2021 Mazda MAZDA3

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2020
The Car Connection
2020
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Kirk Bell Kirk Bell Senior Editor
November 20, 2020

Buying tip

Add all-wheel drive as a $1,400 option on most models, though it’s standard on the Turbo trim levels.

The 2021 Mazda 3 straddles the mainstream and upscale markets with a quality cabin, power that ranges from pedestrian to plentiful, and available all-wheel drive.

What kind of car is the 2021 Mazda 3? What does it compare to?

The Mazda 3 is a compact sedan and hatchback that competes with mainstream cars but has upscale aspirations. Its price range fits that narrative as it starts in the low $20,000s and ranges up to the mid-$30,000s. Rivals include the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta, and Hyundai Elantra.

Is the 2021 Mazda 3 a good car?

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Yes. The Mazda 3 meets the needs of a wide range of buyers by offering good looks, verve, practicality, and frugality. It comes with standard front- and available all-wheel drive and a range of three 4-cylinder engines. We rate it a 6.7 out of 10 overall. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What's new for the 2021 Mazda 3?

The big news this year is the addition of the 2.5 Turbo models with a 2.5-liter turbo-4 that makes 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque (250 hp and 310 lb-ft on premium fuel). These models sit at the top of the lineup and come packed with features, though they aren’t appreciably sportier. 

The Mazda 3 sedan comes in three model lines based on engine. The base model is the 2.0 and it’s only offered for the sedan. The 2.5 S sedan and hatchback come in Select, Preferred, and Premium package trim levels, though the hatchback doesn’t come in Select trim. At the top of the lineup are the new 2.5 Turbo and 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus.

All models feature a sleek, forward-canted shield-like grille and soft curves along the sides rather than sharp character lines. Both the sedan and hatchback cut a traditional silhouette, and we think the sedan is particularly sharp. The hatchback, however, has thick rear pillars that make it look heavy and impede vision rearward. All models boast attractive cabins with upscale, padded materials and smart bits of metal trim.

How much does the 2021 Mazda 3 cost?

The 2021 Mazda 3 2.0 model starts at $21,445 and the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus tops out at $34,695. All-wheel drive adds $1,400 on 2.5 S models and comes standard on Turbos. 

The 2.0 has decent but not great features for the money, highlighted by power accessories, LED headlights, and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The standard safety feature list is more impressive. It includes automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, a driver-attention monitor, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. The Mazda 3 has performed well in crash tests.

All Mazda 3s are tuned for a balance of comfort and control, though we wouldn’t call them sporty like we would in the past. That fits into Mazda’s goal of taking the 3 upmarket, though the torsion beam rear suspension is low-tech and only the bigger engines are best at realizing that goal. 

The base engine is a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 155 hp. It’s offered on only one model and one body style. 

The larger 186-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 offers good power and comes in models that are still bargain-priced, though they also range up to $30,000. It’s the only engine offered with a 6-speed manual transmission, but it’s only offered on one trim level. The other models get a 6-speed automatic that shifts smoothly, but has fewer cogs than many competitors. 

The new 2.5-liter turbo-4 cranks out lots of power that’s delivered with restraint. It comes standard with all-wheel drive and makes for a fast, but not particularly sporty package. 

Fuel economy is just average for the class, which is still frugal. It can reach 36 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg combined, though models with the larger engines are in the mid-to-upper 20s combined.

Inside, the 3 has good room up front and decent room in the back. The hatchback doesn’t offer much more cargo space due to its shorter length. The materials impress for the class, but the infotainment doesn’t. It lacks a touchscreen and requires too many inputs to complete simple tasks. 

Where is the Mazda 3 made?

It’s made in Yamaguchi, Japan.

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2021 Mazda MAZDA3

Styling

Attractive inside and out, the 2021 Mazda 3 feels upscale.

Is the Mazda 3 a good-looking car?

We think it is, though we like the sedan more than the hatchback. The sedan boasts smart, clean proportions, while the hatchback has large rear pillars that make it look heavy and block rearward vision. We usually prefer hatchbacks, but not in this case and we base our ratings on the more popular sedan. The interior of both body styles, however, is harmonious and upscale. We rate the Mazda 3 a 7 out of 10 based on the terrific interior alone. 

