When you hear the phrase “hot hatch”, a brightly colored, body kit and crackling exhaust note usually aren’t far behind. For years, decades even, the title has belonged to some of the most juvenile, yet exciting and fun-to-drive cars on the market. The 2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo Hatchback is a bit of a conundrum then. On paper, its specs would indicate it fits all of the above criteria, but, on the road, it flies well under the radar.
Performance on Paper
Not so long ago, the Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo’s numbers were reserved for pure driver’s cars, like the E46 generation BMW M3. In fact, at 3,374 lbs, the Mazda is lighter than the early-’00s M3 and with 320 lb-ft of torque, it’s punchier too. Unlike the famed BMW, the Mazda unfortunately, doesn’t come with a manual transmission. While Mazda’s paddle-shifted six-speed automatic transmission does an okay of sending the power to all four wheels, the engine feels a bit let down by the slight lag in gear changes.
Despite the automatic transmission, the 2.5 Turbo still manages an impressive 0-60 MPH sprint time of 5.6 seconds. Even though that time is 0.2 seconds quicker than the old 2007 Mazdaspeed 3 was able to hit 60 MPH, this modern Mazda turbo hatch manages to get the job done with more poise and maturity.
Rattling off stat sheet numbers and comparing power figures is one thing, but there’s a reason no one is actually comparing the Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo to the E46 M3. On the road, the 2.5 Turbo was never expected to hold a candle to a car like the M3, but there were high hopes it would lean more towards the “driver’s car” end of the spectrum. But to earn a distinction like that, a car needs to nail three critical factors: the engine, the transmission and the handling. And each has to work together in unison for success.
If the engine is underpowered, every minute you’re on the throttle will feel like a minute of your life you want back. If the transmission is laggy — even if it’s mated to a good engine — it’s a similar story and likewise, if the car has awful handling. Unfortunately for the Mazda, it only hits two out of three.
Cornering is where the Mazda 3 really shines. Like most Mazdas, the 2.5 Turbo handles country roads just as well as it does city streets. It’s balanced through the turns and the steering is precise enough that there’s never any second-guessing what the front end is doing. Whether it’s a long bend or a sharp hairpin, the hatchback just digs in and rails through.
The engine has the punch to keep things interesting at any speed. At 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque, the 2.5-liter turbo engine has so much promise, but the slowness of the automatic transmission creates a somewhat of a haze between the driver and the car. Any hopes of the 2.5 Turbo being an AWD four-seater MX-5 are dashed, right here. The brake pedal feel is on the softer side, dulling the initial bite and adding to the out-of-character numbness.
Subtle Exterior, Subtle Interior
If the numbers on the spec sheet hype up the Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo, then the design should temper any expectations of rowdiness. That’s not to say it’s a letdown in the looks department. Quite the opposite. The subtle exterior matches the maturity and cleanliness Mazda designers have been employing up and down the entire fleet. If you’re looking for the pragmatic option but would rather live without the over-designed bodywork that usually adorns the higher-powered hatchbacks, the 2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo should be top of your list.
As far as interiors go, Mazda has seriously upped its game. Not only do Mazda’s Premium trims offer high-quality materials throughout the cabin (and at not much of a price increase), but the layout is top-notch too. Funny enough, the Mazda 3’s interior is reminiscent of the early-’00s BMW 3-Series. Simple, straightforward and nothing to distract the driver from the task at hand. Both the climate controls and the media interface are relatively analog. That’s only contradicted by the touch screen display in the middle, but if you’ve ever used Apple CarPlay, you know it’s as intuitive as it gets.
Mazda never claimed the 2.5 Turbo was a successor to the Mazdaspeed3 , so in that regard, we can’t hold them to false standards hopeful enthusiasts conjured up on their own. As a day-to-day car, the Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo is near the top of its class. It has the power, the handling and the looks to stand out from the crowd, but the transmission is a weak link. The 2.5 Turbo isn’t the complete package it could’ve been, however there is a true hot hatch lurking underneath that finely sculpted sheet metal, but it’s being held back by an overly sensible transmission. If anything, the Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo is a hot hatch for adults.
- MSRP: $33,395
- Engine: 2.5-Liter Inline-4
- Transmission: Six-speed Auomatic w/ Paddle shifters
- Drive: AWD
- Power: 250 Horsepower
- Torque: 320 lb-ft
- Curb Weight: 3,392 lbs