Introduced in its current form two years ago, the fourth-generation Mazda3 just about had it all -- sumptuous looks in both sedan and hatchback iterations, luxury car appointments in top trims and road manners as athletic as a teenage gymnast.
All it lacked was an engine to back the boast. For 2021, it gets it.
We drove the 3 Hatchback, whose base engine remains a 186-hp, 2.5-liter I-4. In top trims, however, 3 offers a turbocharged version of that four-pack. Fed premium gas, the blown four makes 250 hp and a brawny 320 lb.-ft. of torque -- power delivered to all four wheels via the Turbo's standard all-wheel drive.
We be jammin'!
Hatchback trims include the 2.5 S, Select, Preferred, Premium, Turbo and Turbo Premium Plus, the last two getting the blower, as is obvious from their monikers. We drove the loaded Turbo Plus and felt we could hobnob with the likes of Audi and BMW without embarrassment, so stylish was our car's exterior and so plush was its interior appointments.
Regarding the former, the 3 hatch's wardrobe is daring -- emotional and, yeah, polarizing to some with its raptor-eye headlights, big, seven-point grille, teardrop profile riding 18-inch rims under our Plus, a fast backlight and an above-the-rear-glass spoiler. We loved it, even if the robust C-pillars do play havoc with rearward visibility. (You'll want to stay on friendly terms with your backup camera.)
Inside, Premium Plus is sumptuously turned out. Cabin materials are first class while decor in our top-trim tester included black leather with contrasting red stitching, satin-metal accents, piano-black touches, heated seats and steering wheel, and a 12-speaker Premium Bose sound system.
Awfully classy for the class.
Alas, the infotainment display is not a touch screen and its control knob, located on the center console, is vexing enough to torque off your anger-management counselor. Plan practice sessions.
Passenger room is aces up front in sport buckets that offer robust side bolsters and long, supportive cushions. In back, head room is good, although the beefy C-pillars make the rear-seat space feel tighter than it actually is, and rear leg room is dependent utterly on the kindness of front passengers.
On the road, elegance gives way to fun behind that newly blown four-banger. We greeted 60 mph in the 5's -- notably quicker than the 7-plus ticks it takes the naturally aspirated version to reach the same velocity.
Meanwhile, for the adventurous, paddle shifters on the Turbo's standard six-speed automatic transmission add to the party atmosphere, although in full automatic mode that auto shifter is pretty darn good, itself, at choosing the right ratio at the right time.
Handling is athletic -- something we've grown to expect from Mazdas -- and the cabin is civil in relaxed cruising. Add drive modes of Normal and Sport, plus G-Vectoring Control Plus -- the latest version of Mazda's torque-distributing technology that puts engine twist right where it's needed when it's needed -- and this 3 hatchback is as fun as it is versatile.
In 125 miles of mixed city/hwy driving, we realized 26 mpg, just as the EPA figured.
Regarding bubble wrap, every 3 gets such driver hand-holders as auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection, auto high-beam headlights, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist.
As handy as hatchbacks generally are, the Mazda3 hatch goes the extra mile with great looks, potent power (with the turbo), plush appointments and athletic road manners. No wonder Mazda prices 3 like it's proud of it.
While the base hatch starts at $23,445, a blower bolted to the engine pushes the price north of 30 grand.
Our loaded Premium Plus went out the door within shouting distance of 35.