All models feature a wide, shield-like grille that’s canted forward. Narrow headlights spring from the grille to create an attractive front end reminiscent of Aston Martin design. This headlines what are otherwise conventional sedan and hatchback profiles detailed with soft, gentle contours rather than sharp cutlines. 

The sedan’s long roofline contributes to almost mid-size proportions, though it remains a compact. The hatchback is 8 inches shorter and its thick, chunky rear pillars dominate the design. 

The interior features a low beltline, a fine combination of light and dark hues, bits of well-placed brightwork, and copious soft touch surfaces that all suggest an upscale car more than an economy compact. The center screen seems to grow out of the dash and is fairly far away but that’s OK because it doesn’t have touch controls.

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2021 Mazda MAZDA3

Performance

The Mazda 3’s dynamic strengths are a refined ride and ready power for two of the three engines.

More refined than sporty, the 2021 Mazda 3 offers a controlled, comfortable ride, with power choices ranging from weak to satisfyingly strong. We rate it a 7 in recognition of its smooth ride and balanced handling. 

Is the Mazda 3 4WD?

While the Mazda 3 comes standard with front-wheel drive, buyers can get all-wheel drive for $1,400 more.

How fast is the Mazda 3?

That depends on the model you are buying. The base 2.0-liter inline-4 makes only 155 hp and is not the choice we’d recommend. However, by compact car standards, the 2.5-liter inline-4 is big and fairly powerful, spinning out 186 hp. It’s power comes on in a linear fashion, and it requires heavy throttle to tap into its best performance. 

For 2021, Mazda adds a 2.5-liter turbo-4 to the mix that makes 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. It’s surprisingly linear, without the swell of power that might be expected in a turbocharged car. It likely vaults the Mazda 3 from 0-60 mph in less than six seconds. Expect the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-4 to deliver a mid-seven-second 0-60 mph time and the base engine in the eights. All of the engines are a bit coarse, but not disturbingly so.

All models come standard with a 6-speed automatic transmission. While it shifts smoothly and stays in the background except in Sport mode, it has fewer gears than some rivals and that leads to lesser fuel economy. A slick-shifting 6-speed manual is only offered with the naturally aspirated 2.5 on a higher-line model. We prefer it and would like to see it made available on more trims. 

Mazda tunes the ride and handling for maturity. The front end responds well to the nicely weighted, direct steering, but the car has more body lean than previous generations and its transient responses aren’t very agile. Still, it can be fun on a twisty road, and the available all-wheel-drive system puts down the power when exiting a turn.

A stiff structure and soft dampers create the balance of ride and handling. The suspension eats up bumps and ruts. The torsion beam rear suspension is unsophisticated for the Mazda 3’s upscale aspirations, and it can lead to a bumpier ride. 

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2021 Mazda MAZDA3

Comfort & Quality

While the Mazda 3’s interior space is average for the class, the appointments are upscale.

Mazda's upmarket intentions are most apparent on the interior. The cabin is comfortable thanks to supportive front seats. We give it a 6 out of 10 for comfort and quality.

The upscale approach isn’t entirely evident in the base models where the 3 has manually adjustable front seats. However, 8-way power adjustments are standard on Preferred trim and above and all seats have good bolstering for a supportive driving experience. The small-diameter, thick steering wheel also works with the seats to create a sporty driving position with plenty of space for most body types. 

While the Mazda 3 has a relatively long 107.3-inch wheelbase, rear seat space is average for a compact car. The rear seat will fit a 6-footer behind a 6-footer, but not much more. The sedan has a 13.2-cubic foot trunk (12.7 with AWD), and the hatchback has just 20.1 cubic feet.

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2021 Mazda MAZDA3

Safety

The Mazda 3 is one of the safer compact cars on the market.

How safe is the Mazda 3?

According to the agencies that crash-test cars, the Mazda 3 is very safe. The NHTSA gave the 2021 Mazda 3 a top five-star rating and the IIHS awarded the 2020 model its highest honor of Top Safety Pick+. The 2021 results from the IIHS aren’t in, but we expect the same scores. 

