Test drive: The 2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo is a very hot hatchback


The Mazda3 is a hot hatchback in so many ways.

It has a chic style, a high-end interior, sharp handling and now more power than it knows what to do with. Actually, it knows exactly what to do with it.

The compact is available for 2021 with a 250 horsepower 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that can also be had in the Mazda3 sedan. It’s the same motor used in Mazda’s largest model, the three-row CX-9 utility vehicle, and cranks out a truck-like 320 lb-ft of torque.

You need to fill it up with 93 octane gas to unleash its full fury, but even on regular it’s rated at 227 hp and 310 lb-ft, which isn’t exactly shabby. To put that in perspective, the standard Mazda3 has a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter rated at 186 hp and 186 lb-ft and is hardly a slouch.

That’s because it’s a very tiny and tidy car. It may be a four-door, but it’s better suited for two. A lot of carmakers don’t make actual cars like this for the U.S. anymore and a many of those that are left aren’t very cheap.

That’s true for the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo, which starts at $30,845 for the sedan and $31,845 for the hatchback, but offers a level of refinement that makes it a legitimate competitor to the likes of the more expensive Volkswagen Golf R, Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

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Unlike the front-wheel-drive boy racer Mazdaspeed3 of old, the Mazda3 Turbo’s AWD system delivers the power to the ground without any drama, but plenty of excitement as it accelerates to 60 mph in under six seconds.

Since it’s a Mazda, things are even better when the road gets wiggly. The steering may feel a little numb, but it is as precise as a micrometer and the suspension is deftly tuned to control body roll without being harsh.

Standard Mazda3 shown

Standard Mazda3 shown
(Mazda)

Some will find it unfortunate that there is no manual transmission option, but the six-speed automatic is peerless, even though it has two or three fewer gears than you’re probably used to these days. With all of that torque, more would be unnecessary for performance, although they might improve on the 31 mph highway fuel economy rating.

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In keeping with Mazda’s new premium positioning, the wee Mazda3 is also available with a full boat of high tech driver aids including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and a 360-degree camera that offers a bird’s-eye view of the car that’s almost comical when you’re in a parking space, because it barely takes up half of one. Mazda’s knob-controlled infotainment system can be tricky to manage, but does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

A car like the Mazda3 isn’t for everyone – if it were, there’d be more than a handful left – but for those who appreciate this sort of thing, you’ll still have plenty of room in your garage for the family’s big SUV.

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2021 Mazda Mazda3 2.5 Turbo

Base price: $31,845

As tested:  $34,820

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door all-wheel-drive hatchback

Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder

Power: 250 hp, 320 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 23 city/31 hwy



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