REVIEW: The $34,000 Mazda 3 Turbo is all grown up and aims to lure entry-level buyers from Audi and Mercedes

  • The Mazda 3 is Mazda's compact, entry-level car. Now it has an optional turbocharger.
  • Power and performance have been increased, which means the 3 Turbo can now compete with models from Audi and Mercedes.
  • The 2021 Mazda 3 Turbo starts at $33,750, compared to the base sedan's $20,500 starting price. My loaner came out to $34,820 after delivery fees.
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From the outside, the 2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo looks the same as its non-turbocharged brethren. Save for a few badges and bigger tailpipes, it's the same sleek design we've all seen ever since the new 3 debuted in 2018.

But the big deal with the 3 Turbo is what's under the hood — because with the addition of a much-anticipated turbocharger, Mazda turned the humble Mazda 3 from merely fun to fun

The 2021 3 Turbo: Boosted now

The move gave the car more power and Mazda the justification for charging about $13,000 more for it over the base model.

Details and safety ratings: Five stars all around

That turbocharged engine comes with a few strings, however — namely, the removal of the optional manual transmission. Yes, I'm sorry to say that you cannot get the Mazda 3 Turbo with a clutch pedal. It does come exclusively with all-wheel drive, though, to help with traction while driving through all the purist tears.

What's great about this new turbocharged engine application is that it's now powering a far lighter and smaller car in Mazda's lineup. The 3 has always maintained good, light-footedness that made chucking it into corners at speed fun. With its intuitive steering, the car practically begged you to abuse it. At least a little bit.

Couple that energy now with more power — well, buddy, you've got yourself a darty little Fun Car™, especially in Sport mode. There's more direct steering response and the transmission hangs out in a lower gear, keeping the power in a more readily accessible spot. 

What falls short: No manual transmission

I elected to test out the 3 Turbo hatchback because hatchbacks are awesome. Unfortunately, as stylish as the car is from the outside, those thick C-pillars made over-the-shoulder glances difficult. 

All in all, it's not a terrible loss, since the mirrors do their job and there are plenty of proximity sensors that scream at you if you try and merge into another car. 

Still, I like to look. Proximity sensors can theoretically fail and by the time you find out that they've done so, it's already too late. 

It's certainly priced that way: Base price of my Mazda 3 Turbo loaner started at $33,750. After a $125 rear bumper guard and a $945 fee for delivery, processing, and handling, the car's total MSRP came out to $34,820. That is a lot to ask for a Mazda 3, especially when you consider a base Mazda 3 sedan can be had for $20,500.

As a comparison, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class starts at $33,650, the Audi A3 starts at $33,300, and the Acura ILX starts at $25,950. Keep in mind, though, that those three do not come as hatchbacks and they all start with far less power than the 3 Turbo.

Spiritually, I'd say the 3 Turbo is more akin to sportier versions of the other compact cars. The power is there, certainly, as is the hatchiness, but the manual transmission available on the Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Veloster N, and Volkswagen Golf GTI make for very compelling counterarguments. 

Our impressions: That's (not that) hot

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