2021 Mazda 3

By January 6, 2021

The 2021 Mazda 3 is a compact sedan or hatchback that offers verve and versatility. The 3 has excellent handling, a refined ride, a cabin with high-quality materials, and an impressive amount of standard and optional safety equipment. It’s available with three different 4-cylinder engines, including one that’s new for 2021: a turbocharged 2.5-liter making 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque on regular fuel.

The base engine is a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 155 hp. It’s truly base, as it comes on only the stripped-down sedan. The 2.5-liter inline-4 is more like it, making 186 horsepower, with an available slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission, just for fun. Every other model has a smooth 6-speed automatic.

The new 2.5-liter turbo-4, with that awesome torque, comes standard with all-wheel drive, which is optional on every other Mazda 3 but the front-wheel-drive base model.

Inside, there’s good room in front and decent room in back. The hatchback is shorter than the sedan, but still offers 20.1 cubic feet of storage space when the rear seats are folded down.

With the 2.0-liter engine and front-wheel drive, the 2021 Mazda 3 sedan is EPA rated at 28 mpg city, 36 highway, 31 combined. The 2.5-liter inline-4 gets 26/35/30 mpg with front-wheel drive and 25/33/28 mpg with all-wheel drive. The hatchback with the 6-speed manual gets 1 mpg less.

The new 2.5 Turbo gets 23/32/27 mpg with front-wheel drive and 23/31/26 mpg with AWD.

The NHTSA gives the 2021 Mazda 3 five stars, while the IIHS gave the 2020 model its Top Safety Pick+ award. Standard safety features include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active lane control, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, and a driver-attention monitor. Optional equipment includes blind-spot monitors, front and rear parking sensors, and a surround-view camera system.

Model Lineup

With three engines and two body styles, the Mazda 3 comes in many models and versions. There’s the 2.0, 2.5 S, 2.5 S Select, 2.5 S Preferred, 2.5 S Premium, 2.5 Turbo, and 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus. There’s also a wide span of prices: the base 2.0 model starts at $21,445 and the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus reaches $34,695. All-wheel drive adds $1,400 on 2.5 S models and comes standard on Turbos.

The base 2.0 is sedan only, and for $21,445 comes with cloth upholstery, manual front seats, power door locks and windows, keyless ignition, an eight-speaker sound system, an 8.8-inch infotainment screen with a rotary controller, LED headlights, and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The 2.5 S hatchback and sedan come in Select, Preferred, and Premium trims. The Select sedan runs $23,645 and hatchback $24,645. All 2.5 Select models come standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, synthetic leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The 2.5 S Preferred sedan costs $25,295 and $1,000 more for the hatchback, and adds an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with power lumbar adjustment, driver seat memory, heated front seats, and a sunroof.

The new 2.5 Turbo sedan with all-wheel drive is $30,845, and the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus is $33,395 for the sedan and $34,695 for the hatchback. They are equipped with a Bose 12-speaker audio system, leather upholstery, paddle shifters, satellite radio, navigation, a heated steering wheel, and additional safety features.

Exterior

The sedan’s long roofline gives it elegance, and the illusion of being a bigger-than-compact car. It has smart, clean proportions. The hatchback is 8 inches shorter and shows it, with large rear pillars that make it look tail-heavy.

What they have in common is beautifully and subtly sculpted body sides. Both versions have a wide, forward-sloping grille that’s sleekly shaped like a shield. Narrow headlights spring from the grille to create an attractive front end reminiscent of Aston Martin design.

Interior

On the Preferred model and above, the cabin is harmonious and upscale. There’s a low beltline, a fine combination of light and dark hues, bits of well-placed brightwork, and copious soft touch surfaces. The 8.8-inch display screen seems to grow out of the dash and is fairly far away, but that’s OK because it doesn’t have touch controls.

It’s controlled by voice commands, which can be problematic, or by a rotary dial on the center console that requires too many clicks and spins to perform simple functions. On the plus side, the screen’s display is crisp.

The front seats are supportive, with good bolstering and 8-way power adjustment on those higher models. The thick steering wheel has a smallish diameter, which gives the car a sporty feel.

The wheelbase of the sedan is fairly long for a compact car, at 107.3 inches, but the room in the rear is only about average. Still, a 6-foot passenger can fit behind a 6-foot driver. The sedan has a 13.2-cubic foot trunk (12.7 with AWD), and the hatchback has 20.1 cubic feet behind the rear seat.

The hatchback’s thick rear pillars block some rearward vision.

Driving Impressions

The base 2.0-liter inline-4 makes only 155 hp, with a 0-60 mph time of more than eight seconds.

The 2.5-liter engine makes 186 hp and cuts that time down by about a second. Its power comes on in a linear fashion, but needs a heavy foot to find that extra 31 hp.

For 2021, there’s a new 2.5-liter turbo-4 that makes 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, and vaults the Mazda to 60 mph in less than six seconds. It’s linear in power delivery, but lags from a start to deliver boost. All three engines are a bit coarse, but not disturbingly so.

The standard 6-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and stays in the background, except when it’s more aggressive and responsive in Sport mode. The slick-shifting 6-speed manual is only offered with the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter engine in higher trims, and it’s so good that we wish it were optional on more models.

A stiff structure and soft dampers bring a nice balance to the ride and handling. The front end responds well to the nicely weighted direct steering, although the Mazda 3 has significant lean in the corners, and its transitions aren’t so agile. Still, it can be fun on a twisty road, especially when all-wheel drive puts down the power when exiting a turn.

The ride is controlled and comfortable: in a word, mature. The suspension eats up small bumps and ruts, but the torsion-beam rear suspension can lead to a bumpier ride when the road gets truly rough.

Final Word

The 2021 Mazda 3 offers sleek shapes and slick handling, but its infotainment can be a handful. The best choice comes in either body style with the mid-range 4-cylinder, for the best blend of road manners and value.

 

—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection

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