By Eric Peters
The Mazda3 just got speedier.
In addition to its standard 2.0-liter and optional 2.5-liter engine, you can now get it with a new engine. It’s a turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter engine — partially resurrecting the idea, at least, of the old MazdaSpeed3, the high-performance version of the 3.
That one hasn’t been available for a while.
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Now it’s almost back.
The new engine also comes paired with all-wheel drive. The old Speed3 was a front-wheel-drive terror that was terrible in the snow.
Now you can get where you’re headed when the weather’s not great — and get there faster, too.
What It Is
The 3 is Mazda’s entry-level compact sedan/hatchback sedan.
In addition to being an economy car, it can also be a high-performance car — and something in between the two.
Prices start at $20,500 for the base sedan equipped with an economy-minded 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. This one can deliver almost 40 mpg on the highway, which is among the best you can get without getting a hybrid.
The hatchback comes standard with a larger, more powerful 2.5-liter engine (optional in the sedan) without a turbo.
It lists for $22,500 to start.
All-wheel drive is available optionally.
Both the sedan and the hatchback sedan can be ordered with a turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter engine that makes 250 horsepower — nearly as much as the old Speed3’s turbocharged 2.3-liter engine — paired with the six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
And this time, you can get it in a sedan ($29,900 to start) or a hatch ($30,900). The old Speed3 came only as a hatch.
The main change for 2021 is the addition of the high-performance 2.5-liter engine to the lineup. Last year, the strongest engine you could get in a 3 was the 2.5-liter engine without the turbo.
There are three engines to pick from.
There are also two body styles to pick from.
It’s entry-level in price but not in features. Even the base $20K sedan comes standard with an eight-speaker stereo, LED lights and a larger-than-most 8.8-inch LCD touchscreen.
What’s Not So Good
There is no choice about transmissions, regardless of engine.
The turbocharged engine is only available with all-wheel drive and high-cost trims.
Under the Hood
The sedan comes standard with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 155 horsepower. It does not have a turbo, unlike the standard engines in several rivals — which may appeal to buyers who prefer a simpler engine with fewer potential things to go wrong after the warranty expires.
A larger 2.5-liter engine — also without a turbo — is standard in the hatchback and optional in the sedan. This one makes 186 horsepower and can be paired with all-wheel drive.
The newly available third engine is also a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, but this time with a turbo — and 250 horsepower, which is nearly as much as the old Speed3’s 263-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine.
But this time, it’s paired only with all-wheel drive and only with an automatic transmission.
On the Road
Mazda continues to focus on making driving fun, even in cars that don’t make you pay a fortune for it.
However, this car would be more fun if it were available with a manual transmission, especially the base sedan with the 2.0-liter engine. Being able to shift through the gears and work the clutch makes up for not much power to work with.
On the upside, the next-up 2.5-liter engine is one of the strongest engines in the class without a turbo. And the top-of-the-line 2.5-liter engine with the turbo makes the new 3 almost as speedy as hot hatches like the Subaru WRX — which actually isn’t a hatch anymore. Subaru only sells that one as a sedan, which means it comes with a small (12 cubic foot) trunk as opposed to the Mazda hatch’s 20.1 cubic feet behind its back seats (and 47.1 cubic feet total capacity).
At the Curb
Like Burger King, Mazda lets you have the 3 your way instead of just one way.
The sedan is several inches longer (183.5 inches) than the hatch (175.6 inches) and of course has a trunk rather than a cargo area. You pick which you prefer — without having to pick a different car.
Both are arguably among the most attractive vehicles in the class. Inarguably, they are among the best equipped. Adaptive cruise control is the standard, even in the base sedan. You can also get decidedly above-entry-level equipment such as a 12-speaker stereo, adaptive headlights and a Heads-Up Display (HUD).
One small nitpick with the new high-performance engine is that it only delivers its maximum performance on premium unleaded gas. You can use regular, but if you do, the engine’s output dials back from 250 horsepower to 227.
The Bottom Line
There are three engines, two body styles — and so much else to choose from. The only thing that’s missing here is the choice to shift for yourself.
Eric’s new book, “Don’t Get Taken for a Ride!” is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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