With those crash-test scores and good standard and optional safety equipment, we give the 2021 Mazda 3 a 9 for safety.

Standard safety features include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active lane control, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, and a driver-attention monitor. Buyers can also get blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alerts with automatic emergency braking, adaptive headlights, traffic-sign recognition, a traffic jam assist system, front and rear parking sensors, and a surround-view camera system.

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2021 Mazda MAZDA3

Features

The 2021 Mazda 3 has generous lists of standard and optional features, but a frustrating infotainment system.

The Mazda 3 runs the gamut from affordable to upscale. It’s not the economy car it once was and at the top of the lineup it aims to compete against the likes of Acura, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz. We rate it a 6 out of 10 for its healthy standard features and options lists, but take a point away for its clunky infotainment system.

Mazda offers its compact sedan and hatchback in 2.0, 2.5 S, 2.5 S Select, 2.5 S Preferred, 2.5 S Premium, 2.5 Turbo, and 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus trims.

Which Mazda 3 should I buy?

The base 2.0 model costs $21,445 and comes with cloth upholstery with manually adjustable front seats, power door locks and windows, keyless ignition, an eight-speaker sound system, an 8.8-inch infotainment screen with a rotary controller, LED headlights, and 16-inch alloy wheels. We prefer the stronger engine and better equipment of the 2.5 Select, which runs $23,645 for a front-drive sedan or $24,645 for a front-drive hatchback. All 2.5 Select models come standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, synthetic leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and 18-inch alloy wheels. We could also see going for the 2.5 S Preferred package, which costs $25,295 for the front-drive sedan and $1,000 more for the hatchback. It adds an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with power lumbar adjustment, driver seat memory, heated front seats, and a sunroof. 

How much is a fully loaded 2021 Mazda 3?

The 2.5 Turbo models represent the new top of the lineup for 2021. They come standard with all-wheel drive and start at $30,845. The most-expensive model, however, is the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus at $33,395 for the sedan and $34,695 for the hatchback. It’s equipped with a Bose 12-speaker audio system, leather upholstery, paddle shifters, satellite radio, navigation, a heated steering wheel, and additional safety features. 

The Mazda 3’s 8.8-inch screen lacks touch controls and is run through voice commands or a rotary dial on the center console. The display is crisp, but the rotary dial requires far too many clicks and spins to perform simple functions, which will leave drivers scrambling to use voice commands or Apple CarPlay or Android Auto out of frustration.

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2021 Mazda MAZDA3

Fuel Economy

The 2021 Mazda 3 offers good but not great fuel economy with any of its three engines.

Is the Mazda 3 good on gas?

Like most compact cars, the 2021 Mazda 3 is fairly efficient, though others are thriftier at the pump. The most-efficient versions are the least powerful, but the 2.5 S and 2.5 Turbo models all  qualify for a rating of 5 out of 10 for fuel economy. 

With the base engine and front-wheel drive, the 2021 Mazda 3 is EPA rated at 28 mpg city, 36 highway, and 31 combined. 

Move up to the 2.5-liter inline-4 and the Mazda 3 sedan gets 26/35/30 mpg with front-wheel drive and 25/33/28 mpg with all-wheel drive. The shorter, less aerodynamic hatchback suffers a penalty of 1 mpg combined with front- or all-wheel drive.

The hatchback is also offered with a manual transmission and the 2.5-liter inline-4. It comes only with front-wheel drive and gets 24/33/27 mpg. 

The new 2.5 Turbo model gets 23/32/27 mpg with front drive and 23/31/26 mpg with AWD. 

While the naturally aspirated engines run on regular unleaded fuel, the turbo-4 can use either regular or premium fuel.

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$20,500
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6.7
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 9
Features 6
Fuel Economy 5
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2021 Mazda MAZDA3 Pricing Insights

  • 2021 Mazda3 now in good supply; 2020s sold out
  • $1,000 factory rebate for all buyers
  • Lease from $189 for 36 months
  • APR from 0.9% for 60 months + $500 bonus