2021 Mazda3 Turbo review: More power, but it’ll cost ya

We prefer the Mazda3 hatch, but the sedan is still very attractive.

Emme Hall / Roadshow

The turbo Mazda3 returns for 2021, but it’s not the Mazdaspeed3 revival you were hoping for. Okay, though. With its refined on-road manners, premium cabin and sophisticated styling, there’s a lot to like about this punchy compact. Unfortunately, it’s not cheap.

Like it

  • Powerful turbo engine
  • Excellent interior design
  • Sophisticated style

I do not like

  • More expensive than competitors
  • Poor fuel economy
  • Steep infotainment learning curve

You can get the Mazda3 Turbo as a sedan, which is definitely the way I would go, but for this review, I have the sedan. Turbo models feature a glossy black trim on the grille and front bumper, as well as 18-inch wheels. My car also has the Premium Plus package, which adds a glossy black rear spoiler. Machine Gray Metallic is a bit boring as far as body colors go, but paint it in Mazda’s Soul Red and even this otherwise serious sedan would look warm.

The standard Mazda3 is already fun enough to drive, with great steering and a balanced chassis. The Turbo just kicks everything up a notch. Mazda’s 2.5-liter turbocharged I4 produces 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet – if you’re using premium fuel, anyway. It uses 87 octane gas and the horsepower drops to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft. There is obviously cost savings that would cause drivers to skip the premium and go for the regular lead-free, but it’s not as expensive as you think. In California, based on current gas prices, it’s just $ 3.77 per tank to get maximum horsepower.

The Mazda3 Turbo is perfectly pleasant in its Normal driving mode, albeit a little unexciting. Throttle response is relatively subdued and steering is quite light. Even so, the turn-in is crisp and clean, and the taut suspension keeps body roll in check.

Switch to Sport mode, however, and the whole thing comes alive. Here, you get more aggressive throttle response and different transmission shift logic, allowing you to hold on to gears for longer periods of time. Sport mode also instructs the transmission to downshift when braking, so that you have plenty of power out of corners. And since the Turbo is only available with all-wheel drive, you don’t have to worry about all that power translating into front steering torque. Slap a set of winter tires on this thing and I bet it would be great in snow too.

The turbo engine produces 250 hp and 320 lb-ft if you use it on premium fuel.

Emme Hall / Roadshow

However, this is not a sports car. Even with the extra power, the Mazda3 Turbo isn’t exactly fast and the brakes aren’t up to the task of a long day of brisk driving. There is also a fair amount of street noise inside the cabin.

The turbo engine doesn’t help with fuel economy either. The EPA says the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo sedan has a combined rating of 27 miles per gallon, which places it behind the Hyundai Elantra N Line and Volkswagen Jetta GLI. Of course, none of these competitors offer all-wheel drive, so you win some, you lose some.

Where the Mazda3 Turbo really has an edge over the competition is with the quality of the interior. The entire cabin is filled with high-end materials and excellent fit and finish. The front seats are comfortable, although they could use a little more reinforcement. There is plenty of head and leg room for both front and rear passengers, more than enough for my 5ft 9in chassis.

This cabin is very well appointed.

Emme Hall / Roadshow

Cargo space is on the small side, sadly, with only 13.2 cubic feet of capacity in the trunk. If you’re planning on hauling groceries and gear on a regular basis, consider purchasing the nicer Mazda3 Turbo hatchback, which has 20.1 cubic feet of space behind its flat folding rear seats.

As for the infotainment, I continue to be baffled by Mazda’s non-touchscreen interface. Using the hard dial and buttons on the center console, the system is often slow and takes a second to recognize inputs. There is also a rather steep initial learning curve. Thankfully, the 8.8-inch screen can work Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, if you prefer. A wireless charging pad is available for $ 275, and you might want to, as there are only two USB-A ports and a 12-volt socket in the car.

However, there’s a lot of great tech to talk about, with a host of standard advanced driving aids on all trims. Adaptive full-speed cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and lane keeping assistance are standard on all turbo Mazda3s. My tester gets a few other niceties like rear cross-traffic warning and a sharp 360-degree camera.

This little guy can get pretty expensive.

Emme Hall / Roadshow

The Mazda3 Turbo also comes with the automaker’s Traffic Jam Assist, which is meant to help with steering at speeds below 40 mph. However, sitting in Bay Area traffic on a sunny day, the system won’t stay on for a significant amount of time, even if I’m only doing 15 mph. It’s a great technology in theory, but it’s reluctant to kick off.

If I bought the Mazda3 Turbo sedan I would start with the standard outfitting, which costs $ 31,045 including $ 995 per destination. The Premium Plus adds things like built-in navigation and the Traffic Jam Assist feature, but none of these are very useful and raises the starting price by over $ 33,000. There are no other great options available, so all-in, I’d look at $ 31,640 for a sedan finished with Soul Red paint.

All-wheel drive is nice to have, but I have to say that many of Mazda’s less expensive front-wheel drive rivals are more convincing. A fully loaded Elantra N Line won’t cost $ 28,000, the VW Jetta GLI starts at around $ 28K, and both cars are more fun to drive. Sure, the Mazda3 Turbo is beautiful and pushes the company into a premium space. But if you’re looking for smiles per mile, maybe swap some of that beautiful craftsmanship for a less expensive, more fun alternative.

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