The last time the Mazda3 had a turbo stuffed under its hood, it was a performance-oriented hot hatch—dubbed the Mazdaspeed3—that enthusiasts compared to the likes of the Ford Focus ST and Subaru WRX. It was loud, crude, and kept you on your toes with unpredictable torque steer, but it was oh so fun. The 2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo is not that car. And really, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone paying attention to the automaker’s pivot to a near-luxury brand.
To that end, the new Mazda3 Turbo packs performance, but it delivers it in a more mature and polished way. And compared to the regular non-turbo Mazda3, the turbocharged version makes it a much more convincing competitor to the entry-level German luxury makes like the Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and BMW 2 Series, all of which also pack turbos.
Under the hood is the same 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder Mazda uses throughout its lineup. Output is rated at 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque on 93-octane fuel. Those numbers drop to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft with regular 87-octane fuel. A six-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive system round out the drivetrain for both the sedan and hatchback body styles (neither front-wheel drive nor the manual gearbox is offered with the turbo). All in all, it’s a decent jump in power compared to the non-turbo 2.5-liter 3, which comes in at 186 hp and 186 lb-ft.
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Speaking of which, I happen to be the caretaker for our long-term, naturally aspirated Mazda3 hatchback. Its combination of FWD and manual gearbox prevent an apples-to-apples comparison with the turbo-powered hatch we tested here, but the extra horses and torque do a lot to liven up the chassis. Power delivery off the line is linear and satisfyingly smooth whether you’re in a hurry or taking things easy. The engine note is nice and deep under wide-open throttle, though the speakers play a little part in enhancing what you hear. The six-speed auto is an outlier in a world of eight-speeds and CVTs, but it’s responsive and mostly does its job imperceptibly.
The turbo feels much quicker than the standard 3, and our test numbers certainly confirm that. Sprinting from zero to 60 mph and through the quarter mile took 5.9 seconds and 14.5 seconds, respectively, which is 2.2 seconds and 1.7 seconds quicker than a non-turbo 2020 Mazda3 AWD sedan we tested. Those times are also on par with a couple German counterparts Mazda aspires to compete with. A 2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 4Matic, for example, ran to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, and a 2020 BMW 228i xDrive Gran Coupe did it 6 seconds flat.
We have yet to weigh a standard Mazda3 AWD hatchback, but compared to the aforementioned AWD sedan, our hatchback turbo tester was just 84 pounds heavier (3,374 pounds). To counter the added weight, Mazda increased the front spring rate by 15 percent and stiffened the dampers a tad. The steering arm was also beefed up, a change that will make its way into non-turbo Mazda3s, as well.
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Thankfully, those slight tweaks haven’t had a negative effect on handling. Steering feel is similar to that in its non-turbo counterpart—slightly numb, but it reacts well to inputs. Road test editor Chris Walton put down a figure-eight time of 26.4 seconds and had a good time doing so. “It’s unbelievable how the turbo really woke this car up,” Walton said. “It does a very good job of putting the extra power down for the skidpad exits. There’s only a slight tendency for midcorner understeer but I was also able to rotate the car off-throttle.”
The list of gripes isn’t long and mostly mirror my experience with our long-term Mazda3. For starters, it doesn’t quite mask potholes or pitted pavement as well as the luxury makes do (or the Civic, for that matter), and the rear passenger area is quite tight. Mazda has also stuck with the piano black interior trim, which hasn’t held up well in our long-termer.
That said, the interior is still a pretty nice place to be. Our test car was a Premium Plus model, which includes new tech for 2021 including a 360-degree view monitor and Traffic Jam Assist, which handles steering, throttle, and brake inputs at speeds under 40 mph. Other goodies include a home theater-worthy Bose sound system, a head-up display, LED headlights, and a heated steering wheel. Pretty impressive for a list price of just under $35,000.
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So although the Mazda3 turbo may not be the car enthusiasts were hoping for, it’s far from a bore behind the wheel and is packed with luxuries that might convince you that growing up may not be so bad, after all.
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