Thursday, February 9, 2023
First Reviews 2021 Mazda3 Turbo First Drive: The Mazdaspeed Has Grown Up

2021 Mazda3 Turbo First Drive: The Mazdaspeed Has Grown Up

The Mazda3 Turbo isn't a Mazdaspeed in any way, shape or form, but it's much better suited for everyday life

2021 Mazda3 Turbo Pros

  • Stunning interior
  • Typically great Mazda handling
  • There’s value here

2021 Mazda3 Turbo Cons

  • Not as quick as the numbers would have you believe
  • Will disappoint buyers who see this as a WRX or Golf R alternative
  • Doesn’t look any different from a regular Mazda3

The 2021 Mazda3 Turbo used to be a Mazdaspeed3. Then it settled down, bought a nice house in the suburbs, and had a family. Sometimes its old buddies Subaru WRX and Honda Civic Type R will call on Friday night and see if it wants to go out, but with the kids getting up at 5 am and the work week that was, it prefers to stay in and get to bed by 9.

It’s still “cool”, however. It plays golf on Sundays than has a BBQ with friends, works out five times a week, and is a blast at the Christmas party. It’s just that life has changed a bit and has forced this Mazda3 to mature.

Perhaps I saw a bit of myself in the Mazda3 Turbo. Myself a father to a toddler who has no pause button from 6 am to 7 pm, I’ve transitioned to a whole new life in the last two years and the way I view cars has changed quite a bit as well.

I no longer see the appeal in compromising comfort in the name of handling, and exit ramps are now taken at very reasonable speeds whether the kid is in the car or not. On the other hand, I still love to drive, and immediately notice any form of vehicle that can provide the comfort and versatility I now need and desire without sacrificing driving pleasure. I wouldn’t buy a Mazdaspeed3, but I’d get a 2021 Mazda3 Turbo.

If you take it for what it is and not what it could have been or what it should have been, there’s a lot to like about the Mazda3’s top trim.

Doesn’t Feel Like a 250-Horsepower Car 

2021 Mazda3 Sport GT Turbo | Photo: Olivier Delorme

Announced earlier this year, the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo packs a 2.5-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers up to 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque when you fill it with premium. Go the regular gas route, and you still enjoy 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with a six-speed automatic and i-ACTIV all-wheel drive is standard.

On paper, the Mazda3 Turbo should match a Subaru WRX and give the Volkswagen Golf R something to think about. On the road, it’s a different story. At least in terms of pure acceleration. The Turbo has some pep, no doubt about that, but it won’t push you back in your seat when you floor it. The engine doesn’t seem to like to be pushed hard, and the sound it makes when doing so is nothing to rave about.

This turbocharged engine is a blast in the Mazda CX-5 and you immediately notice the difference between it and the base 2.5. The difference, for some reason, isn’t as noticeable in the Mazda3. Now, this isn’t to say it’s not quick or even that it is disappointing.

But, as I was driving it, I was trying to put myself in the shoes of someone who had been desperately waiting for this engine to find its way into the Mazda3 because of the upgraded performance it would offer. This person would likely expect a dramatic difference in how the Mazda3 Turbo performs in a straight line over other Mazda3 trims, and they won’t get that.

What they will get, however, is a car that does offer an above-average and adequate level of performance when accelerating or passing. Because despite everything that’s been said so far, the Mazda3 Turbo isn’t a slow car by any stretch. It’s quick like a base Audi A3 is quick, and for some that’s more than enough. Especially when you consider everything it else it has to offer.

Mazda is Going Upmarket and it Shows in the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo

2021 Mazda3 Sport GT Turbo | Photo: Olivier Delorme

The clear aim for the new Mazda3 is to convert German entry-level luxury car buyers and it that regard, it has achieved its objective. The interior is beautiful with quality materials and expert craftsmanship. There’s great headroom upfront, and the clean design of the dashboard is relaxing. No deluge of buttons and various commands here, it’s all well put together.

The infotainment system still needs a bit of getting used to as everything is controlled via a rotary dial, but that’s really the only fault found in the Mazda3 Turbo’s interior.

I drove for a couple of hours, mostly on the highway, and was impressed by the level of comfort and how quiet the ride is. The suspension is smooth and handles potholes with confidence. The Mazda3 Turbo is relaxed and in turn makes the driver feel relaxed.

On the other hand, the handling is as sharp as you could want it to be and the Mazda3 Turbo is as composed as it is agile in the twisties. The real appeal of the Mazda3 (and any Mazda product) is how fun it can be to swing around corners and that aspect is preserved and even enhanced in the Turbo.

Circling back to performance, this is where the new trim shines the most. Available power coming out of a corner is far superior to any other Mazda3 and comparable to a base Audi A3, BMW 2 Series, or Mercedes-Benz CLA. The i-ACTIV AWD system doesn’t just give you confidence on a snowy road, it keeps the car incredibly stable in a sharp turn. Combined with a perfectly balanced steering wheel, the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo displays true sports car handling and agility with the added benefit of extra power on your way out of the curve.

Not having a CVT is a blessing here, and the Mazda3 Turbo once again makes you question why traditional automatics are getting ditched. Especially since the Mazda3 Turbo’s average fuel economy isn’t far off other Mazda3’s or, more importantly, CVT-equipped other compacts in the segment. Being able to play with paddle shifters is an added bonus.

The 2021 Mazda3 Turbo is Priced Right

2021 Mazda3 Sport GT Turbo | Photo: Olivier Delorme

The 2021 Mazda3 Turbo is possibly the most luxurious car in the segment and is packed with equipment. The turbocharged engine is only offered in the top-of-the-line GT trim which means you also get heated leather seats, heated leather steering wheel, a sunroof, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, dual-zone climate, all manner of active safety technologies, 12-speaker audio system, navigation, and SiriusXM.

All for $32,900 for the sedan and $33,900 for the hatchback in Canada, and $30,845/$31,845 in the US.

Given the price, the performance, the equipment, and the overall driving experience, this particular Mazda3 trim delivers exceptional value.

No, the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo isn’t meant to replace your WRX, but one day you will want or need to settle down too. That’s when you consider the Mazda3 Turbo and yes, a kid’s seat fits fine in the back.

2021 Mazda3 Sport GT Turbo | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Mazda3 Sport GT Turbo | Photo: Olivier Delorme

2021 Mazda3 Sport GT Turbo | Photo: Olivier Delorme

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Charles Jolicoeur
Charles Jolicoeur was studying to be a CPA when he decided to drop everything and launch a car website in 2012. Don't ask. The journey has been an interesting one, but today he has co-founded and manages 8 websites including and as General Manager of NetMedia360. He also sits on the board of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. Send me an email


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