Your choice of sedan or hatchback. Not every manufacturer offers both sedan and hatchbacks in the compact segment, if they’re participating at all. The 2021 Mazda Mazda3 comes in both configurations. The Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and the Kia Forte are among those that do likewise.

Of the two Mazda choices, the sedan is the more stylish. We admire its smart and clean proportions, but take issue with the bulky rear pillars on the hatchback as it blocks rearward vision. This is one of the few times that we don’t recommend the hatchback ahead of a sedan when both are offered.

The Mazda design, though, is anything but pedestrian. The front end is dominated by a gaping grille that tilts ever so forward. It’s surrounded by narrow headlights that give a far more upscale look than you’d expect here. Mazda makes do with beautiful and tasteful contours to shape the body. That’s in stark contrast to the sharp cutlines some competitors have.

Optional all-wheel drive and transmission choices. Soon after bringing an all-wheel-drive option to the midsize Mazda Mazda6, the Mazda3 gains that choice too. It adds $1,400 to the price of most models, but it is standard with the Mazda3 Turbo. Few models in this segment offer an AWD option except on top-end, performance trims. The Subaru Impreza is one exception where AWD is standard.

You can also find a manual transmission, although this six-speed gearbox is available only on the Premium trim. Otherwise, the Mazda3 works with a six-speed automatic. That’s about two fewer cogs than what’s common today.

Mazda Mazda3

Three engine options. If you shop the sedan, you’ll find three engine choices. There are two with the hatchback. The standard engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. It offers average power, although you may find yourself pining for more.

A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making an even 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque hits the sweet spot for the Mazda3. It’s a peppy engine with ample power just a full throttle away.

The best choice is the most powerful of the lot. This one is a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque when filled with premium fuel. Although the Mazda3 Turbo supplies a kick similar to the long-retired Mazdaspeed3, it offers a more refined drive than its predecessor. Still, its performance edge is something to consider.

Stellar safety scores. The Mazda3 garnered the top safety scores from both the IIHS and NHTSA. This fact alone makes the Mazda3 easy for us to recommend from a safety standpoint.

Mazda doesn’t stop there with its list of standard safety features. All trims come with automatic high beams, lane keeping assist, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and adaptive cruise control.

Other available features include adaptive headlights, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, traffic-sign recognition, and a traffic jam assist system.

Final thoughts. The 2021 Mazda3 is a stylish and fun to drive compact sedan or hatchback. It takes things to another level with its available all-wheel drive, manual transmission, and three different engines.

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