Road Test Review – 2021 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD – The Ultimate Winter Toy

Are you an enthusiast that’s been waiting for Subaru to release the updated WRX? While Subaru has so far been quiet about when it will do that, the folks at Mazda are hoping that you will perhaps embrace their alternative, the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo. This spirited Mazda has always been a favorite here at Car-Revs-Daily, and the company has finally mated the new engine to the 3’s all-wheel-drive system. But is this proverbial match in heaven a true four-season contender capable of bringing the fight to the Subaru? We were eager to find out.


Exterior Styling Still Has The Charm

When you look at the Mazda’s exterior styling, you would be hard-pressed to spot any changes with the bulk of the shapely exterior design being carried over from 2020. The front fascia is still very bold, and the design-centric look allows the Mazda to channel a unique character. The side and rear profiles are also very clean looking and help project a rather elegant feel.

So you might be asking where the changes are? The answer is that they are there, but you have to look very hard to see them. Our turbo model embodies one of these changes with an optional body kit that customers can tack on for $1,075 ($1,900 for lower-grade models.) The kit adds a larger front splitter and accompanying side skirts, a tidy rear diffuser, and a roof-mounted spoiler. This particular option helps add an extra pinch of spice to the Mazda but does not go too far over the edge to make it sporty.

Black 18-inch BBS wheels are also available, and they do their part in making the Mazda3 stand out when going through town. The look is fresher than the Subaru’s, but the Mazda does lose some ground to the Volkswagen GTI, which has a more refined appearance and manages to do a better job of balancing out the aesthetic footprint. But that’s not a big deal, especially since the Mazda will ultimately be the one that draws more stares by passersby.


An Infotainment System In Need Of An Intervention

Before we go on any further about the rest of the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo’s interior, we might as well get one prominent white elephant out of the way; the infotainment system sucks. Like other recent Mazda products, the system in the 3 tries to emulate the iDrive unit that BMWs use, and as before, it miserably fails at doing so. We do like the bigger control wheel/knob that our tester had and the updated software, but the finer things are still frustratingly annoying to use with far too many steps needed to access various functions.

The rest of the interior does a good job retaining many of the other things that we have come to like in recent Mazda products. High-quality materials are scattered throughout, with the dashboard having a very expressive design. The front seats are very comfortable places to spend time in, and the switchgear feels very nice to the touch, with real metal trim being used in spots. Our Premium Plus tester also came with some welcome bits of coddling, including heated seats and steering wheel. Both were very welcome additions as the Metro Detroit area was gripped by a polar vortex.

However, it appears that Mazda focused solely on the front passengers, with the rear seats being a very sparse place to spend time in. The seats themselves are comfortable, but the legroom is very tight when the front seats are moved back, and the space does not have some of the features that others in its segment have added over the years, including rear USB charging ports and rear-seat heat. Fold them down, and you are rewarded with 47.1 cubic feet of cargo space. That allows the 3 to be on par with many of its hatchback rivals and also allows consumers to have maximum amounts of space for the money.


The Tuner Car For Grownups Except In Snow

When you look at the performance figures for the Mazda3 turbo, it might seem like an upstart punk with the turbocharged engine producing 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque when allowed to drink premium fuel (switching to regular lowers those figures) with all of this power being sent to all four wheels via the company’s i-Active all-wheel-drive system. Our tester’s 5.6-second sprint to 60 certainly caught our attention, with acceleration being brisk and controlled. That figure is also slightly quicker than the MazdaSpeed3, which torque steered like a rottweiler and wore the shoutiest bit of clothes that it could find.

Here it’s a more refined experience; the engine goes through the motions with the smoothness of a refined businessman while the transmission goes through the gears with not a smidge of immaturity to be found. This experience is a fascinating divergence from what we used to see in the long-gone Dodge SRT-4, which pretty much made an overly stiff suspension, a giant wing, and a loud stereo almost mandatory items.

The Mazda, in contrast, is all about being humble with its performance and making a good first impression through acquired taste. The only way we did manage to get it to loosen up a bit was in the aftermath of a snowstorm that pummeled the Metro Detroit area. In the white stuff, our tester proved to be a very eager contender and was even capable of doing an occasional tomboyish drift when allowed to roam in a large space. In the world of spicy hatchbacks, the 3 takes great delight in flying under the radar, and that should please buyers that want to have fun but without drawing unwanted attention.


Value Quotient

Pricing for the 2021 Mazda3 still retains the strong value-focused ladder that many buyers have come to love about the brand. A base 2.5 S starts at $22,650, but you don’t get the turbo, and you also sacrifice some features to help fulfill the budget role. Buyers that want to add some boost to their commute will have to go all the way up to the base 2.5 Turbo model, which starts at $31,050. That model gives you standard all-wheel drive as well as larger tailpipes.

But if you’re looking for more equipment, the range-topping $33,900 Premium Plus model is the ticket to punch. Our example arrived with a small list of optional extras, which caused the price to climb past $35,000. That’s still in the proverbial sweet spot for the segment and allows the Mazda to be a solid alternative to mainstream choices. The Subaru WRX might be a bit less expensive in the pricing department, but the Mazda trumps it with having a higher quality interior (its flakey infotainment system aside.) The Mazda also emerges as a solid alternative to the Volkswagen GTI, with the shapely 3 being noticeably less expensive than comparable examples of GTI.


The 2021 Mazda3 is the proverbial answer to the question of where former SRT-4, Cobalt SS, and even MazdaSpeed 3 owners will go to still have fun but also cater to the responsibilities of being a mature adult? It’s still a fast backroad champ, but the 3 also caters to its newfound maturity in its refined driving demeanor. At the same time, the interior blends comfort and athleticism into a smooth flavored experience. If you’re new to the brand or are a loyal follower, we strongly recommend giving the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo a serious look.