2021 Mazda3 2.5 T AWD Hatch — Lots to like, but missing 'feel alive' charm

By Jim Prueter

(September 28, 2021) Earlier this year we tested and reviewed the 2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo sedan and came away with a mixed, but mostly favorable sense of the vehicle. This time around, Mazda sent us an all-wheel drive turbo hatchback for testing; it’s essentially the same vehicle with a different exterior configuration — a rear lift hatch rather than a trunk lid.

Most of what we said about the sedan carries over to the hatchback and we rate it right up there with the best vehicles in its class. While the hatchback presents rearward visibility obstructions given its wide C pillar at the rear, the tradeoff is more cargo room to accommodate larger gear and stuff. Plus, we prefer the looks of the hatchback styling.

The numbers for the hatchback are the same as the sedan: inline four-cylinder 2.5-turbocharged 250-horsepower engine that delivers 320 lb.-ft of torque, with all-wheel-drive and a six-speed automatic transmission. What we didn’t get with the hatchback was the dawdling slow-to-shift automatic transmission we found in our sedan test car. While I’m hesitant to say that resulted in a definitive “Feel Alive” experience advertised in the Japanese automaker’s parlance, it was noticeably better.

Mazda says the 2.5 turbo engine is specifically calibrated to deliver a unique driving dynamic expected by their most passionate drivers. That is, if you fill the tank with premium 93 octane fuel. Fill it with 87 octane, however, and horsepower drops to 227 and 310 lb.-ft of torque.

Our test Mazda3 2.5 Turbo Hatchback had a starting price of $33,750, which is $1,150 more than the sedan. It came equipped with the Premium Plus package that adds niceties like leather upholstery, navigation, a 360-degree camera and upgraded technology gear and more.

Inside, the cabin is small but extremely attractive, best in its class by a wide margin when compared to competitors like Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Subaru WRX and others. Switchgear — operating knobs, audio controls — is high-quality with a tacit feel like you would find in an entry-level luxury sedan.

The dashboard is attractive and curvy with an 8.8-inch touchpad-like screen that’s intuitive and easy to use for most operating controls.

On the road, the Mazda3’s ride was sports-car firm in sport mode with rock-solid handling that’s responsive and confident. Zero to 60 mph took just 5.9 seconds while sprinting through the quarter mile in 14.5 seconds. That’s less than I expected but still decent.

Overall, the Mazda3 hatch is a good-looking, high-quality and well-built vehicle that performs well with lots to like. But if you’re looking for a true enthusiast vehicle with an entertaining “fun-to-drive” experience, the Mazda3 turbo isn’t the car for you; it seems more compatible for reliable daily commutes.

Vital stats

Base Price: $33,750
Price as Tested: $35,540
Engine/Transmission: Turbocharged 2.5-liter 250-horsepower I-4 paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel Economy: 23/31/26 – mpg, - City/Highway/Combined
Seating; 5
Crash Test Safety Rating: Highest possible 2021 Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Where Built: Hofu, Japan

Competes With:
Honda Civic R
Hyundai Elantra N
Subaru WRX
Volkswagen Golf GTI

Fab Features
New, more powerful engine
Upscale cabin
User-friendly infotainment system