Mazda brings back zoom-zoom in the 2021 Mazda 3
Ever since it came out in 2003, the Mazda 3 has always been on my favorite list. Sporty-looking, practical, fun-to-drive and inexpensive, the Mazda 3 hits all the high notes for what is needed to be a great car. A few years ago, we saw the fourth generation Mazda 3 makes its debut, and found that it still hit all those notes. For 2021, the Mazda 3 gets a new engine, making the 3 even better – and bringing back memories of the much-loved hot-rod version of the 3 – the MazdaSpeed3.
As it has always been, the Mazda 3 is available in both sedan and hatchback body styles, the latter being what was recently assigned to me. The one advantage the hatchback holds is that it is the only body style that can still be had with a six-speed manual gearbox. Sedans come only with the six-speed automatic, and to be honest, most hatchbacks will end up having an automatic in them as well. But it’s nice to know Mazda still offers the six-speed in the hatchback.
The base Mazda 3 hatchback continues to uses a 2.5 liter Skyactiv four-cylinder – which is a carryover from last year. Power is rated at 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. It comes with a six-speed automatic transmission, but if you choose the Premium package, the manual transmission becomes an option. The sedan’s base engine is an all new 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine that makes 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque).
The exciting news though is the availability of the 2.5 turbocharged four-cylinder. Borrowed from the Mazda CX-5 and CX-9 SUVs, this engine delivers 227 hp and a healthy 310 lb-ft of torque (both those numbers go up to 250 and 320 respectively when using 93 octane gasoline). As a bonus, all-wheel drive is standard. The 2013 MazdaSpeed 3 (it’s final year), made 263 horsepower going through a 6-speed manual
transmission and then to its front wheels. All-wheel drive was never offered on the MazdaSpeed 3.
Engines aside, the Mazda 3 continues as it did last year. Its interior uses an intuitive, driver-oriented dashboard and console that not only makes the 3 feel very sporty, but places all the controls within easy reach and are simple to use. And it’s all done in a clean, uncluttered fashion, which adds a sense of elegance to the cabin. My tester was equipped with Mazda’s Commander dial-button control interface. While at first it may look like a version of BMW’s iDrive, it’s far easier to use.
But my favorite feature of the Mazda 3 has always been how enjoyable it is to drive – and the new engine just adds to it. The Mazda3 has always been a good handling car – with precise steering and a firm – but not jarring – suspension, it’s a real joy to take into turns. And now with all-wheel drive and more power from the turbocharged engine, it’s even better. The power is great (it’s very linear, without the surge that might be expected in a turbocharged car) and the engine note has a little snarl to it, something I’ve always found Mazda’s to lack. The automatic can be a little slow to shift at times, but shift paddles do help solve that. While it doesn’t feel as quick and aggressive as the MaszdaSpeed3 did, it feels much more refined.
The 3 with its base engine continues to compete with the likes of the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus. But with the addition of the new engine, the Mazda 3 gets some zoom-zoom injected into it – and now finds itself competing with the likes of the Civic Type R and Hyundai’s Veloster N. Looks like the hot-rod hatchback market is alive and well.
— Christopher A. Randazzo
By The Numbers:
2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus AWD Hatchback
Base Price: $33,750.00
Price as Tested: $35,415.00
Layout: front-engine / all-wheel drive
Engine: Skyactiv 2.5 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Horsepower: 250 hp
Torque: 320 ft/lb
EPA Fuel Economy: 23 city / 31 highway mpg
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