Turbocharging breathes new zest into 2021 Mazda 3 lineup (Sponsored)

Photo of Jeff Yip

The Mazda 3 has earned a devoted fan base. One factor is that, for a lot of folks, Mazda’s compact — offered in either sedan or hatchback — is simply the right car at the right price. But Mazda then takes that value proposition and stirs in its signature secret sauce: responsiveness and tuning that can provide moments of glee in what would otherwise be a mundane commute.

We’re hardly alone in that assessment. The Mazda 3 has made Car and Driver magazine’s annual “10Best” list seven times since 2007.

For 2021, Mazda breathes new life into its 3 lineup with turbocharging, creating a new top-dog Mazda 3 — the 2.5 Turbo. Swapping in the 2.5-liter four that’s available in the CX-5 and standard in the CX-9 should cheer more than a few Mazda 3 acolytes and perhaps even would-be MX-5 Miata roadster drivers who require practicality.

Aided by an air-to-water intercooler, Mazda’s new turbo 3 dishes out 250 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft. of torque — a 34% bump in horsepower and 72% more torque than the non-turbo 186-hp 2.5-liter four found in the lion’s share of Mazda 3s. While those numbers are based on premium 93 octane gas, Mazda wants you to know that the 2.5 Turbo does just fine on regular. Mazda engineers say 87 octane fuel delivers virtually the same driving response as premium at anything below 4,000 rpm.

Tasked with getting the Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo’s driving forces to the ground are standard all-wheel-drive, a six-speed automatic transmission and black wheels wrapped with 215/45R18 three-season rubber. The “i-Activ” all-wheel-drive is programmed to know how much torque to allocate to each wheel. (If you’re a manual gearbox diehard, you’ll have to settle — the only Mazda 3 you can get with a stick is the non-turbocharged hatchback Premium. If it’s any consolation, the 2.5 Turbo’s automatic features steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.)

To make the driver feel more connected to the vehicle, Mazda’s engineering team sweats the details with strategies like G-Vectoring Control, which subtly reduces the engine’s power output as the driver turns the wheel. Ever slightly dialing back the power shifts the vehicle’s weight onto the front tires, making the car respond more consistently, explained Dave Coleman, a veteran Mazda development engineer. “We apply a tiny amount of brake to the outside front tire to help straighten the car as you exit a corner,” Coleman added.

With plenty of torque on tap, the 2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo is wickedly entertaining; you may not often need the turbo’s intervention but just knowing that the extra oomph is available is almost as satisfying as rolling into the throttle. With the way the compact hatch hugs curves (see for yourself the next time a canyon road or a roundabout come up), you might want to keep Dramamine on hand for passengers.

No matter the drive conditions, the office of this latest Mazda 3 delivers classy ambiance, thanks to sharp design and improved materials and ergonomics, for an upscaled starting price of $32,045.

The 2.5 Turbo is decked out with leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, a 12-speaker Bose audio system that pumps out its own astounding sonic horsepower, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, keyless entry and radar cruise control. Standard driver aids include lane departure warning, lane keep, blind-spot monitors and rear cross traffic alert. The car will even will sound a warning and notify the driver if it detects signs that the driver is tired or inattentive. All 2.5 Turbos are fully equipped, featuring standard head-up display and moonroof. One caveat: unless the front seats are cranked pretty far rearward, most of the moonroof opening could wind up behind the driver and front passenger.

The Premium Plus ($34,895) includes the rest of Mazda’s driver assist technology such as reverse “smart” braking, rear cross traffic alert, traffic-jam assist and traffic-sign recognition. The additional $2,850 for the premium bundle also gets you perforated leather-trimmed sport seats (leatherette is standard), navigation, auto-dimming mirror with HomeLink, front/rear parking sensors and black roof spoiler and front air dam.

Fuel efficiency for the 2.5 Turbo hatchback is respectable at 23 mpg city, 32 highway and 26 combined. The turbo sedan’s EPA rating differs only in the combined rating coming in at 27 mpg.