3 Reasons the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo Succeeds as a Luxury Car (and 3 It Doesn't)

Kyle Patrick
by Kyle Patrick

Mazda keeps inching towards the premium market, but this car right here does it best thanks to one key change: more power.

On paper, the Mazda3 Turbo, specifically in sedan form, is the clearest shot at the entry-level luxury market. A muscular turbocharged engine, swanky looks inside and out, standard AWD, a reputation for enthusiast appeal—it’s a BMW 228i Gran Coupe competitor for those who’d rather skip the German badge and pocket at least $5,000. What’s not to like?

SEE ALSO: 2020 BMW 228i Gran Coupe Review: A Worthy Port of Entry

Thanks to a slight scheduling mishap, I had 24 hours with the Turbo to address that very question. It wasn’t enough to do a full review—it’ll happen!—but with it happening so close to my drive of the BMW, it was impossible not to contrast and compare. Here’s where Mazda succeeds in graduating to the big leagues—and ways it still has some work to do.

Success: So much (accessible) power

A hugely scientific undertaking (read: sending a few text messages) resulted in this one: many folks consider a level of effortlessness required for any model purporting to be luxurious. Now Mazda hasn’t gone full-on Rolls-Royce, but the 3 Turbo does offer an impressive level of get-up-and-go. Somewhat contradictorily, the 3’s easy-access power is thanks to more displacement than the competition.

With an extra half-liter of displacement, the 3 has more off-boost muscle. The snail spools faster too, so you’re into the meat of the powerband more often. And with a massive 320 lb-ft of torque when sipping from the premium pump, the 3 far out-twists the competition.

Success: The most stylish interior

This tester did benefit from the very cool 100th Anniversary package, which swapped in red leather seating and a two-tone white and black dashboard. But dang. Mazda hasn’t caught up with the premium ranks as it has surpassed them.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Mazda3 Sport 2.5 Turbo Review: First Drive

The interior of the Mazda3 is certainly minimalist, but it’s not stark: it’s elegant. Material quality is so far beyond what we expect of a mainstream car of this size, too. Every plastic is soft, and the steering wheel features some of the smoothest leather you’ll find short of designer stores on the high street. The seats are well-judged, offering the right balance between hug-your-shoulders security and mile-munching comfort. More so than any other aspect of the Mazda3, the interior justifies the money spent. Which reminds me…

Success: That price tag

Crossing the $30k barrier is a big deal for a compact car, no argument here. Dropping that sort of dough on a Corolla does sound pretty scary; it’s a great commuter car, and works best specced as such. The Turbo is understandably the most expensive model in the Mazda3 lineup, and yet it feels decidedly strong value. That’s because it starts for thousands less than the all-wheel drive Germans, and comprehensively out-points them on standard equipment.

We’ve seen other luxury brands pull off this maneuver too. In the last millennium, it was Lexus. More recently, we’ve seen Genesis give the Germans a bloody nose with a tough combination of engaging dynamics and relatively affordable sticker. Mazda is following in the footsteps of those two brands, in a different size class.

Needs work: Cumbersome infotainment

Yeah yeah, I’m a damaged disc of polyvinyl chloride here, but the biggest uphill battle Mazda has to meet the establishment is on Mount Infotainment. And the solution is more than just reverting back to a touchscreen.

The Mazda infotainment system doesn’t have the slick operation of Audi’s MMI, nor the eye-catching visuals of Mercedes’ MBUX. It takes the minimalist maxim too far, offering a simple user interface without the associated joy that the comes from that peerless interior design. Mazda has talked about how the goal here is to minimize driver distraction, and I’ll always support the cause. But pleasing the passengers is just as important, and it’s here where the 3’s infotainment comes off as more confounding than classy.

Needs work: Needs more amenities

The Mazda3 comes with a healthy bit of standard equipment. Its driver assist suite in particular is a huge win, since every one of the Germans require an option pack or two to match up.

Those lengthy checkbox pages do afford the establishment some advantages, however. It starts simply enough. Want ventilated seats in your Mazda? Too bad. How about a power-adjustable passenger seat? Nope. Mercedes’ trick augmented navigation system is also a tough one to beat. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the voice-activated assistants in the Germans, as well.

Needs work: Badge snobbery is still a thing

Call this the counterpoint to that affordable price tag. Sure, you can get a fully-loaded Mazda3 Turbo before even getting in the doors of the others, but it doesn’t have the cachet, and for some, that’s just too big of a hurdle. “I drive a Mercedes” implies something quite different from the other M-word. As good as the 3 is—and it is very, very good—it loses the game if people won’t even enter the dealership to check it out.

Then again, 40 years ago Audi was just that weird VW relation sticking all-wheel drive in its coupe. Now it’s a luxury powerhouse. Makes you think…

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Kyle Patrick
Kyle Patrick

Kyle began his automotive obsession before he even started school, courtesy of a remote control Porsche and various LEGO sets. He later studied advertising and graphic design at Humber College, which led him to writing about cars (both real and digital). He is now a proud member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), where he was the Journalist of the Year runner-up for 2021.

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