- 2021 Mazda3 ($20,650 – $32,600)
- “2020 World Car of the Year” – World Car Awards
- “2020 Top Safety Pick +” – IIHS
- 5-Star Overall Safety Rating – NHTSA
- Pro: The Mazda3 is available with a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine and all-wheel drive.
- Con: The potent turbocharged engine is not available with a manual transmission
The compact car segment has always been filled with stiff competition. Stalwarts like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic have been front runners for the past 40 years, and the updated Hyundai Elantra poses a threat to any newcomers. The 2021 Mazda3, however, is no newcomer. But considering its sophisticated styling inside and out, in addition to its engaging performance, you would think that it was a new and unique entry into the segment.
That’s what Mazda wants you to think, considering the brand took an upscale approach a few years ago and updated its lineup. That approach works well on so many levels as I quickly found out during my time with the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo. It was comfortable, fun, and surprisingly elegant.
The 2021 Mazda3 has an elegantly subtle style
The Mazda3 was redesigned for the 2019 model year and for 2021, it keeps the same outer appearance. To be honest, it’s hard not to stare at this car when you walk away from it after parking. The Mazda3’s soft body lines and curves complement its imposing stature. My tester was the sedan model, which I feel looks better than the hatchback, but some may disagree.
Speaking of the hatchback model, the Mazda3 is offered as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback, which looks the same from the B-pillar forward. Although, the hatchback model has a thick C-pillar that gives it a polarizing look.
The Mazda3’s interior is from a class above
If you sat in the Mazda3 with a blindfold on, you would likely never guess that you were sitting in a compact car, let alone a Mazda. There are soft-touch materials everywhere and if you opt for the higher trim levels, you’ll be treated to either leatherette seating materials or real leather. The base trim comes with cloth seats.
Sitting in the driver’s seat provides a snug but comfortable experience and there’s enough headroom for taller drivers. Every other seat in the cabin is just as comfortable, but don’t expect too much legroom if you’re sitting in the rear seat area, especially in the middle.
Either way, the Mazda3’s interior is a great place to spend time in, even if the time being spent is in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Also, I recommend the white interior for anyone that can turn blind eye to needing to clean jean stains off the seats in a couple of years.
The Mazda3’s technology is frustrating but useful
If I had to choose one glaring issue with the 2021 Mazda3, it would be its infotainment system. An 8.8-inch screen sits front and center on the dash, but instead of being a touchscreen, it’s controlled by a knob on the center console. That’s usually not a big deal, but in the Mazda3, it’s a nuisance because you need usually need to toggle between 2-3 different screens to get where you want to go.
For example, there’s no tuning knob to change the radio station. Instead, you must toggle to another screen and then scroll down a list to find the station you want. It’s annoying to do while driving, so I found myself leaving it on stations I didn’t care for because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of changing it.
Otherwise, the Mazda3 is loaded with useful tech features. Its notable standard features include an 8-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, rain-sensing wipers, and two USB ports. You even get adaptive cruise control and automatic braking in the base model. However, stepping up to the 2.5 Turbo model, like my test car, will give you more luxuries like a head-up display, a power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, a heated steering wheel, a Bose premium sound system, and leather seats.
The higher trims also come with the rest of the driver-assist aids like a lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and a rear cross-traffic alert.
The Mazda3 out handles the competition
If Mazda’s are known for one thing, it’s their engaging driving dynamics, and the Mazda3 is no exception. The base trims come in a front-drive format, but the higher trims are available with the brand’s i-Activ AWD. I took my Premium Plus test car out to my favorite winding road to how it handled and I smiled from ear-to-ear the whole time.
The Mazda3 glides through the corners with ease and it stops well when it’s time to get on the brakes. While putting it through its paces, the driver’s assist aids didn’t come on once and the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel come in handy when you’re driving spiritedly.
Just note, though, that it doesn’t shift that fast so don’t expect an F1-type experience. Nonetheless, the Mazda3 instills confidence when you need to get through back roads in a hurry. It’s one of the rare cars that actually gets better the faster you drive it. I can’t really say the same for the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
If you can spare the extra cost, the 2.5 Turbo engine is recommended
Under the hood of the Mazda3, you’ll find a choice of engines: a 2.0-liter, a 2.5-liter, or a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The base trim is equipped with the 2.0-liter mill, which makes 155 hp and 150 lb-ft, while the middle trims get the 2.5-liter that makes 186 and 186, respectively. But if you want the most fun out of your Mazda3, then I highly recommend the turbo 2.5-liter engine that makes 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque (on 93 octane).
My Premium Plus test car came with this engine setup and I thoroughly enjoyed the rush of power that comes on when the accelerator is mashed. The power comes alive through the mid-range of the RPM sweep, but it dies out a little on the top end, as expected. It’s very smooth, though, even when leaving quickly off the line.
The Mazda3 shifts through the gears of its standard six-speed automatic transmission with ease as there is no jolting feeling or hesitation between shifts. The only sad part, though, is that the Mazda3 sedan is not available with a six-speed manual transmission, you’ll have to get the Premium hatchback for that.
As far as efficiency goes, the EPA estimates that the Mazda3 will get up to 23 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. In my week of combined driving, I averaged 25 mpg.
The Mazda3 is as safe as can be
The IIHS gave the 2021 Mazda3 a highly-coveted “Top Safety Pick +’ award and the NHTSA gave it a 5-star overall safety rating. If that’s not enough to convince you that the Mazda3 is safe, then maybe its dual-front airbags, side airbags, knee airbags, and whiplash-reducing front seat headrests will. You can also find safety in the host of aforementioned driver-assist features in addition to its rearview camera.
The top-trim Turbo Premium plus model adds a 360-degree camera, adaptive headlights, traffic-sign recognition, and traffic jam assist.
Is the Mazda3 expensive to maintain?
Although the Mazda3 looks like a luxurious compact, that doesn’t mean that it comes with luxury-level maintenance costs. Car Edge reports that the average cost to maintain a Mazda3 during the first five years of ownership is around $1,432. Additionally, Consumer Reports rated the Mazda3 a four out of five stars when it comes to predicted reliability.
Mazda3 owners won’t have to worry too much about repairs during the first few years of ownership, though. Every Mazda3 comes with a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty that covers most of the bodywork and electrical components.
Additionally, the powertrain is backed by a separate 5-year/60,000-mile warranty and every owner will get 24-hour roadside assistance for the first three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first.
The Mazda3 packs a sophisticated and powerful punch
Anyone in the market for a compact car will find that the 2021 Mazda3 has a lot to offer. It has the power, luxury, and capability that you wouldn’t expect from any of the cars in its class and it provides a great value for the price. The compact segment might be filled with stiff competition, but the Mazda3 can hang with the best of them.
MotorBiscuit gives the 2021 Mazda3 an expert rating of 7.8 out of 10
The editors at MotorBiscuit scored the 2021 Mazda3 a 7.8 out of 10. The Mazda3 comes in two elegant body styles that can work for almost anyone. Additionally, its driving engagement and interior quality are top-notch, but its infotainment interface could use a little updating.