Refinement vs. Rally: Is the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo Faster Than the Subaru WRX?

While today the Mazda3 is arguably more focused on luxury, Mazda’s compact car hasn’t completely forgotten its sporting past. And for 2021, it’s getting a new turbocharged powertrain option with all-wheel drive. But traditionally, if US buyers wanted an AWD turbocharged sporty commuter, they turned to the Subaru WRX. And back in the day when ‘Mazda3 Turbo’ really meant ‘Mazdaspeed3,’ the WRX was something of a cross-town rival. But which is the faster car today? That’s what Throttle House wanted to find out.

2021 Mazda3 Turbo and 2020 Subaru WRX have different AWD approaches

The side view of a red 2021 Mazda3 Turbo Premium Plus
2021 Mazda3 Turbo Premium Plus side | Mazda

While AWD was available on the 2020 Mazda3, it’s standard on the 2021 2.5 Turbo and Turbo Premium Plus. And these trims pair it with a new engine. It’s a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that, when it’s run on 93-octane fuel, delivers 250 hp and 320 lb-ft. On 87-octane, that drops to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft, Automobile reports.

Unfortunately, the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo doesn’t offer the 6-speed manual available on lower trims. Instead, it has a 6-speed automatic. Still, with a 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds, the Mazda3 Turbo isn’t exactly slow, Car and Driver reports. Indeed, the old Mazdaspeed3’s 0-60 mph was 0.2 seconds slower.

2020 Subaru WRX
2020 Subaru WRX | Subaru

With its 268-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-4 engine, the 2020 Subaru WRX is more powerful than the Mazda3 Turbo. However, it ‘only’ makes 258 lb-ft. And while the WRX is slightly lighter than the Mazda, the example Throttle House tested came with the optional CVT transmission.

While the CVT makes driving a bit easier, it doesn’t help with the Subaru WRX’s performance. With it, the AWD sedan goes 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds, Motor Trend reports. In contrast, Car and Driver’s long-term manual WRX managed a 5-second 0-60 mph time.

0-60 times, though, aren’t necessarily everything.

How did Throttle House test these cars?

Throttle House ran the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo and 2020 Subaru WRX through two ¼-mile drag races. The first was from a standing start, while the second was a rolling race. The latter helps separate engine and transmission tuning from any launch control benefits or traction penalties. Neither the Mazda nor the Subaru features launch control, though both have Sport Modes.

In terms of the overall design, the Subaru WRX is arguably more of a sports car than the Mazda3 Turbo. However, Road & Track notes that while the 2021 model isn’t a Mazdaspeed, it has the chops to hang with the GTI and Civic Si. Not to mention a better interior than the Subaru, Roadshow reports. More to the point, even when you throw out 0-60 times, on paper, it’s faster than the WRX.

In Car and Driver’s 5-60 mph rolling race, the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo finished in 6.4 seconds. Meanwhile, a manual Subaru WRX needed 6.5 seconds to do the same. And in the top gear 30-50 and 50-70 tests, the Mazda3 finished in roughly half the time as the manual Subaru.

However, when it comes to standing ¼-mile tests, the Subaru WRX makes up some ground; kind of. Car and Driver’s long-term WRX ran the ¼-mile in 13.8 seconds, while the Mazda3 Turbo needed 14.1 seconds. But in MT’s testing, a CVT-equipped WRX ran the ¼-mile in 14.5 seconds.

Still, these are numbers on a page. What happens when the rubber meets the racetrack?

Could the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo keep up with the Subaru WRX?

Unfortunately, in this case, the CVT held the 2020 Subaru WRX back. In both the standing-start and rolling drag races, it lost to the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo.


Mazda Adds More Tech and Turbo Power For 2021

However, it’s worth pointing out that the Mazda3 won the standing-start race by the figurative skin of its teeth. If the race distance was any longer, the Subaru would have likely caught and passed it. That’s the benefit of the Mazda’s torque: it launches faster, but the WRX’s extra horsepower meant it could eventually catch up.

Still, the results are the results. And the simple fact is that, in these tests, the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo out-sped the Subaru WRX.

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