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The 2021 Mazda3 Turbo.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Even though passenger-car sales are down in Canada, that isn’t stopping some manufacturers from expanding their lineups. Mazda is adding a new turbo engine to its Mazda3, making it the fastest car in the Mazda3 family.

“Our fans asked for more power, and Mazda listened,” says Masahiro Miro, chairman and CEO of Mazda’s North American operations, from California via Zoom.

The new engine is a 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G turbocharged inline four-cylinder that delivers 227 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque using regular 87-octane fuel. Those numbers jump to 250 hp and 320 lb.-ft. of torque with premium 93-octane fuel.

The turbo engine is available on the Mazda3 sedan and sport (hatchback) models, but only on the GT trim with all-wheel drive. The engine is impressive – it’s responsive, powerful, and engaging, at least while driving the sedan on back roads from St. Catharines, Ont., to Aurora, Ont. The turbo engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. I wouldn’t bother manually shifting the gears; it’s just not the same as driving a stick. Besides, the transmission shifts are smooth and precise on their own.

Along the twisty roads, the sedan feels planted, well-balanced and predictable. Off the line, there’s no turbo lag. Merging onto the highway with faster-moving vehicles, it accelerates quickly and confidently. The cabin remains relatively quiet at low and high speeds, too. Overall, the turbo feels like a more powerful V6 engine than a four-cylinder.

When it comes to fuel economy, I averaged 9.6 L/100 kilometres combined driving on the 300+-km route, which was higher than expected for a compact sedan, especially since I didn’t push it too often. The official fuel economy rating is 8.8 L/100 km combined highway and city driving.

Mazda is attempting to target a more premium buyer with the Mazda3 turbo. If they bite, they’ll be pleasantly surprised with all of the new safety technology inside. Many of the features are typically found on more expensive luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW. It’s a welcome sight to see these safety features trickling into more affordable vehicles.

Some of the new safety features include traffic-jam assist, smart brake-support reverse and rear cross-traffic braking – that’s in addition to a long list of other standard safety items such as Mazda’s radar cruise control with a stop-and-go feature, high-beam control and blind-spot monitoring.

Traffic-jam assist is handy if you’re stuck in slow-moving, bumper-to-bumper traffic because it’s designed to reduce driver stress and fatigue. It’s simple to use. Push a button on the steering wheel, just left of the radar cruise-control button, and when it turns from white to green, the car will automatically follow the car ahead and keep your vehicle within the lane at speeds less than 65 km/h, without any driver input – that means there’s no need to touch the steering wheel or a pedal. The system will do it for you. And it worked well, especially in stop-and-go traffic on Canada’s busiest highway, the 401.

The Turbo edition gets stylish 18-inch black alloy wheels.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

The system doesn’t use lasers. Instead, it uses the car’s existing hardware, including the forward-sensing camera, the radar sensor and lane-keep assist to help navigate in congested, bumper-to-bumper traffic and make the drive more pleasant. But Matthew Valbuena, R&D engineer with Mazda’s North American operations, is quick to point out its limitations.

“This is not an autonomous driving feature – this is not hands-off-the-wheel. What this is doing is it allows you to relax and slightly lower your attention span while the car keeps you centred in the lane,” says Valbuena.

Another useful safety feature is the smart brake-support reverse system. It’s ideal when reversing out of a crowded grocery store parking lot or the driveway. When backing up, if the system detects a vehicle crossing behind you and you’re not reacting, it’ll apply the brakes to hopefully avoid a collision. It functions at speeds between three and six km/h.

The 2021 Mazda3 GT Turbo with all-wheel drive starts at $32,900 for the sedan. Add an extra $1,000 for the Sport hatchback.

Tech specs

The Mazda3 Turbo is powered by a turbocharged 2.5-litre inline-four engine.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

2021 Mazda3 GT Turbo AWD
  • Sedan base price: $32,900 (+ $1,750 freight and delivery)
  • Sport hatchback base price: $33,900 (+ $1,750 freight and delivery)
  • Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged I-4 engine with 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque (regular 87 octane) or 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque (premium 93 octane)
  • Transmission/drive: 6-speed automatic; AWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km city and highway): Sedan –10.1 city, 7.3 highway, 8.8 combined; hatchback – 10.1 city, 7.5 highway, 8.9 combined
  • Alternatives: Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Veloster N, VW Golf GTI, Subaru WRX

Looks

The test vehicle came in a gorgeous colour called "soul red crystal metallic."Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Attractive styling with nice design details such as 18-inch black aluminum alloy wheels, large rear exhaust outlets, chrome trim on the lower front bumper and black gloss exterior mirrors. A chrome “turbo” badge on the trunk and on the engine cover highlight this is no ordinary Mazda3. Too bad there aren’t more and larger decals to really make others take notice. A gorgeous exterior colour called “soul red crystal metallic” is available, but it costs $450. It won’t break the bank, at least.

Interior

Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

The cabin is comfortable and modern, though rear legroom is limited.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Comfortable and modern cabin that’s intuitive and smart. Plenty of standard features including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, an 8.8-inch centre display, two front USB inputs, a heated leather steering wheel, a moon roof, heated front seats and a Bose 12-speaker premium audio system. The front seats are comfortable and supportive on long drives, but the rear seats are short on legroom. Not a fan of the light-coloured leather seats – it’s too easy to get dirty with kids and pets in tow.

Performance

The new turbo engine won’t disappoint – it’s powerful, fast and fun to drive. A nice surprise for a compact car like the Mazda3. It feels zippy, sporty, secure and well-planted on the road.

Technology

An abundance of technology to keep you safer on the road, including new features such as traffic-jam assist and a 360-degree monitor with selectable cameras and different views. Besides the new technology, there’s also rain-sensing windshield wipers, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, adaptive front lights and high-beam control.

Cargo

The sedan has a respectable 374 litres of cargo space.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Respectable cargo space with 374 litres of room. There’s also a thick grab handle on the top right corner to help close the trunk.

The verdict

This turbo variant is a welcome addition to the Mazda3 family. It’s a sporty car with a powerful engine that’s fun to drive and offers the added security of all-wheel drive and plenty of safety features – all at an affordable price.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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