2021 Mazda3 Turbo Review: Seriously, Don’t Call It A “Mazdaspeed3”

It's much more refined than its boisterous sibling, and that makes me a bit sad

2021 Mazda3 Turbo
(Photos: Mazda)

2021 Mazda3 Turbo Overview

✓ More power (finally) Doesn’t really have a “hot hatch” vibe
✓ Fantastic AWD handlingCan get pricey (at least if you cross-shop mainstream rivals)
✓ Elegant look and feel

After years of wishful thinking, hope and anticipation, the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo finally brings one thing the last two generations have seriously needed: a bit more oomph. The name more or less says it all: Like Mazda’s other models, the Mazda3 now has a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine as an option. Provided you use premium fuel, you can now get 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. Engineers reconfigured the powertrain to fit in the smaller car’s engine bay and retain its all-wheel drive system, while coupling the power boost with more refined styling and materials that debuted with this fourth-generation model.

What this car isn’t, though, is a new Mazdaspeed3.

Mazda itself has been the first to mention that. They were deliberate in naming this the “Mazda3 Turbo”. What’s more, the car represents the company’s intentions to punch above its weight with luxury cars. It’s not, as you may believe at first glance, a hot hatch alternative to, say, a Hyundai Veloster N or Volkswagen Golf GTI. Instead, we’re looking at a respectably elegant alternative to the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, Audi A3 and BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe. Unlike all those options (at least in the U.S.), you can spec your Mazda3 Turbo as a hatchback, in addition to the sedan.


In my last Mazda3 review, the SkyActiv-G engine is the one thing I criticized most. It’s not a bad engine, but I took more of a “been there, done that” approach to it, and it didn’t even feel as rev-happy or responsive as it did in the last-generation car. I wanted something different. SkyActiv-X is still MIA, but if that didn’t happen I, and other Mazda enthusiasts, wanted the automaker to at least fit the turbocharged engine. Happily, doing the later does improve the situation significantly.

The 2021 Mazda3 Turbo does what most turbocharged engines don’t. It offers linear power delivery (or as close as you can get) across the entire rev range. That 320 lb-ft of torque is accessible early on — further refining the around-town driving experience — while still offering a satisfying surge as you climb toward the rev limit. Yes, it does still have a six-speed automatic transmission, and that may seem odd given its main rivals sport at least eight forward gears. However, Mazda’s powertrain engineers have stuck with it for the time being as a balance between power delivery and fuel economy. The latter could improve with more gears, but you also don’t want the car to feel anemic or go hunting for gears depending on the situation.

Granted, that transmission architecture is showing its age. Drive it around normally (i.e. out of Sport mode), and shifts can be a bit sluggish. Sport mode changes the mapping to make things more snappy, but then the car tends to hang onto lower gears. That in turn hurts the relaxed, refined experience Mazda is going for. It also hurts fuel economy.

Speaking of fuel economy

On that subject, the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo doesn’t take a huge hit from forced induction. The sedan manages 23 City / 32 Highway / 27 Combined mpg. As for the hatchback, you get 23 City / 31 Highway / 26 Combined mpg — figures which are only 1-2 mpg off the naturally-aspirated model.

You won’t unstick this car

Like the naturally-aspirated Mazda3, the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo sticks with all-wheel drive. That’s the only way you can have the more powerful engine, so you’re out of luck if you wanted either front-wheel drive or a manual transmission to channel the old Mazdaspeed3. Mazda did beef up the 3’s rear differential mount to handle the extra torque, and the i-Activ system constantly monitors load on all four corners to determine where the best contact patch is, and route power accordingly. You feel it when you push the car into a corner: The system sends power rearward as you load up the rear tires, then shifts it back to the front to pull the car straight again as you exit.

In short, the system kept the car planted, even as I pushed it. I hit my limit on bravery (or talent, for sake of argument) before hearing an inordinate amount of tire squeal with the traction control off. This car is almost completely neutral through the corners, so it does provide confidence in everyday situations. On the other hand, because it’s so planted, it wasn’t anywhere in the same zip code as a frisky hot hatch. Again, old Mazdaspeed 3 with its crazy torque steer and skittish handling this is not.

The 2021 Mazda3 Turbo does share its suspension components with the standard car. That means a torsion beam rear axle, which does sting a bit when you know a truly independent would make the handling that much better. In practice, I didn’t feel that was a significant compromise, particularly thanks to G-Vectoring Control. That system uses the brakes and can reduce power to optimize vertical load when turning into a corner. It’s meant to smoothen out cornering to provide linear steering feel so the car doesn’t feel skittish. G-Vectoring Control is subtle, but it does its work so the car feels compliant.

