Mazda3 2.5 Turbo — A new hot hatch

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Mazda Speed3 built from 2007 through 2013 was Mazda's answer to the hot hatch craze in the early part of the 21st Century offering competition to the Ford Focus ST, Dodge Caliber SRT-4, and Volkswagen Golf GTI. The final model came with a 2.3-liter turbocharged 4 making 263 horsepower and could accomplish a 0-to-60 run in just over 5 seconds. Those were the days — and Mazda is bringing them back in the form of the 2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo.

It's happy times for fans of hot hatches because the number of "pocket rockets" have dwindled to a very few including the long-running VW Golf GTI and Hyundai Veloster N. We think performance versions of small hatchbacks offer a great combination of affordability, cargo hauling capability, and performance. We found Mazda's latest effort highly entertaining and practical.

While this review is based on the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo hatchback, it can also be purchased in sedan format.

The Mazda3 2.5 Turbo is not a clone of the Speed3. The Speed3 not only came with a healthy turbocharged engine, but it featured a sport-tuned suspension and 6-speed manual transmission. The 2.5 Turbo also gets a strong engine, but the manual shifter is history, replaced with a 6-speed automatic transmission, and with none of the performance upgrades found on the Speed3.

But don't despair — the 2021 2.5 Turbo offers effortless acceleration, impressive refinement, and rewarding handling traits. And there's Mazda's impeccable exterior design and premium-looking interior to enhance the experience. Also the 2.5 Turbo gets all-wheel drive, which adds to its handling prowess and bad-weather performance.

The heart of the Mazda3 is its 2.5-liter turbocharge 4-cylinder direct-injection engine making 250 horsepower (with 93 octane premium gas) @ 5,000 rpm and 320 pound-feet of torque @ 2,500 rpm. In this configuration the 2.5 Turbo has been clocked from 0-to-60 in 5.6 seconds and 14.1 seconds @ 99 mph in the quarter mile. Mazda says the engine will run just fine on regular gas, but horsepower will be cut to 227 and torque will drop slightly to 310 foot-pounds. We'll take their word for that as we kept our test car fueled up on the more expensive premium.

We were pleased with the handling and road-carving ability of
the new Mazda, bringing on a smile as we negotiated our usual winding rural road "test track." One unsuspecting passenger exclaimed, "wow, this has some punch for a 3" as we nailed it to pass a slower-moving car on a two-lane road.
While the suspension aided our aggressive driving, it also offered a compliant, comfortable ride that should please virtually all passengers. That and a relatively quiet cabin gives the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo a premium car feel.

We think Mazda shines best with its new interiors. The color combinations are striking and the material is first class befitting an entry-level luxury car such as an Audi A4 or a BMW 3 Series. The cabin detailing is important and Mazda has grasped that fact better than any other mainstream brand.

The dashboard is conservatively handsome and the switchgear is intuitive. Gauges are easy to read and understand. The infotainment screen is attractively imbedded at the top of the dash and the icons are clear and easy to access by a control wheel behind the shifter. Climate controls in the center stack are also clear and easy to use. And we like the placement of the radio volume knob on the center console.

The Mazda3 2.5 Turbo comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Mazda Connected Services with three-year trial and in-car Wi-Fi hot spot with six-months and 2GB trial, Bose 12-speaker premium audio, 8.8-inch large center display with Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio, two front USB inputs and Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry.

Complementing the feel of refined performance are a heated leather wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, frameless auto-dim rearview mirror, and chrome finishes around the push button start and glove box. Other interior features include Mazda's Active Driving Display head-up unit, power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, leatherette upholstery, leather wrapped shift knob and aluminum speaker grilles.

Purchasing the hatchback over the sedan will yield considerably more cargo space. The sedan has a 13.1 cubic foot trunk while the hatch brings 21.1 cubic feet behind the seats and 47.1 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

The Mazda3 is offered with three engines from which to choose — a 2.0-liter four making 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, a 2.5-liter making 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque and the turbocharged 2.5. The base Mazda3 starts at $21,445 with the smallest engine.

But the sweet spot outside the 2.5 Turbo is the 2.5 in Preferred or Premium trim with prices ranging up to $27,795. The 2.5 Turbo comes in just two trims — 2.5 Turbo at $30,845 and the Premium Plus at $33,395.

Our loaded Premium Plus with a couple of low-cost options carried a bottom line of $35,315.

2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo


Base price: $30,845; as driven, $35,315
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 250 @ 5,000 rpm (premium gas)
Torque: 320 @ 2,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Wheelbase: 107.3 inches
Length: 183.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,392
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 21.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 47.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 23 city, 31 highway, 26 combined
0-60: 5.6 seconds (Car and Driver)

The Good
• Excellent performance
• High fun-to-drive quotient
• Stylish interior design

The Bad
• No manual transmission offered

The Ugly
• Less cargo capacity than most in segment