LOS ANGELES — Ever since the turbocharged Mazda3 was discontinued after the 2013 model year, auto enthusiasts have been pining for a reprise of the hot hatch that was sold under the Mazdaspeed performance moniker.
And just in time for Christmas, the automaker will deliver something closer to it — the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo — as its top trim for the 2021 model year. But it's not really a spiritual heir to the Mazdaspeed3 because Mazda is a different car company now and racer hatchbacks no longer fit with its premium intentions.
The new turbocharged Mazda compact, available in sedan and hatchback, is refined and sporty, with all-wheel-drive and 250 hp from a 2.5-liter engine mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission.
"This is not a hot hatch," said Jay Chen, manager of powertrain performance at Mazda North American Operations. "We didn't build this car because we were trying to relive the days of our Mazdaspeed youth. Really, we saw this as a business opportunity and a way to grow our products and our brand to satisfy more mature drivers," he said in a media presentation.
The Mazdaspeed3 came in front-wheel drive and its 263 hp ran through a manual transmission. The resulting torque steer — from the motor tugging at the steering wheel — was not befitting an upmarket car. The new Mazda3 Turbo can't be configured with fwd and doesn't come in a manual.
With this latest edition, Mazda is trying to woo buyers of premium sedans from Audi, Mercedes and other luxury brands that offer entry-level vehicles starting around $35,000. For example, a fully loaded Mazda3 Turbo in optional Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint goes for $35,290 with shipping. That's similar to the base price of German and Japanese luxury rivals. The Mazda3, redesigned for the 2019 model year, has an upscale interior available in red leather and an exterior designed to look more expensive than its starting price.
"For 2021, the focus is to enhance Mazda3's value and inspire confidence by offering a more premium experience," said Kingsley Iduma, manager of vehicle planning and strategy. "Versus the premium car competitors, the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo delivers greater power at a competitive starting price."