If a 2021 Mazda 3 shows up when you call your next Uber, we’d forgive you for confusing it with a far more expensive Audi or BMW as you settle into the passenger’s seat. Mazda often straddles the line between mainstream and luxury, and it pays off in its bread-and-butter hatchback, particularly in the swanky Premium and Premium Plus trims. A trio of four-cylinder engines are on the menu, as is all-wheel drive. The 3 continues to be one of the most refined and athletic compact cars on sale today, with high-tech infotainment and driver-assistance features that provide a class-above experience. That said, adding those features may drive the 3’s price beyond what buyers in this segment are willing to pay, giving mainstream stalwarts like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic an edge.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
Mazda offers three different four-cylinder engines with the 3, starting with a 2.0-liter on the base sedan. It makes 155 horsepower and comes only with front-wheel drive. Moving up to the 186-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder unlocks the optional all-wheel-drive system, but we’re most excited by the 250-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter. Buyers can get a six-speed manual but only if they stick with front-wheel drive. Opting for the all-wheel drive system mandates a six-speed automatic transmission. While every 3 responds quickly to gas-pedal inputs, neither of the nonturbo models is particularly quick. We haven’t tested the new turbocharged engine, but we expect to see big improvements in performance over the other two. Both the hatchback and sedan feel composed on straight and twisty roads and provide a refined ride quality. We’ve praised the new Mazda 3 for retaining the fun-to-drive nature of the outgoing model. It has tight body control, natural-feeling steering, and a firm ride that manages not to punish occupants when going over rough roads.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The most fuel efficient Mazda 3 is the sedan with the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which earned ratings from the EPA of 28 mpg city and 36 mpg highway; upgrading to the more powerful 2.5-liter nonturbo engine drops those numbers—but not by much—to 26 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. The turbocharged hatchback model with all-wheel drive is the least fuel efficient, with ratings of 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. We tested an all-wheel-drive automatic-equipped sedan with the nonturbo 2.5-liter on our 200-mile highway fuel-economy route, and it posted an outstanding 41 mpg. We also tested a similarly equipped hatchback, which beat its highway rating by 2 mpg (for 34 mpg observed). The front-drive stick-shift 3 returned 38 mpg (3 more than estimated).
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Mazda thoughtfully designed the 3’s cabin with premium materials. Buyers can outfit either body style with a slew of desirable features, but the best ones are tied into the trim-level hierarchy. For instance, a head-up display, heated front seats, and leather upholstery are all reserved for the topmost trims. Still, the 3 sedan and hatchback have supportive seats and comfortable passenger accommodations. However, the two-box model has the worst rear visibility among compact hatchbacks due to its curvaceous design taking priority over sightlines. Interior cubby storage is adequate, but those who want the most cargo space should choose the sedan, which held six carry-on bags in the trunk versus the hatch’s five. Both held 16 bags with the back seat folded.
Infotainment and Connectivity
An 8.8-inch infotainment display is standard and looks even larger than it is, thanks to a nicely designed bezel that floats between two pillow-like dash pads. The system is easy to use and controlled solely by a console-mounted rotary knob. Those who want Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability will have to look above the base model, and the available 12-speaker Bose audio system and SiriusXM satellite radio are found only on the top two models.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The 2021 Mazda 3 earned a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as well as a Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Every model also boasts a bevy of standard driver-assistance technology, such as automated emergency braking and automatic high-beam headlights.