Mazda Puts the “Hot” in its Mazda3 Hatchback

2021 Mazda3 hatchback front three-quarter view

In a declining segment, the Mazda3 hatchback stands tall.


Mazda may not have a broad selection of vehicles, but it makes do with what it has. Each of its models typically has one or more features not common to its competitors. In the case of the Mazda3, the brand’s compact sedan and hatchback, available all-wheel drive sets this vehicle apart. Moreover, an optional turbocharged engine helps this compact model earn its “hot hatchback” label.

The Mazda3 comes in sedan and hatchback body styles. The sedan is available in seven trims and is priced from $20,500 to $32,450. The hatchback is available in six trims with prices ranging from $22,500 to $33,750. These prices do not include the $945 destination charge. The Mazda3 seats up to five people.


2021 Mazda3 hatchback profile


What’s New

Two new engines roll out for 2021, including a turbocharged option. This is the third year for the fourth-generation Mazda3.

Model Highlights

Mazda’s “soul of motion” design language is evident throughout, beginning with a gaping front fascia, angular headlights, delicious curves, and sweeping lines. In particular, the look is meant to convey sportiness and it succeeds quite well in that department.

Inside, the Mazda3’s cabin is small. On paper, it seats five, but four is the ideal. Even then, a limited amount of legroom consigns that space to short trips for adults or just enough room for young teenagers.

As for the interior design, this is no “econobox” look. Instead, Mazda uses soft-touch materials throughout with handsome brightwork trim conveying elegance. The dashboard sits low with the console display occupying a recess splitting the upper and lower sections.

The sedan’s trunk measures 13.2 cubic feet, which is average for the segment. Opt for the hatchback and it has 20.1 cubic feet of cargo space or 47.1 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.


2021 Mazda3 hatchback front seats
2021 Mazda3 hatchback rear seats


The one demerit of note lies with this same display screen. Unlike nearly every competitor, this one is not touch-screen controlled. Instead, the 8.8-inch screen is managed by voice command or by utilizing a rotary dial on the center console. Notably, the display itself is sharp, but operating the dial requires multiple steps before even the simplest functions are accomplished. Fortunately, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility make things easier.

Among the options, Mazda includes a 12-speaker Bose audio system and navigation. We found the Bose system exquisite, as it delivered a sound experience typical to what’s offered in a luxury car.

Safety Features

On the safety front, the Mazda3 comes with automatic headlamps, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and a driver attention monitor. Among the available upgrades, you’ll find adaptive headlights, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, traffic jam assist, and front and rear parking sensors. Shoppers might also consider the available surround-view camera system for improved visibility.


2021 Mazda3 hatchback dashboard


Performance

Mazda3 shoppers will find three engine choices. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder is standard and makes 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. This model is front-wheel-drive only, sending power to the wheels utilizing a 6-speed automatic transmission. However, Mazda makes this engine available with the sedan only.

The second engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. This engine works with a 6-speed automatic or an available 6-speed manual gearbox in the hatchback only. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is available.

The third engine choice is the one that powered our test model. This one is a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque or 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque with premium fuel. This engine works with the automatic transmission and is all-wheel-drive only.

Remembering the Mazdaspeed3

The Mazda3 Turbo reminds us of the Mazdaspeed3 that was last produced in 2013. This one, however, is without a manual gearbox option, as Mazda says that its targeted audience is more “mature” than the consumers it previously targeted. Although this writer fits the “mature” label, he longed for a manual shifting option.

But don’t take this thinking wrong: although more refined (and slightly faster than the Mazdaspeed3), the Mazda3 Turbo is still a delight. And fast too. We regularly matched Mazda’s stated 0-60 mph time of 5.4 seconds, which is probably slightly faster than what we would’ve achieved with a manual.

Step hard on the gas pedal and the front wheels squeal, then shift slightly from side to side before power moves to the rear wheels to balance the car. There is a lot of torque on tap with the all-wheel-drive system reining it in just before things get crazy. On straightaways, the Mazda3 gallops fast; on curvy roads, it digs in and almost begs for more. Short of taking it to a track, putting it through the paces on a slalom reveals how well-planted this Mazda is. It serves with distinction as a commuter car, but it is utterly delightful when its performance side is unleashed.


2021 Mazda3 hatchback rear three-quarter


Mazda3 Model Musings

The Mazda3 in standard guise is a capable and efficient cruiser. Likewise, with the turbo option, it quickly transforms into a beast, delivering raucous power on demand. It’s costly too, matching top-end Volkswagen GTI and Honda Civic R models at about $35,000.

In summary, if performance isn’t a leading requirement, a nicely equipped model starts around $25,000 and offers similar handsome looks and a sporty vibe.


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