2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo: A Class Defined
Words by Jennifer Jensen
Photos by Jessica Voruda
The Mazda3 has a lot going for it. Since its debut in 2019, the smallest of the Mazda car family has won several accolades and is, at least to my eyes, the best looking entrant into the compact class.
Good looks only go skin deep and the 3 delivers on many other levels. From loads of standard safety features through Mazda’s i-Activsense to optional all-wheel-drive there is a lot to appreciate.
However, one thing the fourth generation Mazda3 has been a little short on is power. According to Mazda’s press kit, “…some asked for more power and Mazda listened.”
Enter the 2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo.
As the name suggests, Mazda stuffed a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder under the sexy hood of the 3 in both sedan and hatchback form. That engine is a perky little torque-monster that is good for 227 horsepower and a whopping 310 lb-ft of torque.
But that’s on 87 octane. Feed the 2.5 the good stuff (93 octane) and those numbers jump to 250 and 320 respectively.
The turbo has a few tricks up its sleeve to make it more responsive and help reduce lag.
There is something Mazda calls a “Dynamic Pressure Turbo System” that accelerates exhaust gasses through a teeny tiny inlet during low RPM demands to help spool up the turbo. Then a secondary bigger passage opens for boost throughout the rest of the rev range.
The only transmission available on the new 2.5 Turbo is a six-speed automatic. No manual option here.
And all Turbo models come standard with all-wheel drive.
The higher power engine isn’t the only thing to help create the 2.5 Turbo.
Mazda strengthened the rear differential mount for the i-Activ all-wheel drive system to handle the higher torque load.
That system has also been tweaked to help the 2.5 Turbo put power where it’s needed most.
G-Vectoring Control Plus is featured solely on Mazda3 Turbo models and is designed to detect vertical load on each of the four wheels. More weight on a tire means more grip. If there’s more grip that tire can take more power.
This not only improves handling in low-traction situations but also increases performance through cornering.
Under hard acceleration Mazda says the system can send up to three times more power to the rear wheels than in other vehicles equipped with Mazda’s all-wheel drive systems. They won’t tell us how much power that actually is, but we like it none-the-less.
There are also some minor changes to the body.
On the hatchback Mazda adds a front air dam and rear roof spoiler. An upgraded aero kit includes a rear diffuser and side sill extensions.
The Turbo sedan adds a front lower spoiler unless you opt for the Premium Plus Package which includes a rear lip spoiler.
All of these stylistic additions are in gloss black to help them stand out and make it clear that this car is the more powerful 2.5 Turbo model.
The final modifications are stiffer springs and dampers at the front. Surely the new turbo adds a couple of pounds over the front axle, but the stronger suspension, paired with a stiffer front knuckle, helps turn in and feel at the helm.
ON THE INSIDE
Mazda didn’t mess with the inside of the 3 Turbo. And as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The interior of the Mazda3 remains an education in minimalist and clean design. And it is a lesson some other manufacturers should take.
The instrument panel still has Mazda’s trick 7-inch digital gauge cluster that mimics analogue dials so well that it’s hard to tell the difference…until you turn the car off and the gauges disappear.
There is an 8.8-inch center display that actually looks like it belongs on the dash rather than a tacked on afterthought. It is not a touchscreen and is navigable only through the multi-function command knob that resides on the center column right behind the PRNDL.
The display is attractive and once you’ve had a lesson or two in how to use the pushy/spinny/clicky knob it all works just fine.
Next to the multi-function controller is one of my personal least favorite parts of the Mazda3 and pretty much any current Mazda…the electronic parking brake.
No matter what you do, whenever you turn off the ignition on the little Mazda the parking brake is automatically applied. It doesn’t matter that the car is an automatic. It doesn’t matter if you’re parked on a flat surface. It doesn’t matter if you want it on or not; it’s going to be on the next time you fire up the engine.
Maybe I would eventually get used to turning it off as soon as I started the car, but over the course of a single week with the 3 I did not. It’s annoying and serves no purpose.
In front of that incessantly annoying brake button is one of our favorite buttons in the Mazda3 Turbo. The Sport Mode button! Well, it’s more of a toggle switch I guess.
Anyway, sport mode is only available on the Mazda3 Turbo and along with metering out the G-Vectoring Control Plus system it also will automatically downshift under braking to hold gears when going through corners.
When you flip the switch to sport the transmission is also more aggressive in its shift mapping.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Hit the start button and the 2.5-liter turbo springs to life. Slide the shifter to reverse and the rear camera pops up on the center display.
That camera system is improved for 2021 with 360-degree viewing. A little button on the lower left side of the dash lets you flip between different viewing modes from looking out the rear to the front to seeing down on both sides of the car. The forward and rearward looking views also have an over the top all-encompassing birds eye view. These alternate views come in quite handy in certain parking situations and the feature is a welcome addition.
On the road the Mada3 Turbo feels a little more anxious than other models in the lineup. The ride feels more firm though it is not uncomfortable.
Mazda fine-tuned the accelerator and brake pedals to have a perfect weight that won’t stress your leg muscles but will offer the feedback and response you desire. I wouldn’t say they are perfectly weighted, but my leg never tired even in stop-and-go traffic. So that’s nice.
Visibility out the front is good but looking rearward is an issue in the hatchback. The rear window is more akin to looking through a periscope than a window. The A pillar is modestly sized, the B pillar is a bit thick and the C pillar is a view-impeding wall that inhibits seeing anything that might be back there.
Fortunately blind spot warning is a standard part of Mazda’s iActivsense safety system. The blind spot indicators also show up in the standard HUD, which is a very nice feature.
Also included in the i-Activsense suite is radar cruise with stop and go functionality, smart brake support, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane-keep assist, and adaptive front lighting with auto high beams.
Setting aside the sightlines, the Mazda3 Turbo hustles down the road.
The steering is decently weighted but provides little in the way of feedback. The chassis is responsive, but not in an aggressive manner. The harder you push, the more fun the 3 Turbo provides…to a point. This car does have limits and they are not as high as I had hoped.
Push a little too far and the rear end becomes jittery. There is also a fair amount of body roll even with the stiffer front suspension. With sport mode on the steering takes on a little more heft but doesn’t really sharpen its responses.
The revised all-wheel drive system is noticeable in where it is placing power. The torque vectoring system does help make the best use of the increased power.
With all-wheel drive and that turbo four I was really hoping for a strong hot hatch experience from the new more powerful 3. Let me be perfectly clear, the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo is not a hot hatch.
SO WHAT IS IT
If it sounds like I’m disappointed, I am. Well, I was. At least until I looked at the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo through a different lens.
The 3 provided a much different driving experience than I expected but I realized my expectations were the problem, not the car. I was expecting a small car with big performance and an engine that was always on boil. I thought it would be a competitor to the VW Golf R or the sadly departed Focus RS. It is not.
The Mada3 2.5 Turbo is something else. It is an attractive, premium compact with sporting flair. It is an alternative to those hot hatches rather than a competitor. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The Mazda3 2.5 Turbo sedan rings in at $29,900 and the hatchback is $30,900. Add the Premium Plus Package and you’ll write a check for $32,450 for the sedan or $33,750 for the hatchback.
The pricing seems a little steep, but you are getting a unique driving experience from a well-rounded and capable vehicle. You’re also getting one of the best looking small cars on the road today.