Properly Understanding the 2021 Mazda3: An Enjoyable Ride Through the Matrix

Mazda 3 hatch and sedan 31 photos
Photo: Mazda
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There is no gain in simplifying things, and nothing can replace a complete experience. If all the automobiles of a certain class are somehow the same, why bother choosing a specific one? Let’s try to answer this question in the case of the 2021 Mazda3.
They say the Mazda3 is a compact family hatchback. A sedan version of this Japanese model series is also available. Nothing special here; this is a widely implemented recipe among other car manufacturers: Ford Focus hatch and sedan, VW Golf and Jetta, Renault Mégane hatch and sedan, Toyota Corolla hatch and sedan—these are just a few common examples in the compact segment. Some of these cars have bigger trunks, more sophisticated multimedia systems, and larger interiors than the Mazda3.

Did we say enough already to dismiss the compact Mazda from the potential buyer’s sphere of interest? Hopefully not, because these are just some not-so-relevant reasons and motivations when approaching the Mazda3. The car has enough of those, by the way. Now, what’s really important: in the not-too-distant past, Mazda chose to make a radical change in its cars' concept and image. Gradually, the Mazda 626 was replaced with the Mazda6, then the 323 was replaced with the 3, the 2 took the place of the 121, and the restructuring of the range went further.

Mazda reloaded

While the old Mazdas were trying to please everybody by just being nice and not interfering with anyone’s taste, the new generations were different. They came with a pronounced dynamic appearance, strong design identity, driving-oriented concept (in fact, cars are made to be driven, aren’t they?) and some built-in details especially meant to be noticed and appreciated by connoiseurs.

Was this change useful? Definitely, yes. During the latest decade, Mazda managed to seriously get the attention of those who do not consider the automobile as yet another household appliance. You can’t overlook something like this!

2021 Mazda 3
Photo: Mazda
It's amazing how different the hatchback and the sedan versions of the Mazda3 look. While the hatchback might be interpreted as an advanced and mature automobile of the post-GTI era (very sporty look despite its four doors layout), the sedan has a neoclassic aura thanks to its perfect proportions and refined front end style (imaginarily removing the logo from the car, one might think it's a kind of subcompact Jaguar or Maserati).

Outstanding design

Want proof of how Mazda professionals did an outstanding job in terms of design and identity? The Mazda3 won the 2020 World Car Design of the Year award, overcoming some notorious competition. Other cars nominated for the honor included the Peugeot 208, the Porsche Taycan, Alpine A110 S, and even the Mazda3’s own technical sibling, the Mazda CX-30 subcompact crossover.

Lucky me, a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to exchange a few words with Kevin Rice, who worked for Mazda between his professional episodes with BMW and, lately, with Pininfarina.

2021 Mazda 3
Photo: Mazda
We were standing near a Mazda3 at the Geneva Motor Show, and I asked him why the fourth-generation Mazda 3 doesn’t look massive even if its metal surfaces don’t have incisive contours or lines and the windows' area is relatively small.

Well, I got this astonishing answer from Mr. Rice: “There are no prominent lines on the metal sheets, yet they are not flat at all. Remember the little boy twisting the spoon with his mind in the Matrix movie? While the spoon was turning around, you could see all kinds of stuff reflected in its shiny surface. So, the shape of that spoon was momentarily defined by the landscape of the room around it. The same for the Mazda3: we decided to draw only some essential lines and to let the surroundings of the car, reflected by its body, to define the shape. It is an effective way to avoid a massive appearance, as you can see.”

What you see is what you get!

The Mazda3 looks like it's asking to be driven. Inside, the dashboard design sticks to the confirmed values of the driving act: distinct analog dials, clearly defined functional zones, easy to find levers and buttons.

There is no conventional center console (the multimedia screen is mounted on the upper side of the dash), so the interior seems even wider than it actually is—impeccable ergonomic treatment of the driving position and sober, distinguished atmosphere. The accurate roadholding and the precise steering won’t disappoint, either.

2021 Mazda 3
Photo: Mazda
And, technically speaking, the Mazda3 deserves to be driven. While most of the competition joined the downsizing-turbocharging trend and gave up on relatively big gasoline aspirated engines, the Mazda3 still has a few nice things to offer in this respect. The 2.0- and 2.5-liter engines from the SkyActiv-G and SkyActiv-X series (those are employing compression-ignition technology to save fuel and have a very high compression ratio of 16.3:1) deserve all the attention. For those who want more, there is also a 2.5-liter turbo version (250 hp).

An all-wheel-drive transmission is also available. Smaller displacement engines from the SkyActiv-G and SkyActiv-D series can be found at the lower levels of the range. All of the SkyActiv-G and SkyActiv-D engines have a good reliability reputation, while the SkyActiv-X is young and still has to show what it’s made of.

The price range of the Mazda3 does not exceed the usual levels for the mainstream compact family cars. We are talking of a range between $22,500 and $34,000. In Europe, it starts from €23,990 and goes all the way up to €31,140. That’s good news because what Mazda offers for this kind of money is far ahead any other car of this segment away in terms of style and character.
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