Comfort and Convenience

If you were impressed by the normal Mazda3’s interior layout and materials, then your opinion won’t change here. The 2021 Mazda3 Turbo uses the same interior layout, with a few upscale touches for good measure. After all, this more potent version starts at $30,845 for the sedan. Mazda’s been on a roll with their interiors, and this model is certainly no exception. The seats are a bit firm (as is the ride). However, it’s more supportive than uncomfortable, and all the controls fall easily to hand.

The gauge layout is understandable, even if it’s not a flashy, fully-digital affair.

You can access the menus on the 8.8-inch infotainment display through the command dial and adjacent buttons. Really, not having touchscreen accessibility is a minor loss, as this second-generation MazdaConnect system is a vast improvement in terms of intuitive layout and responsiveness. What’s even better, Mazda actually did something about the 360-degree camera system. That was a serious gripe I had in all their late 2010’s models, including the Mazda6 and 2019-2020 Mazda3s. Mazda stuck to a mixed analog and digital gauge cluster, as well. It may look a bit underrated compared to its luxury rivals, but it also doesn’t bombard you with information. Everything is clearly understandable, although I still don’t understand why there’s an analog and digital fuel gauge right next to each other.

In terms of equipment, you get a sunroof, dual-zone climate control, lane keep assist, automatic headlights, automatic emergency braking and blind spot monitoring as standard. As with the normal car, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are a given here, as well. The Premium Plus Package tacks another $2,550 onto the price, but adds a rear lip spoiler, front and rear parking sensors, that 360-degree camera, rear Smart Brake support, baked-in navigation, Traffic Sign Recognition, Traffic Jam Assist, leather-trimmed sport seats and a frameless rearview mirror.

Otherwise, the interior of the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo remains virtually identical to its standard counterpart. Again, you do have the option of a sedan or hatchback, with the practicality ramifications that choice brings.

2021 Mazda3 Turbo

Verdict: As an enthusiast I’m sad, but…

Make no mistake — the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo is a good car. It’s now satisfyingly quick, it looks great and the interior is actually better than anything the Germans manage at their entry-level price points. As an alternative to the luxury cars it’s gunning for, it’s pretty much impossible to fault. Getting better performance at a lower price point seriously helps its case, and if you’re on the fence, I’ll make it simple for you: Just buy one.

As a current Mazda owner, I almost, almost want to pull the trigger on this one. It’s just…I adore the Mazdaspeed3, for all its faults. That car says fun hot hatch, and this just doesn’t. That’s all right — I know that’s not what Mazda’s aiming for here. Strictly speaking as a hot hatch lover, though, this didn’t give me the fizz I hoped for in all those years of anticipation.

So, on that basis, if I can’t have my hot hatch I’m going to shop with my sensible hat on. As such, I would probably wait for the Mazda3-based CX-30 Turbo to arrive. That offers a bit more crossover practicality. The Mazda3 is still a better looking car and a better handling prospect, but I’ll admit my perspective is a bit skewed by my inability to fully accept what Mazda is now versus what it used to be. Take that for what you will, and if you’re looking for a luxury experience for thousands less than the conventional go-to cars offer, then by all means pick up a Mazda3 Turbo.

2021 Mazda3 Turbo (Hatchback) Specs:

Base Price:$31,845 (including destination)
As tested:$36,795
Engine2.5-liter turbocharged I-4
Horsepower:250 horsepower (on 93 octane fuel)
227 horsepower (on 87 octane fuel)
Torque:320 lb-ft (on 93 octane fuel)
310 lb-ft (on 87 octane fuel)
Transmission:6-speed automatic
Fuel economy
23 City / 31 Highway / 26 Combined MPG
Drivetrain layout:Front-engine, all-wheel drive
Suspension:Front: Independent MacPherson strut
Rear: Torsion beam axle
Brakes:Front: 11.61-inch vented discs
Rear: 10.43-inch solid discs
Dimensions (L x W x H):175.6 x 70.7 x 56.7 inches
Wheelbase:107.3 inches
Ground clearance:5.5 inches
Legroom (F/R):42.3 in. / 35.1 in.
Headroom (F/R):37.5 in. / 36.5 in.
Passenger volume:92.7 cubic feet
Cargo volume:20.1 cubic feet (seats up); 47.1 cubic feet (seats folded)
Curb weight:3,261 pounds