2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus AWD Review

The gentlemen's hot hatch


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: An excellent balance of comfort and sport, the best-designed hatchback sold today, improved grunt from the turbo engine, faster than the Mazdaspeed3 hot hatch minus the torque steer, stunning interior looks and feels premium.
Negatives: Second-row room compromised by the exterior design, transmission needs quicker shifts, might feel too composed and tame for some folks.
Bottom Line: The Mazda3 hatchback with the new turbo mill is sublime. It's the gentleman's hot hatch with great design and a grown-up cabin that's sure to please all, minus those with tall kids.
We love the Mazda3 in both sedan and 5-door hatchback configurations because it's not just great to drive but also marvelous to look at thanks to stunning design. The hatchback still survives despite the fact that almost no one is still buying them. The new 2.5-liter turbo engine makes it even better behind the wheel, and the 2021 benefits from an improved infotainment system, too. We drove the hatchback with the new engine and the opulent Premium Plus package for a week. We wanted to see if the engine made a significant difference in the way the Mazda3 drove. Read our impressions in our full review below.
 

Driving Experience

8.7

 

There's a lot to love about the way the Mazda3 2.5 drives. While it doesn't feel as aggressive as the old Mazdaspeed3, it's actually quicker. The deceptive part is that the car is so smooth, so composed, that it undermines the feel of the acceleration.

Ride Quality: The 3 is always smooth and never feels off kilter when it comes to surface irregularities. That said, it still feels plenty sporty and connected to the road.

Acceleration: 0-60 comes in a quick 5.6 seconds. The 2.5-liter turbo feels noticeably stronger than the naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter mill. It pulls hard but gets hampered slightly by the transmission, which would be far better if it was a dual clutch system.

Braking: The brakes have excellent feel and stopping power. They never felt grabby or mushy in the pedal.

Steering: Steering is great with good effort and decent feedback. Precision is excellent, as is on-centeredness.

Handling: There's some minor, well-controlled body roll, and the G-Vectoring Control Plus and I-Active All-Wheel Drive ensure great cornering and composure. It's no Hyundai Veloster N on the skidpad (0.97g), but the Mazda3 Turbo (0.85g) still hangs on.

Technology

9

 

The only thing wrong with the previous version of the Mazda3 infotainment system was its dull graphics. That has been resolved with the new software that's still easy to use and much better to look at. The great Commander control knob and buttons make managing infotainment a breeze while driving.

Infotainment System: The landscape-oriented 8.8" color screen is crisp, and the graphics and menus are better than ever.

Controls: We love the cluster of controls on the center console that permit easy management of the infotainment system, drive modes, and audio. The steering wheel buttons are well laid out for easy operation while driving, and we also laud Mazda for keeping physical audio knobs.

Styling

9.8

 

The Mazda3 hatchback is one of the best-looking cars made today, regardless of the price. They paid as much attention to the interior as they did to the sophisticated and sporty exterior styling. It really is a beautiful car from every angle.

Front: The big, dark mesh grille is framed nicely by black trim and those slim headlights with top edge creating a nice eybrow over the slim headlights. We love the simplicity of it with minimal busyness in the lower fascia vent.

Rear: What a stunning view the Mazda3 has from behind. The hatch makes brilliant use of the thick C-pillars and the mean LED taillights. The twin round tailpipes are superb. This is is how to do design. It's near perfect.

Profile: It's hard to overstate what Mazda has done with the little hatchback. You can see its strong presence in the sporty profile with the muscular rear haunches and the sloping roofline. That thick C-pillar is distinct and gives the 3 hatch a look like a cat ready to pounce. We can't find a single design flaw in the thing.

Cabin: The cabin is beautiful with clean, fluid lines everywhere. The attention to detail is remarkable, and everything flows together beautifully.

Comfort

8

 

The Mazda3 hatchback really isn't a vehicle suited for four adults, but it is perfect for two adults and a couple of small kids. Although the ergonomics and materials are top-notch, the rear suffers in terms of leg and headroom.

Front Seats: The sporty buckets are well-bolstered and have just the right amount of cushioning. The seating position and reach for controls are excellent. Tactile controls are all within arms' length, and the quality is up there with the premium brands.

Rear Seats: Headroom is tight for six-footers, and they can't sit behind another tall person. Forget about smashing five adults in the back.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The sound deadening and build quality are superb, and the ride is quiet. There's no noticeable wind noise at high speeds, either.

Visibility: Rear visibility is compromised by the thick C-pillars, but otherwise views are very good. It's a small price to pay for this look.

Climate: We had no trouble getting warm while driving the Mazda3 hatch thanks to great heated seats and responsive dual zone control system.

Safety

9.2

 

You can count on the Mazda3 sedan and hatch to be truly safe vehicles for you and yours with the best ratings in the industry from both the NHTSA and IIHS. The Mazda3 also come with excellent standard and optional safety features.

IIHS Rating: It received the 2021 IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating, which means it's the best score you can get with "good" in all crash tests and superior in front crash prevention.

NHTSA Rating: The 3 earned 5 stars from the federal government.

Standard Tech: The Mazda3 Premium Plus comes with a huge set including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a tire pressure monitoring system, Mazda Radar Cruise Control w/ Stop-and-Go, Smart Brake Support, a rearview camera, Driver Attention Alert, Lane Departure Warning System, Lane Keep Assist, and High Beam Control.

Optional Tech: Our tester came with Front & Rear Parking Sensors, 360-Degree View Monitor, Traffic Jam Assist, Rear Smart City Brake Support, and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert w/ Braking.

Storage/Cargo

7

 

The convenience of a hatchback with split-folding rear seats is great for hauling stuff, but it's not huge. For a hatchback, its storage areas are very usable, the ergonomics of the storage are quite good.

Storage Space: The large open cubby and cupholders in front of the shifter are big and convenient. The medium-sized armrest keeps smaller items out of sight.

Cargo Room: The Mazda3 hatchback has 20.1 cubic feet of space in the boot and 47.1 cubes with the rear seats folded. It's not quite as capacious as the VW Golf R, but it's enough room for two to get away.

Fuel Economy

7.8

 

The Mazda3 turbo gets slightly worse gas mileage than its naturally-aspirated siblings by a couple of mpgs combined. It's still pretty efficient with 30+ highway and combined. We drove in Sport mode the entire time on local roads, which hampered our numbers a bit.

Observed: 18.7 mpg.

Distance Driven: 112 miles.

Audio

8.8

 

The 12-speaker Bose premium system that came at this trim level is excellent. Crisp, clear, loud sound came through without distortion, and there's a good amount of bass, too. We're glad it was not additional optional equipment, and it's part of what makes a Mazda such a great value.



Final Thoughts

In our middle age, we like to think we can still get a hatchback that doesn't make us look like we live in our mom's basement. The Mazda3 Hatchback with the new turbo mill is just that car. It looks grown up and fun at the same time. It handles incredibly well, moves with alacrity, and has the kind of cabin luxury cars would kill for. The exterior design and interior styling are at the top of their games, and the asking price is far less than what this car looks, feels, and drives like. It is our favorite hatchback today.
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