If a 2021 Mazda 3 shows up when you call your next Uber, we’ll forgive you for confusing the editor’s pick winner with a far more expensive Audi or BMW if you settle into the passenger seat. Mazda often walks the line between mainstream and luxury, and that pays off in its bread-and-butter hatchback, particularly in the swanky Premium and Premium Plus trim levels. A trio of four-cylinder engines are also on the menu, as is all-wheel drive. The 3 Series remains one of the most refined and sporty compact cars available today, with high-tech infotainment and driver assistance features that deliver a premium experience. However, adding these features can push the 3’s price point beyond what buyers in this segment are willing to pay, giving mainstream stars like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic an edge.
What’s new for 2021?
Mazda added two engines to the 3 Series model lineup this year, including a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder available for the upper trims. At the other end of the spectrum, the base model now comes with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Otherwise, the 2021 model year is characterized by some equipment shifts between the trims. For example, navigation, SiriusXM satellite radio, and a 12-speaker Bose stereo system are no longer standard on the preferred mid-range trim, but it does get a power sunroof.
Prices and which to buy
The 3 hatchback is enticing for its distinct looks, but the bulbous rear of the tailgate obscures visibility. Instead, we would stick with the sedan. Those who want all-wheel drive can add it on most trims for $1400. Selecting the preferred trim level gives you standard features like heated front seats and a power driver’s seat with memory settings.
engine, transmission and performance
Mazda offers three different four-cylinder engines with the 3 Series, starting with a 2.0-liter engine in the base sedan. It has 155 hp and comes only with front-wheel drive. Stepping up to the 186hp 2.5-litre four-cylinder unlocks the optional all-wheel-drive system, but we’re most excited about the 250hp 2.5-litre turbocharged. Buyers can get a six-speed manual, but only if they stick with front-wheel drive. Opting for all-wheel drive requires a six-speed automatic transmission. While all 3 are quick to respond to throttle input, none of the non-turbo models are particularly quick. We haven’t tested the new turbocharged engine, but we expect big performance improvements over the other two. Both hatchback and sedan feel confident on straight and winding roads and offer a refined ride quality. We praised the new Mazda 3 for keeping the driving fun of the previous model. It has firm body control, a natural steering feel and a firm ride that manages not to punish occupants when navigating rough roads.
Fuel consumption and MPG in the real world
The most fuel-efficient Mazda 3 is the sedan with the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder, rated by the EPA at 28 mpg city and 36 mpg highway; Upgrading to the more powerful non-turbo 2.5-liter engine brings those numbers down – but not by much – to 26mpg city and 35mpg highway. The turbocharged four-wheel drive hatchback is the least fuel-efficient at 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. We tested an automatic four-wheel drive sedan with the 2.5-liter non-turbo engine on our 200-mile highway fuel economy route and it achieved an excellent 41mpg. We also tested a similarly equipped hatchback, which beat its highway rating by 2mpg (for 34mpg observed). The front-wheel drive Stick-Shift 3 returned 38mpg (3 more than estimated).
Interior, comfort and cargo
Mazda meticulously designed the 3 Series cabin with premium materials. Buyers can add a number of desirable features to both body styles, but the best are tied into the trim level hierarchy. Head-up display, heated front seats and leather upholstery are reserved for the top trims, for example. Still, the 3 Series sedan and hatchback have supportive seats and comfortable passenger accommodations. However, the two-box model has the worst rear visibility among compact hatchbacks as its curvaceous design takes precedence over sight lines. Interior storage is adequate, but those wanting the most cargo space should opt for the sedan, which included six carry-ons in the trunk instead of the five in the hatch. Both held 16 bags with the rear seat folded down.
infotainment and connectivity
An 8.8-inch infotainment display is standard, and it looks even larger than it is thanks to a beautifully designed bezel that floats between two pillow-like dashpads. The system is easy to use and is controlled solely by a console-mounted rotary knob. Those wanting a full CarPlay and Android Auto cable will need to look above the base model, and the available 12-speaker Bose audio system and SiriusXM satellite radio are only found on the top two models.
Safety and driver assistance functions
The 2021 Mazda 3 received a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Road Safety (IIHS). Each model also comes with a wealth of standard driver assistance technologies, such as automated emergency braking and automatic high beams. Other important security features are:
- Standard automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection
- Lane Departure Warning and Lane Departure Warning as standard
- Available adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go technology
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Mazda covers the 3 Series sedan and hatchback with a traditional warranty plan that can’t compete with Hyundai’s and Kia’s lengthy 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain coverage. Toyota is the only competitor to offer free scheduled maintenance in this segment.
- The limited warranty is three years or 36,000 miles
- The powertrain warranty is five years or 50,000 miles
- No free scheduled maintenance
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