The 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo Is a Luxury Hatchback With 320 Lb-Ft of Torque

Photo credit: Chris Perkins
From Road & Track
A presumably small but vocal group of enthusiasts would like Mazda to return to the sporty, compact game. You can't blame them. After all, the company builds one of the best sports cars on sale today and has an excellent starting point in the Mazda 3. At first glance, the 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo looks like a successor to the old Mazdaspeed 3, look deeper and it becomes obvious that this is a completely different machine.
Mazda has been trying to improve for several years. The excellent new Mazda 3 works towards that goal, but some buyers want more performance. Mazda's new 2.5-liter turbo four-cylinder, at 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque, is a huge improvement over the 186 hp and 186 lb-ft you get with the stock 2.5-liter naturally aspirated engine. This new turbo engine is available in the sedan or hatchback, although it is exclusively combined with a six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Which says a lot about Mazda's goals.
Photo credit: Chris Perkins
While this is a surprisingly powerful turbo hatchback, don't think of a competitor to the Volkswagen GTI or the Hyundai Veloster N. Mazda would like this to be more of an entry-level luxury model, perhaps a cheaper alternative to those like the Audi A3 or Mercedes A class. The new turbo engine is tuned for low and mid-range torque, of which there is plenty. The newfound grunt makes this car a much nicer car to live with on a daily basis, with an always-on power supply to fill in a traffic gap or quickly collapse on the freeway. Enthusiasts tend to refer to modern turbo four-cylinder as characterless, but here you just can't argue with 320 lb-ft. It goes perfectly with the pseudo-luxury vibe of the new 3.
The turbo gets a new splitter and roof spoiler for looks and aero. There are also some updates to G-Vectoring Control, a system that briefly and subtly reduces engine torque when cornering to shift the load to the front tires. The system imperceptibly mimics the way an experienced rider would hit the gas in the middle of the turn to set balance, and in the turbo it's designed for a slightly more aggressive forward shift of weight. The effect is mild, but the Base 3 is a cute handling car, and the Turbo has the same sportiness.
All controls have a great buttery feeling. The steering and pedals are perfectly weighted and designed for smooth driving. It is clear that the 3 was developed by enthusiasts who care about the nuances that make a car great. That's a Mazda hallmark, and it's always refreshing to see it in a new car. There's a little Miata goodness in everything the company does. Even in a car that isn't trying to be a hot hatch.
However, it is firm. I mostly drove this car in New York City - which, to be fair, has notoriously terrible roads - and it felt as stiff as a performance hatchback - controlled and well cushioned, but very firm. Mazda chassis guru Dave Coleman told Road & Track that the 3 Turbo has stiffer front springs to handle the added weight of the drivetrain, although the Base 3 and Turbo are tuned to feel nearly identical. Even if this setup pays off on a back road, it can be a bit too disruptive in everyday driving.
Photo credit: Chris Perkins
Our loaded Premium Plus tester's red leather interior - sticker price $ 34,695 - is great in every way, with great materials and a thoughtful minimalist design. It excites you as soon as you get in - it's in a different league than the previous generation 3. I just wish the ride quality matched the luxury of the car. The street manners of the 3 Turbo are more comparable to sport-oriented models like the GTI and the Civic Si. You know the Cars Mazda says the 3 Turbo is not meant to compete with.
Suspension tuning concerns aside, this is a great car and a believable alternative to the entry-level German models.
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