Proffit at the Wheel: The 2021 Mazda3 Sedan

If you want speed with style and panache, Mazda has produced just the right four-door sedan. The new 2021 Mazda3 is now available with a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine that is ready to run – and a chassis that can keep up with its under-the-hood capabilities.

With an assignment to work the INDYCAR/IMSA doubleheader at Detroit’s Belle Isle street circuit this June, a proper vehicle needed to be secured. Air travel from home base near Los Angeles was nosebleed expensive to Detroit and connections could only be done by a latent contortionist, so with the offer of a machine gray metallic 2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo with the premium plus package and all-wheel-drive, the decision to fly into Chicago and drive to Belle Isle was an easy one.

Mazda’s styling sets it apart from the rest of the crowd, whether it’s a sedan, a hatchback or an SUV. At first sight, it’s obviously a Mazda, drawn with svelte body lines and an aggressive front end, capped by a brightwork-trimmed large grille opening and front fascia. Mazda adds to the muscular look with its curvature at the upper reach of the shoulders, black mirrors and caps the rear with a small winglet, upright trunk and single, large exhaust. Windows are trimmed with brightwork and makes the Mazda3 purposeful in its looks.

Under the hood, Mazda fits its 2.5-liter directly injected four-cylinder engine that’s used throughout the Mazda3 range. In this guise – with a dynamic pressure turbocharger harnessing the power – Mazda shows a minimum of 227 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 310 lb-ft of torque at 2,000, using regular fuel. Put in some 93 octane and you can access 250 horsepower at the same rpm and 320 lb-ft at 2,500. Redline is 6,300 rpm. If you remember the old Mazdaspeed cars the company made, you’ll recall torque-steer up the wazoo. That’s not evident here; the Mazda3 grew up and is far more civilized than that predecessor.

All that usable power is available through an electronically-controlled six-speed automatic transmission, steering wheel paddles and Mazda’s all-wheel-drive. Rack-and-pinion electric power-assisted steering is precise on-center with a 37.3-ft turning circle, while MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear suspension keep the 3383-pound sedan well-planted in turns. Mazda moved away from rear independent suspension on the 3 a couple of years ago; it’s missed. Ten-spoke black 18-inch alloy wheels are mounted on 215/45R all-season tires.

The elegance evident in Mazda’s exterior lines is complemented in the cabin of this 2021 Mazda3 2.5T AWD with Premium Plus. With soft-touch plastics throughout the interior, the Mazda3 feels like truly safe in soupy weather (it poured en route to Detroit) or in the event of an accident. The driver has full power, including lumbar, on this Mazda’s leather seats while the front passenger has to adjust their seat manually. The seats are exceptionally comfortable for long trips – and the car does tell the driver when it believes they should take a break. It’s possible to talk back but not to change that setting.

All gauges are nicely shrouded and there’s full instrumentation, including a temp gauge. The leather-wrapped steering wheel  has audio, phone and info settings to the left of the hub while cruise control and lane departure controls lie to the right. The cruise control is excellent, even with front radar and can be adjusted for closer following – once set they remain in place at each start-up. 

Between the front seats lies the gear selector with normal and sport settings, the primary selector for all infotainment, climate, navigation, with audio control to the right of the main selector. In front of the gear selector is a grippy open area that’s perfect for a phone as there’s a USB plug above it; a second USB, along with a 12-volt and auxiliary plug are in the small central, covered storage area that both slides and opens upwards. 

It’s often said that the best vehicle interiors are the ones that feel comfortable to use the first time out and that’s the case with this Mazda3. Controls are easily accessible, easy to work and effective to use. The screen doesn’t wash out in bright daylight, the infotainment is robust with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto through the 12 Bose speakers to complement the SiriusXM fitted and with Mazda’s navigation system, which is part of the Premium Plus packaging.

Pricing for this car came to a total of $34,015, from a starting price of $33,395 including freight. The sole options are all-weather floor mats and the up-charge for the machine gray metallic paint. The Premium Plus package of leather seats, front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree view monitor and traffic jam assist, auto dimming exterior mirror, traffic sign recognition (it tells you how far over the speed limit you’re going), the navigation system on its 8.8-in screen with 3-year traffic and travel link trial, rear smart city brake support, rear cross-traffic with braking, HomeLink and the black rear lip spoiler.

Actual value of this 2021 Mazda3 2.5 turbo with the Premium Plus Package and all-wheel-drive is there in both the financial output for the owner and the just rewards for the driver in this sedan’s capabilities. It handles all weather thrown at it and reacts appropriately, particularly in the sport setting with its extended shift points, tightened suspension and the joy of wasting fuel.

There’s even efficiency value for the sporting driver, with fuel settings of 23/32/27 mpg from the 12.7-gallon tank. We refilled three times because it’s not nice to return a vehicle on fumes and used regular fuel throughout, increasing our mileage from 27 to 30 to a high of 33-mpg on the final tank. There was definitely sufficient power to spare. We enjoyed using the head-up display and laughed at the speedometer’s reading of our illegal speeds as we navigated both Detroit’s roads and highways. Even the multitude of potholes didn’t upset the Mazda3 or its low-profile rubber.

The huge 20.2-cubic-foot trunk has a 60-40 split and is beautifully finished as one would expect. Mazda does fit a spare tire and tools below the carpeting and has an interior pulldown that’s reachable and keeps one’s paws off the brightwork and paint. 

From pickup on Wednesday through Monday’s return, our time with the 2021 Mazda3 felt like a great car to have in all situations. It goes, turns and stops like a champ, holds all the necessities of life in the trunk without enticing thieves, has heated seats perfect for cool spring mornings and, even more important, valuable integrity in its build quality with excellent seams and closures.

Mazda may be a small company in this automotive world but it’s one that deserves to succeed and thrive. If you’re an enthusiast driver, just take this Mazda3 for a spin and you’ll likely agree that this sedan is elegant and rich, sporting and reliable, inside and out.

words and photos by Anne Proffit