Price: 2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo AWD sedan with Premium Plus package: $32,450
Pros-Slick styling. New potent turbo engine. Smooth. Fairly roomy. Upscale interior. Agile. All-wheel drive.
Cons-Distracting infotainment system control. Somewhat narrow front seat area.
Bottom Line-Good combination of sport and luxury at competitive price.
The 2021 Mazda3's new turbocharged engine, upscale interior and sporty driving nature makes it feel more expensive than it is.
The new turbocharged four-cylinder engine generates 250 horsepower on 93-octane fuel and 227 horses on 87-octane. Torque figures are virtually identical, at 320 pound/feet with the higher horsepower output and 310 with the lower horsepower rating. I tested the 250-horsepower Mazda3 with the Premium package and all-wheel drive, which comes with both turbo engine versions.
The compact-size Mazda3 2.5 Turbo with all-wheel drive and the Premium Plus Package lists at $32,450. It also comes as a hatchback, but I tested the sedan, which looks slicker than the hatchback. A base front-drive Mazda3 has 155 horsepower and lists at $20,500.
My test sedan had a low belt line for easy occupant outward visibility despite its sleek styling with a black grille and nicely integrated black rear lip spoiler. The base Mazda3 front-drive version has 155 horsepower, and a mid-range model has 186 horsepower.
For the money, and considering all its features, my test Mazda3 financially undercuts rivals, including the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta and Hyundai Elantra.
My test car had a gloss-black, especially low grille and prominent oversized exhaust outlets. This is a five-seater, although four adults fit more comfortably. It's best to use the middle of the rear seat for the fold-down armrest, which has dual cupholders. A large front console makes the front-seat area feel somewhat narrow. Rear seat room is good, although a tall passenger behind a tall driver will want a little more leg room.
The cargo area is large, and 60/40 split-folding rear seat backs provide considerably more cargo space.
Wide-opening doors make it easy to get in and out of the quiet interior, which has an understated look but upscale materials and a power driver's seat. Both front seats are heated, but the passenger seat has a manual adjustment.
Gauges are easy to read quickly, although the console rotary knob for the entertainment system is distracting. I had to use it too much for simple functions, like finding the radio station I wanted.
Still, there are manual dashboard controls for the dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8.8-inch color display, AM/FM Bose premium audio system with 12 speakers and dual power side mirrors.
However, my test car's electronic parking brake had an annoying habit of switching itself on when the transmission lever was moved from "Park" into "Drive," although that brake can easily be shut off via a console button.
The soft-touch interior has the usual array of upscale items, including leather seats.There's also a push-button engine start, heated tilt/telescopic steering wheel, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, rearview camera, power sliding glass sunroof with a shade, 2 USB ports and a bluetooth hands-free phone/audio control.
This 3,379-pound Mazda3 sedan is fun to drive. The 0-60 m.p.h. time is about 6 seconds and 65-75 m.p.h. passes on highways was a breeze. The power shoots through a smooth six-speed automatic transmission, which has quick-responding paddle shifters. A small console switch moves the car's operation to "sport" for slightly faster acceleration, but it increases engine revs and thus hurts fuel economy. There's no need for it most of the time.
The rather firm steering is quick and accurate, thanks partly to a firmer front suspension with stiffer springs and dampers. The ride is firm but supple, easily absorbing bumps and pavement irregularities. Handling and cornering are sharp, helped by dynamic stability control and traction control systems. The 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist stop the car efficiently with good pedal feel.
The car's 45-series trees on 18-inch back alloy wheels also helped keep it firmly planted on the road, as does the four-wheel-drive system.
Mazda doesn't call this car a sports sedan. If anything, it has made the Mazda3 a little softer to appear to a wider range of buyers. Still, the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo with the Premium Plus package has many characteristics of a good sports sedan.
The Premium Plus package contains the leather seats, front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree view monitor that lets you see objects around the entire car, traffic jam assist, traffic sign recognition, rear cross-traffic alert with braking and Mazda's navigation system.
The list of safety items is impressive. It includes a driver-attention alert, lane departure warning system, lane-keep assist and radar cruise control with stop-and-go. There also are front side-impact air bags and front/rear side air curtains.
Compared to well-known rivals, Mazda is small outfit, with only 33,608 Mazda3 models sold in America last year. If the word gets out, the Mazda3 with its new turbo engine promises to draw more buyers.