Fountain of youth: 2021 Mazda 3 is a spirited hot hatch

2021 Mazda 3 Hatchback Premium AWD. Metro News Service photo.
2021 Mazda 3 Hatchback Premium AWD. Metro News Service photo.

My two favorite types of vehicles are convertibles and hatchbacks. One is a mid-life crisis type of car (convertible) and one lets me feel youthful (hatches). Clearly as I’m in my late 40s and my hairline regresses, I’m trying to stay young. Thankfully, this week’s tester helps me feel just a little bit younger.

The 2021 Mazda 3 is one of the best hatchbacks out there. This car is also available as a sedan, which I also reviewed and liked, but not as much as this hatchback. From a driving perspective the hatch and the sedan are very similar.

But the sportier and youthful looks of the Mazda 3 as a hatchback really pushes this ahead of the sedan as my preferred version of the compact car.

On looks, the front end is rather tame. It lacks pizzazz and is too conservative for my tastes. With a youth-inspired vehicle like this, Mazda could have been bolder and taken more chances rather than play it safe. But they make up for it on the profile and the back side.

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A swirly design on the side seems to add aerodynamic purpose, if not style as well. This gives way to the bulbous, hatch with a small, but purposeful spoiler. Squinty taillights add a sleek, distinctive appearance. By far the back side is the best look of the Mazda 3 hatch. And that’s where it becomes something memorable and attractive versus the more conservative and less distinctive sedan version.

There are two engine options for the Mazda 3. My tester had the much more exciting 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. I love turbocharged four bangers as they always outperform their performance numbers. And the Mazda 3 did not disappoint in that regard.

The Mazda 3 hatch with this engine is rated at 227 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque. The smaller 2.0-liter base engine gets 186 horsepower. As far as quickness the Mazda 3 hatch with the 2.5-liter engine feels spunky and athletic. The squatty hatchback styling is conducive to hugging the road, especially when mated with the all-wheel drive.

The six-speed automatic transmission feels a little outdated and outmatched and is the only part of the powertrain that can be considered a negative. It’s an adequate transmission but is nothing more than that. If cargo room is important then the hatchback way outshines the sedan offering 20.1 cubic feet of space compared to that 13.2 cubic feet of space found in the sedan. That’s always one of the perks of a hatchback, extra useful room.

Inside, the Mazda 3 has comfortable room for passengers. Even with the sloping hatchback styling, the rear headroom is good, as is the legroom. For a small car it feels big. The touch points are comparable to others in the segment but aren’t overly special.

As is the case with all Mazdas (unfortunately), the infotainment system continues to be one of the worst in the industry, if not the worst. It lacks intuition even though it does offer many of the standard technology features you want like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 8.8-inch color display adds vibrance to the center stack but is held back by an infotainment system that is clunky and cumbersome to maneuver. Put Mazda in the same class with Lexus and Acura when it comes to infotainment systems that need to go back to the drawing board.

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There are a lot of trims, options and packages available for the Mazda 3 for both the sedan and the hatchback. While choices are good for the consumer, it can also be overwhelming when choosing which one to buy. My tester was the top-of-the-line trim with all-wheel drive (AWD). This makes it the most expensive version of the hatch with an MSRP of $33,750.

Mazda is one of the few auto manufacturers who promises better horsepower and performance with the use of premium fuel. Of course with the current cost of fuel, that’s something you have to weigh. Regardless, the EPA rating for this vehicle with this engine is 23 mpg/city and 31 mpg/highway. The front-wheel drive version gets slightly better fuel economy, so weight that decision as to how important AWD is. I averaged just over 25 mpg in a week’s worth of suburban driving.

The Mazda 3 Hatchback is not a mid-life crisis vehicle. As a 48-year-old, I’m also not the targeted demographic for this hot, fun little hatchback. But I embraced my youth and rather enjoyed my time behind the wheel, nonetheless.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @driversside

2021 Mazda 3 Hatchback Premium AWD

  • Price/As tested price................................................ $33,750/$33,750
  • Mileage.......................................... 23 mpg/city; 31 mpg/hwy
  • Engine............................................. 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower................................. 227 hp/310 lbs./ft.
  • Transmission................................. Six-speed automatic
  • Drive wheels................ All-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point................ Hofu, Japan

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