mm
Drive layoutFWD
UpsideSporty handling. Very good fit and finish. A comprehensive spec sheet. And marginally improved fuel economy over non-HEV variant.
DownsideCramped back-seat space. A cheaper HEV without the ADAS suite would be good.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.