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Americans have fallen out of love with cars.  We still adore trucks and continue to crush on crossovers, but the American cars sold here are – for the most part – performance cars.  Ford only markets the Mustang, Chevy only offers the Malibu and the Camaro, and Dodge has its Charger and Challenger.  The American family sedan and grandpa’s land yacht are things of the past.  So, if looking for a car, Asian and European automotive manufacturers are essentially your only option.  

Last week, I test drove a 2021 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD Turbo, which brought along a $35,415 MSRP window sticker, about $13,000 over a base model.  The car I drove had the Premium trim, and was powered by a 227 hp Skyactiv-G 2.5 Turbo four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.  Lower trims have a naturally-aspirated 2.5 liter engine rated at 186 hp.  Fuel economy ratings for the 2.5 liter turbo are 23 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.  

The Mazda brand continues to impress as it steadily moves all its models into a near-luxury category.  Although the Mazda3 is the least expensive vehicle in a Mazda dealer’s showroom, it’s still a very nice compact sedan or, as tested here, hatchback.  This 4th-generation Mazda3 has come a long way since the model was first introduced almost twenty years ago.  

The exterior still sports a massive grill, perhaps the car’s most distinctive feature.  If you liked the exterior of the previous Mazda3, you’ll like the 4th, since there wasn’t a highly recognizable design shift.  And that carries over to the interior as well.  This observation is by no means a negative one, since the hatchback still feels very contemporary. 

The turbocharged Skyactiv four-cylinder is peppy, although much more fun when you toggle it over into Sport mode.  Once in Sport, the transmission will hold the gear longer when accelerating and the car will automatically downshift under braking.  Mazda engineers have also retuned the engine and added stiffer springs and damping. It’s hardly a true sports car, but it can be morphed into a fun drive.

The area where the new Mazda3 really shines is the amount of driver safety technology  built into this car.  These are the features that new car buyers demand, and Mazda i-Activsense safety tech package adds more in the latest generation.  One feature is Smart City Brake Support Reverse with Rear Cross-Traffic Braking that automatically applies the brakes when the vehicle is reversing at speeds between 2 to 4 mph if an obstacle exists or when backing out of a parking space a crossing vehicle is detected.

With gas prices on the rise, it seems only logical that new-vehicle buyers will reconsider their choices once they get into a dealership.  That new truck or SUV may not be as attractive once a buyer factors in future fuel costs.  But we’ll have to see how much gas inflation drives buyers to cars like the 2021 Mazda3. One thing I do know: If pulling the trigger on this one, you won’t be disappointed.

Steve is a veteran automotive journalist and former head of Ford Public Relations in its South Central region. He’s a native New Yorker who fell in love with a Texan (and Texas) over 20 years ago. Steve’s been living here happily ever since. His current automotive ‘want’ is an early 3-Series convertible, while his daily driver is a 2006 Toyota Tacoma.

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