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The optional 2.5-liter turbocharged engine launches the Mazda3 into sports car territory.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The 2021 Mazda3 is available as a sedan or hatchback, with front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, and both can now be ordered with a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine.Mazda has long been known as an enthusiast driver's brand, with excellent performance and unmistakable styling. Mazda's Miata sports car is the best-selling four-cylinder roadster of all time, with well over one million examples sold. The Miata gets a lot of glory, but the compact Mazda3 is far more than just an affordable economy car. This car, available as a hatchback or a sedan, is a serious sports car as well as a sensible choice for commuting and daily life.

The current generation of Mazda3 was released for the 2019 model year, and added all-wheel-drive to an already nimble and enjoyable car. The current generation is available as a handsome small sedan, or a very rakish hatchback with design cues that hark back to exclusive Zagato-bodied European sports cars of the 1960s. Yet the Mazda3 hatch still gives you four-door convenience and cargo-carrying capability.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The rakish 2021 Mazda3 hatchback has design cues that hark back to exclusive Zagato-bodied European sports cars of the 1960s.

For this year, Mazda has finally delivered the Mazda3 with a turbocharged driveline good for 227 horsepower and a bracing 310 pound-feet of torque. Power is passed through an advanced six-speed automatic transmission and distributed to all four wheels using Mazda's near-magical i-ACTIV AWD system. The i-ACTIV system uses data from the wheel speed sensors and from other vehicle systems like the windshield wipers and outside temperature thermometer to determine when wheel slip is likely to occur, and engages the AWD system before the driver would ever notice a problem.

Mazda also includes its industry-unique G Vectoring Control Plus system. This technology improves steering response by slightly reducing engine torque when the driver turns the wheel. The effect shifts weight forward onto the front wheels, improving grip as the car begins to turn.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - Inside, the 2021 Mazda3 is comfortable and functional, with all  modern conveniences, as well as state-of-the-art advanced safety features.

That was all great with the standard engine at 186 horsepower. Now with more performance, the Mazda3 vaults into competition with the premium category sport compact cars from Europe, offering comparable performance and handling at an economy car price.

Inside, the new Mazda3 is comfortable and functional. All the modern conveniences are available, as well as state-of-the-art advanced safety features. In the top Premium trim, the Mazda3 offers heated seats and steering wheel made with fine hand-stitched leather, and an advanced Bose audio and infotainment system displayed on a wide 8.8-inch screen. There's also a head-up display projected onto the windshield to deliver driving information without requiring the driver to glance away from the road.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - In the top Premium trim, the 2021 Mazda3 offers heated seats and steering wheel made with fine hand-stitched leather

You can still get into a basic Mazda3 sedan for $20,650, or the hatchback for $22,650, and there's a good choice at every price point right up to the top of the line model that we tested. Whether you choose the base trim with the 2.0-liter engine or the top turbo AWD model, you'll get a well-made car with great handling. If you haven't experienced "Mazda Premium" for yourself, be sure to visit one of the area Mazda dealers for a test drive. You'll be impressed with the value for your money as well as the on-road performance of these cars.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - Rear seat room in the 2021 Mazda3 is reasonable for a compact car.

2021 Mazda Mazda3 Turbo AWD

Base price: $33,750

Price as tested: $36,490

Type: Compact hatchback

Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (227 hp, 310 lbs-ft)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

EPA estimated mileage: 23/31

Overall length: 183.5 inches

Curb weight: 3,374 pounds

Final assembly: Hofu, Japan

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