2021 Mazda 3 Turbo Premium Plus by Ben Lewis

We were big fans when Mazda introduced the all-new 2019 Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback. Shortly thereafter the CX-30, basically a tall version of the 3 hatch came along as well. And they all shared the same DNA, bringing a new, more luxurious and upscale experience to the 3 line, while still keeping the Mazda love of the drive.

And the Zoom-Zoom company has shown they’re not going to rest on their laurels – bringing their 2.5-liter, turbocharged engine into the 3.

So, is the 250 horsepower turbo sedan the stuff enthusiast dreams are made of? Let’s find out!

A thing of Beauty

It’s always interesting to see which cars age gracefully. Mazda has a habit of creating models with a long shelf life, and in the rapid-fire changing world small sedans, we are happy to find the 3 Sedan still looking as elegant as we remember it. 

The lines are still evocative, using the carmakers “Kodo” design language, and the 3 fits handsomely between the stubby but studly Toyota Corolla and the seriously swoopy Honda Civic. The long hood that frames the large grille still looks aggressive, while the LED headlights are simple and tasteful.

The profile retains European proportions, looking like a small Audi or BMW, while turbo-equipped models stand a little further from the crowd with a gloss black finish on the front grille and lower bumper trim. Turbo-exclusive 18-inch alloy wheels finish off the look.  

Out back, we still love the signature round “afterburner” LED taillights, while a subtle turbo badge will alert those who can keep up. Add in our tester’s gloss black rear spoiler, and you have a machine that says sporty without trying too hard.

Audi Baby

Inside, the 3 continues to offer an interior that’s clearly a step above. Like our previous tester, our turbo had rich white perforated leather seats that look stunning but might be tough to keep clean. Black leather is available.  

That interior is a joy to behold as well – the aluminum trim around the speakers are a piece of art, and the gauges are simple and clean. No full-digital Pachinko parlor here. The gauges may look simple, but they carry a lot of cool info – the digital center display not only projects speed limit signs but gives you a sliver of red on the speedo that traces along if you exceed it. Subtle, useful, and totally cool.

Info-tainment is served up through a handsome 8.8-inch display setting very Lexus-like, elegantly atop the center of the dash. Tech comes along with standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, as well as an in-car Wi-Fi hot spot and a sweet sounding 12-speaker Bose premium audio system. The typical Mazda control system features a very Audi-like large knob that falls to hand, and a smaller volume knob next to it. All of the switchgear has a silky, machined feel – very upscale and satisfying to use.

The goodies keep on coming with a fat leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, dual-zone climate control, power moonroof – even a heads-up display. Our favorite was the 360-degree parking monitor – even in a small sedan like the 3, it still makes parking and maneuvering a snap.

You really do feel spoiled in the Mazda 3 and everything is sleekly integrated into a single, polished whole. OK, we’ll say it one more time – very Audi like.

The Big Bang

Much of this goodness applies to the entire lineup, and certainly you can outfit a non-turbo sedan like this as well. But should you? We’ve driven the 186-hp, non-turbo 2.5-liter version of the Mazda 3, and it is a sweetheart of an engine – smooth, with a nice note, and thanks to the larger displacement (most carmakers go for a 2.0-liter in this class), plenty of low-end oomph for a smooth and linear drive.

But hold on, we say, because the turbo is the bomb. Slapping a turbo on that engine gets you up to 250 horsepower and up to a mountainous 320 lb. ft. of torque on Premium fuel. To make sure the power gets to the pavement, all turbo models feature standard all-wheel drive.

If that sounds like rally-car spec, you might be a little disappointed. While we at first thought Mazda has the Subaru WRX in its sights, it’s really aiming for bigger game like the Audi A4. The main culprit in this is the standard 6-speed automatic. While it’s smooth and relatively quick, it never really wants to play. In the WRX you can get a manual, which is very, very good. Or the optional CVT automatic which is not very good. So, the 3 is somewhere in-between.

It’s still quite quick – 0-60 mph is under 6 seconds – but it left us hankering for something more focused, like a manual transmission or direct-sequential automatic – this is an engine that wants pull hard to the redline and chase down those expensive European sport sedans.

Ok, so its game is refinement rather than raw nature, and at that, it is superb. The ride is firm but supple, the steering precise, the cornering grip is impressive, and it is all folded into a wonderful sedan that’s easy to drive very quickly on your favorite road, yet with all the goodies and comfort that make it a superlative day-to-day commuter.

To help keep those feathers unruffled, you get loads of safety equipment, including radar cruise control with stop and go function, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane-keep assist and driver attention alert. You feel well looked after.

One Ticket to Turbo Town, Please.

So, is the land of boost in your budget? You can get into a Mazda 3 Turbo starting at $30,050. Not a bad step up from our recent non-turbo Premium tester that was a touch over $27,000.  Our Turbo Premium Plus with all the trimmings started at $32,600. Add in Machine Gray Metallic Paint ($495) and $995 for destination, and we rang the bell at $34,090.

Competition would include the Subie WRX a bit more at $37,295. Frankly, we’d lose the CVT and go with the stick to save money and make for a much more memorable drive. Faster? Yes. As refined? Nope. The Audi A4 which the turbo 3 is gunning for comes in at a much more expensive $47,890. You pay for the image.

For ultimate thrills, the Mazda 3 turbo is hard to beat. But even sans turbo, it is a delight. Find the one that suits your wallet and you’ll be very happy.

The 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo is a wonderful blend of quality, style, performance and value!