Mazda3 Hatchback’s turbo option adds some excitement to the lineup

Mazda’s long-running compact-car line, known now as the Mazda3, gets a pair of major upgrades for 2021 with the addition of the optional 2.5-liter turbo four-cylinder engine and intelligent all-wheel drive.

The Mazda3, which entered its fourth generation for 2019, comes in sedan and hatchback body styles, and the turbo option is now available in both.

For this report, we tested the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo Hatchback, in the Premium Plus trim (base price $33,900, plus $995 freight), and were able to give it a real workout during a nearly 2,400-mile round-trip drive between San Antonio and Knoxville, Tennessee.

One thing I learned early on: This is an outstanding highway vehicle that provides a remarkable driving experience that makes road trips more fun.

It was also comfortable, even with my insistence on making the 1,200-mile run each way all in one day. That’s about 17 hours of sitting in the driver’s seat – with nothing but gas and bathroom breaks to give some brief respites.

Oh, did I mention economical, as well? My Mazda3 Turbo Hatchback averaged 30.2 miles per gallon the entire trip, which was quite welcome with today’s higher gasoline prices. EPA ratings are 23 mpg city/31 highway/26 combined. (I maintained the high mpg by consistent use of the radar cruise control and reasonable highway speeds.)

The 2021 Mazda3 Turbo Hatchback.

The 2021 Mazda3 Turbo Hatchback.

Mazda North American Operations

My only complaint, if you can call it that, is the size of the fuel tank – just 12.7 gallons – which forced me to stop to refuel more often than I wanted to. That was probably a good thing, though, as going much farther than that between stops probably wouldn’t have been a good idea.

In fact, the Mazda3’s Driver Attention Alert told me “Time to take a break” a few times along the way – although I never actually got sleepy or tired during my marathon drives.

So how much fun was this turbo engine, which is coupled to a six-speed automatic sport transmission with all-wheel drive? 

It was so much fun that I had no trouble whatsoever guiding the Mazda3 Hatchback around and through traffic, especially when I needed a quick boost of power to negotiate a particular situation. No problem. (And most likely a surprise to some of the lousy drivers in much larger vehicles who thought they could act like bullies and cut me off at will.)

The Skyactiv-G turbo engine has two sets of power stats for the Mazda3 Hatchback: 237 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque when driving on regular unleaded gasoline (87 octane); or 250 horsepower and 320 foot-pounds of torque when running on premium (93 octane) fuel.

I didn’t try the higher-octane gas – you know what gasoline prices are like right now. But even running regular gas, this car provided as much power as I needed or wanted, every time.

That 237 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque are sufficient, considering that this car weighs just under 3,400 pounds. 

The Mazda3 Hatchback is quite similar to the new Mazda CX-30 crossover utility vehicle, in that both are built on the same architecture and are close in size. But the hatchback is a bit more squat, like a sedan, than raised up, like an SUV.

The CX-30 offers the same drivetrain as the Mazda3 Hatchback, with the turbo engine and six-speed automatic.

As for its roadhandling characteristics, the Mazda3 Hatchback has the feel of a sport coupe, with tight, predictable steering, and a suspension stiff enough to hold the vehicle in place during sporty driving on twisty roads.

The automatic all-wheel drive adds to the experience by making sure there is good traction on all four corners at any given moment.

This isn’t just something that helps keep the car going on slippery roads – it’s a great performance feature that ensures that this car is fully connected to the road at all times.

Mazda says the new i-Activ AWD system can send significant torque to the rear wheels – three times more than the previous all-wheel drive – to improve cornering. Without all-wheel drive, the Mazda3 is normally a front-wheel-drive car.

The turbo models also come with a driver-selectable Sport mode (activated by a rocker switch on the center console) that includes Mazda’s enhanced “G-Vectoring Control Plus.”

It allows the car to downshift automatically under braking, and to avoid “unnecessary shifting mid-corner to help provide a more-dynamic and natural feeling in and out of corners,” Mazda says.

There is also a re-tuned front suspension that includes stiffer springs and enhanced damping, while still maintaining decent ride comfort.

Our test vehicle came with the Premium Plus package, which adds leather upholstery, an auto-dimming driver’s door mirror, front air dam, gloss black rear hatch spoiler, frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink, front and rear parking sensors, the Mazda Navigation System, Smart City Brake Support-Reverse, Rear Cross-Traffic Braking, 360-degree around-view monitor, Traffic Jam Assist, and Traffic Sign Recognition.

