Big Fun, Big Value!
by Paul Herrold
It’s difficult to find a bad car in today’s market. Gone are the Yugos and Pontiac Aztecs of the world. Nowadays, safe, capable vehicles get us to our destinations reliably and in relative comfort. Of course, there is always room for improvement. Even cars that are class-leading stand-outs can benefit from tweaks and further development.
This brings us to the current Mazda 3. By itself, it’s a nice car—the great handling, compliant ride, and upscale feel both inside and out gives you a lot of car for the money. Just one test drive and you’ll understand why Mazda is considered the affordable alternative to the German competition. Yet, after driving the redesigned-for-2019 Mazda 3, one thing stood out above all else: this car could really benefit from more power.
Enter the 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo! While the regular Mazda 3 line-up starts with either a 4-cylinder 2.0L 155hp engine or a slightly more powerful 2.5L 186hp version, the Mazda 3 Turbo is for those who really want some “go” under their right foot. Available in sedan or hatchback style, and with standard all-wheel-drive (AWD), the turbo engine comes with a fuel octane sensor that detects the type of gas you just put in the tank, then adjusts the engine parameters to give you either a full 250hp and 320 lb-ft of torque on 93 octane premium fuel or 227hp and 310 lb-ft torque on 87 regular. Admittedly, the turbo does make the engine a bit thirstier, but it still manages a very respectable 23/32/27 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycle—only 4 mpg down from the base 2.0L non-turbo front-wheel-drive version—impressive! get curvy.
But what is like to drive this car? Simply put, the Mazda 3 Turbo is perfectly positioned for the current vehicle-buying market. It’s no surprise that the car is dying—buyers today demand SUVs and crossovers. In response, automakers are repositioning their traditional cars toward the enthusiast market, giving them more sportiness and on-road feel—something their heavier and taller crossover cousins cannot easily offer. With a 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds, the Mazda 3 turbo is pretty quick, but doesn’t feel juvenile. There is maturity in the way the car moves: Your steering and throttle inputs are recognized and executed, but reformed and softened. It’s definitely a sporty car, but not a sports car, and that’s right where Mazda wants it to be—you can have fun driving without getting beat up with go-kart steering or a punishing ride.
Inside materials are top-notch with luxury fit and finish, and opting for the Premium Plus package includes just about everything: navigation, color head-up display with traffic sign recognition, leather seating, 360-degree camera view, and auto-braking safety tech, among other features—all for under $34,000.00 (the base Mazda 3 Turbo is $31,045.00). Unfortunately, the turbo only comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission that can be a little slow to respond and lacks the intuition you get from some other brands. Putting the car into sport mode helps sharpen the shifts but feels more like a racetrack mode, not for the street. It would be nice if Mazda programmed a setting in between the car’s normal and sport modes. The parking brake, too, raises some issues. While it does automatically engage when you put the car in park, it does not automatically disengage when you take the car out of park. Instead, you have to do so manually either by pressing the parking brake button or stepping on the gas for a second. It’s kind of annoying.
For those who want more muscle, the Mazda 3 Turbo is the perfect upgrade to the Mazda 3. It’s an impressive overall package that offers what drivers want: performance, handling, quality, even luxury and—most importantly—value. Just think of it as a BMW 228 xDrive Gran Coupe that comes with a $10,000 rebate—big fun, big value!
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