A special 100th Anniversary Edition of a world-class small sedan.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Pricing: 2021 Mazda3
Base price (100th Anniversary Edition trim): $36,100
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $37,950
Mazda has put out 100th anniversary edition trims in many of its vehicle lines – each celebrates the anniversary by taking the top trim of a model and spicing it up a bit more to set it apart on the road.
I’m generally not a huge fan of sedans because hatchbacks and wagons make more sense to me. But this is one of the best looking sedans on the market.
The sleek maturity and upscale details you’ll find in this small sedan make it feel special. It combines a perfect balance of minimalism, beauty and athleticism and it’s a joy to look at from any angle.
The trademark colour for the anniversary editions is this delightfully crisp Snowflake White Pearl paint. Other than that, the anniversary edition is denoted with unobtrusive cowl badges and body-coloured side mirrors.
LED lighting all the way around – headlights, daytime running lights and tail lights. Turbo models get a turbo badge on the trunk lid and bigger exhaust outlets.
Filling the wheel wells are handsome 18-inch rims shod with chunky 215/45-sized tires – look closely and you’ll note the centre caps are 100th anniversary badges.
The first thing you notice when you open the doors is the stunning anniversary exclusive Garnet Red leather upholstery. It’s really beautiful, and the anniversary edition crest is embossed on the headrests. The driver’s seat is power-adjustable with memory – both heated front seats were highly comfortable while also being very well-bolstered for sportier driving. Once you’re done staring at the seats, you’ll notice the rich red carpeting throughout, including the special red floor mats with anniversary badging.
The rest of the cabin benefits from sleek, simple styling – the clean lines, outstanding choice of materials and colours and the top-notch fit and finish make it a very pleasant and refined place to be.
The heated and perfectly shaped and sized steering wheel sits in front of a set of hybrid gauges combining a 7-inch digital speedometer display that the driver can customize, surrounded by traditional analog gauges.
In the centre of the dash is an 8.8-inch screen that manages your phone, entertainment, navigation and once of the most deep-dive customizable lists of vehicle settings I’ve ever seen. The user interface is Mazda’s new one and it is a big improvement – it no longer forces you to find your way through a ton of nested options. It is still controlled with a rotary joystick knob that’s surrounded by hard buttons for the major functions of the system. The sound comes from an impressive 12-speaker BOSE system – Apple CarPlay and Android Auto play very nicely with this system. A knob on the console cleverly controls the volume, skipping tracks/stations and muting.
There’s a ton of driver assistance technology to be found in this car. It comes with adaptive headlights, an outstanding heads-up display, surround-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, front and rear smart brake support, lane departure warning and lane keep assist as well as front and rear parking sensors. It all works very well.
The two outboard rear seats are comfortable, if not a bit snug. At 5’10” and sitting behind my own driving position, I had about 1″ each of headroom and legroom to spare. So taller passengers won’t be happy back there. Neither will anyone sitting in the cramped middle position that is forced to straddle the huge floor tunnel.
Rear passengers don’t get much in the way of convenience – the middle seatback folds down to become an armrest with some cupholders but that’s it. No air vents, no charging plugs, nothing else.
If you’re transporting children, you’ll find two sets of ISOFIX child seat anchors in the back.
There is a nice big open rubberized bin at the base of the centre stack, along with a USB-A plug. Under the sliding armrest lid is a small carpeted bin complete with USB and 12V plugs. The left underside of the dash houses a small pop-out change bin.
Dropping stuff into the reasonably-sized 374L trunk is easy. There are release handles to drop the rear seats down, and you’ll find the opening from the trunk to the back seat area is quite large, allowing you to put sizeable things there if needed. Thank you, Mazda, for including an excellent handle to close the trunk with.
Under the Hood
The engine is a 2.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder that can put out up to 250 HP and 320 lb.ft of torque. It achieves those numbers using 93 octane fuel. Fill it with regular 87 octane and it still churns out 227 HP and 310 lb.ft of torque. Not bad!
Mazda is still using 6-speed automatic transmissions, which is a rarity these days, and this trim has Mazda’s i-Activ all-wheel drive system. The combination is rated at 10.1/7.5 L/100km (city/highway) however we averaged a somewhat sobering 12.5 L/100 km – likely the result of spending most of my time doing slower urban commuting and also the occasional heavy foot.
I’ve said it before about this turbo engine, and I’ll say it again. It simply does not pack the wallop you expect from those numbers. Seeing a compact sedan that boasts over 300 lb.ft of torque makes you think Hammer-of-God acceleration. But as with every other time I’ve reviewed this engine, that’s not the case.
When you drop the hammer off the line there is definitely some noticeable lag and it takes a second to start building momentum. Then it accelerates smoothly and ferociously. Is it slow? Absolutely not! Is it as fast as those horsepower and torque numbers would suggest? No, it’s not.
Where it feels perfect is in the midrange – merging and freeway or highway passing in this car are an absolute dream. Don’t get me wrong – the car is eminently drivable at all speeds.
The transmission is smooth and fast enough, although I think the acceleration and overall responsiveness would benefit from a couple of extra gears, and obviously so would the fuel efficiency. Gears can be shifted manually using paddle shifters and the driver can also select a Sport mode which hangs on to gears longer before shifting up.
As usual with a Mazda, the 3 rides well – it’s firm and sporty yet very comfortable – while sporting outstanding handling. Turn-in is sharp, the car stays remarkably flat around corners and it is genuinely fun to drive.
I managed to give this all-wheel drive system a good test as we had some freak spring snow storms while I was driving the 3. Paired with winter tires, the traction and handling on slippery surfaces was fantastic and confidence-inspiring. The brakes are powerful and excellent.
Sound levels are well managed – the amount of road and wind noise are minimal, and the only engine sound is when you step on it – and that’s a good thing. Visibility out of the 3 sedan is decent, if not great. Shoulder checking is restricted due to the pillars behind you, and the rear view is limited by height.
100th Anniversary Edition buyers get special key fobs embossed with the 100th Anniversary logo – they even come in a special presentation box.
In addition to the fob and all the other aforementioned aesthetic touches you get with the 100th Anniversary Edition trim, each customer will also get a super cool 1:43 scale model of the R360, Mazda’s first passenger car as well as a 165-page book on Mazda’s heritage. Nifty little add-ons!
I know I said the driver assistance technology in the car worked very well, and 99.9% of the time it did. I do feel I should mention the one time it threw me for a loop. The car obviously felt I was coming up behind a car too closely at a red light and it slammed on the brakes. I was at least half a car length away and travelling perhaps 5 km/h at that point, with my foot on the brake and slowing down. In other words, nothing unusual nor aggressive.
I needed to go home to get some clean shorts after that episode. I didn’t change my driving behavior and it never did that again, so I’m not sure what caused that hiccup. It’s not a big deal, but it sure scared us.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was quite high – she said it felt and drove like a much more expensive car.
Well, if it isn’t obvious yet, I really like this car. I love it actually.
It has the whole package. Stylish design inside and out, luxurious materials and touches for this class, a full raft of current technology, comfort and incredibly refined and dynamic performance.
The market for sedans continues to shrink, but if you’re looking for a compact one, the Mazda3 needs to be on your list.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Mazda Canada.
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