Among standard features on the Turbo Hatchback are 18-inch alloy wheels, power-sliding glass moon roof, rear privacy glass, dual-zone automatic climate control, Mazda’s advanced keyless entry/exit system with pushbutton start, leather shift knob, and eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support.

There are two bucket seats up front and a three-person rear bench seat with a 60/40 split-folding seatback. The cargo area behind the rear seat has 20.1 cubic feet of storage space, which expands to nearly double that with the rear seatback folded.

Tires are P215/55 R18, and there is a temporary spare tire.

LED daytime running lights are standard, along with the automatic on/off LED headlights.

The tester came with the Polymetal Gray Metallic exterior color and a red leather interior.

Outside mirrors are gloss black, folding, with built-in turn signals and reverse tilt. They are heated, and their positions are included in the memory system for the driver’s seat position.

Other standard amenities include rain-sensing windshield wipers, gloss black front grille, 12-volt power outlet, center console armrest with covered storage compartments, and dual front map lights.

Radar cruise control is standard, with illuminated steering wheel-mounted controls. 

Also included are an automatic electronic parking brake, automatic (speed sensitive) power door locks, door storage pockets/bottle holders, front seatback map pocket (passenger side), vinyl-covered sun visors with extensions, rear center pull-down armrest with cupholders, front overhead console with sunglasses holder, illuminated vanity mirror, frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a cargo cover.

The Bose audio system has 12 speakers. There is Bluetooth hands free phone and audio connectivity; a trip computer showing current and average fuel economy and distance to empty, and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay hookups.

The Mazda Connect system includes the 8.8-inch large center display, with HD Radio, infotainment system voice command, Pandora internet radio integration, and two USB audio inputs.

Standard safety gear includes advanced dual front air bags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake-assist, front and rear seat-mounted side air bags and roof-mounted air curtain bags, front knee air bags, electronic stability control with traction control, and child-safety rear door locks.

Also included is the Driver Attention Alert system, designed to detect driver fatigue or decreased attentiveness and activate a warning sound and dashboard notice.

Safety technology includes the Lane Departure Warning System with Lane-Keep Assist; rearview camera; Smart Brake Support; Tire Pressure Monitoring; and Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

We had no passengers riding regularly in the rear seat, but there was generally sufficient room for two people in the outboard positions.

The center rear seat is best left to kids, and there are connections for child safety seats.

The ride was mostly comfortable, but not cushy, as this vehicle is designed more for sporty driving. That gives it the better road handling and precise steering, but at the expense of a softer ride.

The base Turbo Hatchback model starts at $31,050. The Premium Plus model we drove is the only other choice in the turbo line.

Regular Mazda3 Hatchbacks with the non-turbo 2.5-liter engine begin at $22,650.

The only options on our test vehicle were the Appearance Package ($1,075), which added Rear Aero Flares/Rear Skirt and Side Sill

Extensions; floor mats ($125); and stainless rear bumper guard ($125).

Total sticker price for our 2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo Hatchback Premium Plus was $36,220, including freight and options.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Express-News since 2000. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo Hatchback AWD

The package: Compact, five-passenger, five-door, all-wheel-drive, turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline-powered hatchback.
Highlights: Mazda’s compact hatchback offers a turbocharged engine option for 2021. This vehicle has a long list of standard and optional amenities. It’s stylish, comfortable and quite fun to drive – a hallmark of Mazda vehicles.
Negatives: Back seat can be a tight fit for larger people.
Engine: 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder, turbocharged.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 250 HP./320 foot-pounds (with premium fuel); 227 HP./310 foot-pounds (with regular gasoline).
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Length: 175.6 inches.
Curb weight: 3,383 pounds.
Cargo volume: 20.1 cubic feet behind rear seat. 
Towing capacity: Not provided.
EPA fuel economy: 23 mpg city/31 highway/26 combined.
Fuel capacity/type: 12.7 gallons (premium recommended for best performance, but not required).
Base price range: $31,050-$33,900, plus $995 freight.
Price as tested: $36,220, including freight and options (2021 AWD Turbo Hatchback Premium Plus).
On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.

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