2021 Mazda3 Turbo: Shooting for the Stars

Published on November 24, 2020 in First Drives by Gabriel Gélinas

It’s here at last. For many fans of the Mazda3, the wait is over. The popular compact car is finally available with a turbocharged engine in top trim.  

But make no mistake: the new 2021 Mazda3 Turbo is not the same thing as the Mazdaspeed3 that was sold from 2007-2013. The latter was a super-racy hot hatch with front-wheel drive only. Now, the company is shooting for the stars. Not the Fast and Furious type. Think Audi and BMW.

The thing you have to understand is that today’s Mazda3 customers are a different bunch. The best-selling trim level in Canada is currently the top-line GT, which obviously is the most generously equipped and the most expensive.

But while many can’t resist its sexy looks (the Mazda3 actually won the 2020 World Car Design of the Year Award) and refined interior, some potential buyers still wished for more power under the hood. The addition of the 2.5T engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive system exclusively, makes that wish come true.

Photo: Gabriel Gélinas

Gobs of Torque

True to Mazda form, this turbocharged mill can run on either regular or premium gasoline. If you go with cheaper fuel, you get 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Opt for the higher-grade stuff, and those numbers increase to 250 and 320, respectively.

Also, the engine boasts a very high compression ratio. At 10.5:1, it’s nearly identical to that of the turbocharged flat-six in the Porsche 911 Carrera (10.2:1).

When you get to drive the new Mazda3 Turbo, you immediately feel the effect of the turbocharger in terms of performance. Power delivery is extremely linear and sustained. Best of all, and Mazda engineers really deserve praise for that, the driver dictates the tempo.

Photo: Mazda Canada

What we mean by that is if you take a quick jab at the throttle while driving at cruising speed, the autobox will downshift instantly and the turbo will kick in to unleash all that torque from just 2,000 rpm (regular gas) or 2,500 rpm (premium gas). Alternatively, if you use a more progressive approach with the throttle, the transmission will stay in the same gear, but the increased turbo pressure will make the car go faster.

Isn’t that awesome? The engine perfectly complies with the driver’s input, so much so that you get the feeling it’s the mechanical extension of your body. What’s more, flexibility is on par with Porsche and BMW engines. We’re definitely impressed.

Now, since the turbocharged four-cylinder is 60 kilograms heavier than the naturally aspirated version in the Mazda3, engineers have increased front spring stiffness by 15 percent and revised damping characteristics so the Turbo model can display the same sharpness and agility as all the others.

Photo: Mazda Canada

Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control system is also tuned more aggressively, giving the car more direct steering and a more responsive feel without sacrificing comfort. Combined with the all-wheel drive system, its operation could hardly be more harmonious.

But what is G-Vectoring Control, anyway? If you don’t know already, this is a cool trick implemented by Mazda where torque distribution to the front axle is slightly reduced as soon as you turn the steering wheel, thus putting more weight over the front wheels so the car can clip the apex at a perfect angle. Meanwhile, the increased torque distribution to the rear wheels helps stabilize the car through the corner. The result is sharper handling that demands less effort from the driver.

Our only complaint? No manual gearbox is available with the Mazda3 Turbo.

Advanced Safety

As mentioned earlier, standard content is very generous. The Mazda3 Turbo ups the ante with additional safety and driver assistance features like Traffic Jam Assist, which combines adaptive cruise control with lane keeping assist to make the driver’s life a bit easier in dense traffic.

Photo: Mazda Canada

Just like every other Mazda3, the turbocharged model impresses with refined material selection and high-quality fit and finish. Plus, there’s a kick-ass sound system.

As for styling, the distinguishing features are all very subtle, really. These include 18-inch black alloy wheels, black mirror caps, larger tailpipes and a “Turbo” badge on the liftgate.

Pricing starts at $32,900 for a 2021 Mazda3 Turbo in sedan configuration and climbs to $37,100 in the case of a five-door Mazda3 Sport 100th Anniversary Edition. And you get a car that’s more loaded than an Acura ILX A-Spec, Audi A3 40 Komfort or Mercedes-Benz A 220.

Bottom line: With the addition of the Turbo variant, the Mazda3 moves upscale even further while delivering improved performance and driving dynamics. The only thing missing on this car is a logo from a luxury brand.

Watch: Gabriel Gélinas drives the new Mazda3

Test drive report
Test model 2021 Mazda Mazda3
Trim level GT Turbo TI
Price range $32,900 – $37,100
Price as tested 35 600 $
Warranty (basic) 3 years/unlimited
Warranty (powertrain) 5 years/unlimited
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 10,1 / 7,5 / 10,2 L/100km
Options N/A
Competitive models 2021 Subaru WRX, 2021 BMW 2 Series Coupe, 2021 Acura ILX Premium A-Spec, 2021 Mercedes-Benz A-Class 250 4MATIC Hatch
Strong points
  • Improved performance
  • Sharper handling
  • Loaded with standard features
  • Sexy looks
  • Remarkably refined interior
Weak points
  • No manual gearbox
  • Tight legroom in the rear
  • Missing the logo of a luxury brand
Editor's rating
Fuel economy 3.5/5 We recorded an average of 10.2 L/100 km. Not too bad.
Comfort 4.0/5 Comfort is remarkable, especially the front seats. The cabin is quiet, too.
Performance N/A Performance is vastly improved thanks to the turbo. Power delivery is linear and the engine is quite flexible.
Infotainment 3.5/5 No touchscreen, but the rotary controller and surrounding buttons are fairly easy to use.
Driving 4.5/5 With this new powertrain and the related upgrades to the chassis, driving dynamics are taken to a new level.
Overall 4.5/5 Unquestionably the most premium model in the lineup, worthy of luxury car status.
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare by emailShare on redditShare on Pinterest

ℹ️ By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to the use of cookies as described in our Privacy Policy. ×