2021 Mazda3 Turbo Offers Exciting Driving Dynamics With Compact Convenience - IMBOLDN
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The Mazda3 is counting down the days to celebrate 20 years in production. The compact car was first introduced in 2003 as a 2004 model. It replaced the outgoing Mazda 323 and is currently in its fourth generation, which involved a complete redesign in 2019. For 2021, Mazda introduced all-wheel-drive as an option for premium trim levels equipped with the 2.5-liter engine. 

This model year also shifted the standard options among the Mazda3 trim spectrum. Meaning, base models get less, and premium models get more (as is life, am I right?) This tactic seems to be growing among reasonably priced vehicles to get customers to pony up for a higher trim level. However, that is a topic for another story. We are focusing on how the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo, with AWD, handles itself on the street. 

Does the 2021 Mazda3 still have that driving-matters/ zoom-zoom feel unique to the brand? Or, has it fallen prey to commercialization and become another 2.0-liter cookie-cutter offered in a slightly different shade of metallic gray?

Full-Size Character with Compact Convenience 

The 2021 Mazda3 is offered in both hatchback and sedan configurations. Each body design has its pros and cons. For example, the Mazda3 hatchback has a more appealing exterior design than the sedan, but its high-rising hatch creates a blind spot. Every 2021 Mazda3 comes standard with blind-spot monitoring, but it can still be a potential annoyance. The Mazda3 sedan has greater rear visibility, yet if you want a new Mazda3 with a manual transmission, Mazda only offers that option on the hatchback. All this means that choosing the real Mazda3 for you may require compromise.

For this article, the 2021 Mazda3 shown is the top-of-the-line Turbo Premium Plus with an upscale interior, turbocharged 2.5-liter engine, and optional all-wheel-drive. The stylish exterior is dressed in Machine Gray Metallic with a white leather interior. Modern vehicles have all swollen in recent years; what used to be compact now looks mid-sized, and it’s the same story with the new 2021 Mazda3. The car manages to keep its compact sedan personality but offers a spacious and comfortable interior. 

The driver seat of a 2021 Mazda3 is a pleasant place to sit in traffic. The Premium Plus trim package provides satellite radio, 12-speaker Bose audio system, navigation, 18-inch alloy wheels, and optional driver aids like Mazda’s Traffic Jam Assist (TJA). It works to maintain a designated distance between you and the vehicle in front at a preset speed similar to adaptive cruise control. 

The Premium Plus trim package provides satellite radio, 12-speaker Bose audio system, navigation, 18-inch alloy wheels, and optional driver aids like Mazda’s Traffic Jam Assist.

During stop-and-go traffic, a Mazda3 using TJA takes the stress out of accelerating and braking by doing it for you. All the driver has to do is steer and watch out for sudden stops because TJA is not autonomous – it has limitations like all other similar driving systems. Standard safety features on all 2021 Mazda3 include automated emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control.

Turbocharged Handling 

The premium engine option on the 2021 Mazda3 is the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder producing a healthy 250-horsepower and 320 lb.-ft of torque. Lower trim levels offering the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter will get 186-hp, and the base 2.0-liter engine producing 155-hp. AWD adds $1,400 to the Mazda3’s price tag but is a welcome option for providing the compact sedan with effortless acceleration. 

On the road, the turbocharged AWD Mazda3 stays true to its reputation for smile-provoking handling. You will find yourself looking for the route with the most turns and curves in the 2021 Mazda3. The car’s handling offers a satisfying firmness in how it shifts its weight with light steering that makes hitting the apex fun and precise.  

Gas mileage was reasonable but leaning towards low. The turbo 2.5-liter engine with AWD offers 32 MPG highway, 23 MPG in the city for an average of 27 MPG. During the week-long test drive, I traveled 420 miles and averaged 25 MPG. 

The Most Annoying Feature I’ve Ever Encountered on a Vehicle  

People who care about driving are more likely to be annoyed by the increasing number of safety features in modern vehicles—like traction control never being completely off, which sounds like we prefer danger. That is not the case. It is more about these safety driver aids that do not offer the option to be switched off. It provokes rants that start with, “Well s**t, I’m paying for this car, I should be allowed to do whatever I want with it!” One of the most significant examples of this is the electronic parking brake. 

It provokes rants that start with, “Well s**t, I’m paying for this car, I should be allowed to do whatever I want with it!”

Traditionally, an emergency/parking/ or hand brake was a handle located on the center console or a foot-operated lever placed to the left of the pedals. Driving enthusiasts prefer this style of parking brake because it allows the possibility to yank or step on the e-brake and slide a vehicle by locking the rear wheels abruptly. You cannot do this with a new electronic parking brake. Talking with various manufacturing representatives in recent years, the best reason they had to offer me is interior space. Having a small button is a lot more organized than figuring out where to place a lever – fine. 

But, the fourth-generation Mazda3 manages to take this annoyance one step further. When you turn off the car, the parking brake automatically engages. You can hear it, and it sounds like a sci-fi sound effect. The problem is that the parking brake does not disengage when you’re inside the vehicle, ignition on, and select reverse or drive. You have to do it manually. As a result, every time you press on the gas, the car fights back by holding its ground.

Other vehicles have this safety feature, usually labeled as “AUTO HOLD,” providing drivers the option to turn it off with a simple button command. The 2019-2021 Mazda3 does not make it easier for you to stop this. A thread on Reddit dives into this annoyance with Mazda3 owners complaining and asking for a solution to turn it off. There is no option to disable the feature on Mazda3’s settings. I’ve been testing cars since 2015, and this is the most annoying thing I’ve ever come across on a modern vehicle. 

2021 Mazda3 Covers All the Bases

In defense of the 2021 Mazda3, not everyone buys a vehicle based on whether or not they can perform stunts with it. What some see as an overbearing, nanny-state safety feature can be considered a peace of mind technology to others, like car buyers looking for a safe, secure, well-performing vehicle for their newly licensed teen or college graduate. That’s what the 2021 Mazda3 offers: safety, performance, style, and technology. 

The Mazda3 looks good in any parking lot. It covers all the bases with standard safety driver aids and is reasonably priced with the base model starting at $20K. However, the top-tier Turbo Premium Plus starts at $32k. A good price point to get the best value is the Mazda3 Select which starts at $22k and comes standard with blind-spot monitoring, 186-hp 2.5-liter engine, and 18-inch alloy wheels.