Model tested: 2021 Mazda 3 AWD Premium Plus
Engine: Skyactiv 2.5-liter DOHC turbo
Transmission: SKYACTIVE-Drive 6-speed automatic
Torque: 310 lb.-ft.
EPA rating: 23/city, 32/highway, 27/combined
Base price: $32,450
As tested: $33,890
Overview: The 2021 Mazda 3 is available as a compact sedan or hatchback — both offering fun and versatility. The 3 boasts a refined ride, excellent handling, high-quality interior materials and an impressive amount of standard and optional equipment and safety features. Our test driver was the Premium sedan and this review will focus on only that model.
Walkaround: The sedan’s long, sloping roofline successfully sells the illusion of a larger-than-compact car. It has smooth, clean proportions with subtly sculpted side sheetmetal. Mazda’s signature forward-sloping wide and shark-like grille, coupled with narrow headlights leaping from that grille, create an attractive front fascia suggestive of Aston Martin design.
Interior: The interior is pleasant and surprisingly upscale, boasting a fine combination of high-quality materials in light and dark shades, bits of chrome and numerous soft-touch surfaces. The eight-way power-adjustable, leather front seats are supportive and comfortable, with lumbar support and good bolstering. The small but thick leather-wrapped steering wheel adds to the car’s sporty feel. Rear seat room is average, but can accommodate 6-footers with decent legroom. The fully loaded Premium 3 features all the upscale power accessories you expect in cars with higher price points. The 8.8-inch infotainment screen is bright, operated via a console-mounted rotary dial, steering wheel button or voice control. This system works fine — in theory — but in reality, it’s inconvenient to use at best. The standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto help, but if you get or make a phone call, you have to retune the radio each time because it defaults to the phone’s audio setting. The AWD sedan has a 12.7-cubic-foot trunk, but the rear seat folds down to accommodate longer objects.
Behind the Wheel: Our test driver featured the turbocharged 2.5-liter delivering 227 ponies to the pavement with 310 pound-feet of torque — on regular fuel. It’s married to a smooth, six-speed automatic with paddle shifters and does the 0-60 drill in under five seconds. The ride is comfortable and controlled, but can get bumpy on bad pavement. Steering is nicely weighted, and driving the 3 can be fun on a winding road — especially when AWD delivers the power coming out of a turn.
Bottom Line: The 2021 Mazda 3 Premium sedan offers a smooth shape, great interior, plus fun performance and handling at a value price. The infotainment system can be annoying, but the rest of the 3 is terrific.