Spirited handling? Check. Classy cabin? Check. Smooth ride? Check. User-friendly infotainment system? Check. Lots of standard driver assistance tech? Check. The 2021 Mazda3 checks all the boxes and stands out in the super competitive compact car class. It’s available as a sedan or hatchback and in lots of trims so you can get the one that fits your needs and budget.
Base Price: $33,750
As Tested: $36,490
Mileage: 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway/26 mpg combined
The Mazda3 was totally redesigned for the 2019 model year, got more standard safety features for 2020 and adds new engines and trims for 2021.
The five-passenger Mazda3 sedan comes in a whopping seven trims: 2.0 Sedan, 2.5 S Sedan, Select, Preferred, Premium, 2.5 Turbo, and 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus. The hatchback comes in six trims: 2.5 S Hatchback, Select, Preferred, Premium, 2.5 Turbo, and 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus. Starting prices range from $20,500 to $33,750.
Front-wheel-drive is standard, and all-wheel-drive is available—something not commonly offered on other compact cars.
Three engines are available. The standard engine is a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. The mid-level trims get what used to be the only available engine, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 186 horses and 186 pound-feet. The top trims get a turbocharged 2.5-liter four cylinder that makes either 227 hp and 310 pound-feet, or 250 hp and 320 pound-feet, depending on whether you fill up with regular or premium gas.
A six-speed automatic transmission is standard; driving enthusiasts take note: a six-speed manual is available on the Premium hatchback with front-wheel-drive.
There’s no doubt the Mazda3 is one of the best performers in the class. Acceleration is quick, especially with one of the optional engines. Steering feel is excellent, the Mazda3 stays planted when cornering, and the ride is firm but not jarring on rough roads. The Mazda3 feels equally at home winding on curvy country roads or accelerating and cruising on the freeway. It’s a pleasure to drive and lives up the old “zoom zoom” slogan used by Mazda.
Fuel economy is about average for the class. EPA ratings for my tester are 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway with a combined rating of 26. I got 26 mpg during my week with a mix of city and highway driving.
The interior is similar to what you’d find in many luxury vehicles. Materials look and feel good, most are soft-touch, and the fit and finish is top notch with every stitch is in place. Front seats are comfortable and supportive. Front row passengers have decent leg- and headroom, but the backseat is tight for adults. This is a compact car, after all.
Even the base trim comes well-equipped. Standard features include push-button start, remote keyless entry, rearview camera, cloth upholstery, sport seats, infotainment system with 8.8-inch display, eight-speaker audio system, HD Radio, voice command, two USB ports, Bluetooth, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and automatic high-beam headlights.
Available features include a surround-view camera system, head-up display, synthetic leather upholstery, real leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, 12-speaker Bose premium audio system, satellite radio, navigation, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, wireless device charging, moonroof, and adaptive headlights.
Standard driver assistance technologies include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and driver attention monitoring.
Available driver assistance technologies include blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, and traffic jam assist which is adaptive cruise control for low speeds. This system brakes, accelerates and steers at speeds below 40 mph that you’d encounter in busy traffic conditions.
The infotainment system has an 8.8-inch display screen, not a touchscreen. It’s perched on the dash and is angled toward the driver so it’s easy to see. The system is controlled by a rotary knob located between the two front seats. The system becomes easy to use with a little practice. Menus are logically grouped, and graphics look sharp.
The hatchback has 20.1 cubic feet of storage with both rows of seating in place and 47.1 cubes with the rear seats folded, which is about average for a compact car. The sedan has 13.2 cubes of trunk space which is below average for the class. The 60/40-split rear seats fold flat in both the hatch and sedan, providing room to haul large and/or bulky items.
Spirited, nimble handling
Choice of three peppy engines
Attractive, upscale interior
Well-equipped with a long list of standard features and tech
Intuitive infotainment system
Lots of available amenities and tech
Available Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Cramped back seat for adults
Sedan has below-average trunk space for the class
My tester starts at $33,750. Soul Red Crystal metallic paint is $595. Stainless rear bumper guard is $125. The Appearance Package for 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus is $1,075 and includes rear aero flares, rear skirt and side still extensions. Delivery fee is $945 bringing the grand total to $36,490.
While the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla outsell the Mazda3, consumers should really check out the Mazda3 for its attractive looks, zippy and fun-to-drive handling, upscale interior, and long list of standard features.