It’s always a nice feeling when big companies listen to their critics and customers. Mazda has done this when we wanted more power in the MX-5 and in the CX-5 SUV. We also wanted more power in the compact Mazda 3 and now Mazda has given us what we wanted in the 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo.
Engine – The Mazda 3 is now available with 3 engines. A base 2.0L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder, a 2.5L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder, and a turbocharged 2.5L 4-cylinder engine. This 2.5L engine is the same one that is found in the CX-5, CX-9, Mazda 6, and soon to be CX-30. Albeit, this engine has a few small changes like a water to air intercooler rather than an air to air intercooler. It’s also one of the few engines in the world that has two power outputs. If you use regular fuel, it’ll produce 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. Pay a little extra for the premium fuel and the engine produces 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. Due to the turbocharged nature of these types of engines, the Mazda 3 feels spritely off the line. Peak torque is achieved at 2,500 rpms when it’s being fueled by the higher grade explosive juice. The peak torque value is reached 500 rpms sooner if you use regular fuel.
This turbocharged engine has exceptional throttle response thanks to the exhaust manifold which accelerates exhaust gasses through a tiny inlet to quickly spool up the turbocharger. At higher rpms, a secondary passage opens up to reduce restriction and provide power throughout the rpm range. It does run a bit out of puff near the redline but how often are you going to be revving the engine that high?
With the addition of this turbocharged engine, fuel economy is not as good as the naturally aspirated 2.5L engine but it’s not too bad. It is rated for 10.1 L/100km (23.3 MPG) in a city and 7.5 L/100km (31.4 MPG) on a highway. During my brief time with the car, I averaged 8.4 L/100km (28 MPG) over a 60/40 city/highway drive cycle.
Transmission – While a manual transmission option is still available with the Mazda 3, it is not available with this turbocharged engine. A 6-speed automatic is the only transmission available on the 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo. Mazda has not yet made the move to more gears because they want to retain the sporty driving dynamics. Their argument is that with fewer gears, there are fewer shifts and less instances of a loss in acceleration when shifting between gears. For the 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo, the engineers retuned this 6-speed automatic so that it downshifts before entering a corner. It holds the gear during a corner in order to prevent the car from being unsettled with a gear change mid-corner. As for the shifts themselves, they are quick and smooth both when going up in gears or when downshifting.
Braking – With the added power, the 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo actually keeps the same brakes as the non-turbocharged variants of the Mazda 3. The braking performance is good with a firm but easy to modulate brake pedal. Forward collision alert and emergency automatic braking are standard features on this top GT trim as well as the mid GS trim. But it is not available on the GX trim.
Handling – With this 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo you can almost say that it’s the Mazdaspeed 3 that we’ve always wanted because the turbocharged engine is only available with all-wheel-drive. Just like the transmission, the AWD system has also been retuned to better work with the turbo engine. Up to three times as much torque than previously allowed is sent to the back wheels to improve off the line and corner exit traction. Due to more of the engine’s power going to the back wheels, the Mazda 3 Turbo feels more neutral mid-way through corners and doesn’t understeer as much as the FWD versions. Of course the AWD system also let’s you behave like a hooligan in the snow if you really want to.
With the addition of G-vectoring control – which momentarily limits engine torque when cornering – the Mazda 3 Turbo is a joy to drive on a twisty and winding road. Steering feel is precise with a good amount of feedback to the driver. It’s also not too heavily weighted nor is it too light; it’s a good balance between enjoyment and daily driving.
Ride Comfort – While the Mazda 3 is positioned more as a sporty car, the ride comfort is not sacrificed. Yes, it is a tiny bit firmer than a comparable compact car from a different manufacturer but you can still drive over potholes without the fear of shaking your teeth. The seats were redesigned in this latest generation Mazda 3 to provide better support and after a long drive, I felt relaxed without any back issues whatsoever.
Interior Space – Front occupants have a generous amount of leg and head room. The driver gets a 10-way power seat on this GT trim while the passenger has to make due with a 4-way manually adjustable seat. The rear occupants don’t have as much room though. Leg room is tight if you’re over 6’ and headroom is just as tight. The trunk in this sedan variant is rated at 374L (13.2 cu-ft) with the seats up and 940L (33.2 cu-ft) with the rear seats down. If you’re looking for more cargo volume, the hatchback version of the Mazda 3 offers a bit more space.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – This new generation Mazda 3 is very quiet. It feels like you’re in a much more premium and expensive vehicle. The cabin feels very insulated from the outside world. The only noise that feels a bit intrusive is road noise on highways that have old and porous asphalt. This turbo engine also makes a pretty good noise when the rpm needle goes past 4,000 rpms. It almost sounds like a Subaru boxer engine.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – The 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo doesn’t see many changes to the gadgets that it is available with from the previous year. The only major change is a shuffling of the features in the Premium Package which now includes rear smart brake support, rear cross traffic support, front & rear parking sensors, heads-up display, heated windshield wipers, Homelink, surround view cameras, traffic jam assist – which can follow the car ahead at slow speeds in conjunction with the adaptive cruise control – and a frameless rear view mirror. Quite a lot of stuff for only $1,700 CAD.
The infotainment system was updated with this new generation Mazda 3 and not only does it have modern graphics but it is faster than the previous generation. It supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but it is no longer a touch screen. You must use the rotary knob on the center console or voice controls. However using the rotary knob isn’t all that bad because the menus are laid out in such a way that they work with the rotary knob.
Interior Design – The interior has been updated for this new generation Mazda 3 and it feels more premium than ever before. Soft leather covers the majority of the dash and all of the controls have a satisfying, premium feel to them when you use them. The new 8.8” infotainment screen looks as though it came out of a luxury vehicle with clear graphics and is well incorporated into the dash.
Exterior Design – The exterior sees an evolution of the Kodo design language with a blend of sharp lines in the front and smooth curves along the side and back. Depending on your preferences, the styling is a love or hate relationship. I personally think it’s the best looking Mazda 3 to date.
In all the 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo is going further from being a mainstream vehicle to being more of a premium vehicle. With the addition of this turbocharged engine, it produces more power and torque than the Mercedes-Benz A250 or BMW 228i GranCoupe. It’s even knocking on the door of the BMW 330i & Mercedes C300. The maximum you can spend on a 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo is $37,475 CAD ($33,750 USD) in the form of the hatchback with the Premium package. That is significantly less money than the starting prices of the A250 & 228i Gran Coupe. Of course compared to a Honda Civic or a Toyota Corolla, the Mazda 3 is more expensive. But in my opinion this Mazda 3 Turbo is not really competing against those brands. It’s competing now against the entry level Mercedes-Benz, Audi & BMW vehicles. On that basis, the 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo is a luxurious bargain.
Thank you to Mazda Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Mazda.ca