Sometimes an automobile can be just right – on paper. It can look half-decent, perform well, offer a reasonable level of comfort and hold its own through the corners.
But when you slide behind the wheel, it just doesn’t come together and driving it is almost a chore.
Take the 2021 Mazda3 Turbo. Please.
This should be an enjoyable automobile, with high driveability, and comfort and convenience on a par with anything in its category. But it’s not and I couldn’t return it to Mazda fast enough.
Not because it didn’t run well or do its job, but because Mazda has built in so many nanny features that it renders the car almost undriveable – or, at the very least, a pain in the butt. This is a good car gone bad.
Power for the Mazda3 Turbo is provided by a turbocharged SkyActiv 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that, depending on the fuel octane, puts out between 227 and 250 horsepower. Transmission is a six-speed automatic only, with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. A traction control system and vehicle stability control are standard. The traction control can be disabled.
Aside from a bit of a whirring noise under hard acceleration, I had zero issues with this drivetrain. As is usually the case with Mazda, it’s efficient, versatile, well-behaved and reasonably thrifty.
Pity the same can’t be said about some of the car’s other convenience and safety features. Specifically:
Audio system controls: This is the worst setup in the industry. When I first got the car, it took me 10 minutes just to find AM radio. And even simple things like changing bands, adjusting the tuning, finding the right balance and so on are multi-step and counterintuitive. I suppose one would adjust to this eventually but even so, it takes your attention away from the task at hand: driving the car.
Emergency brake: This is activated automatically when you park the car, whether you like it or not. Going into reverse, it automatically releases, but put the car into drive and it doesn’t move – you have to disengage it manually. Again, it’s not a big deal, but it happens over and over and it always caught me by surprise. I don’t need a car to tell me when to use the emergency brake, thank you very much.
Information display: This is another disaster. Every time you start the car, a little message pops up on the screen informing you that distracted driving can lead to an accident. That’s pretty ironic considering this car excels at distracting the driver. This in itself isn’t a huge problem, but sometimes the screen stays blank and you have nothing. The car is running and you’re ready to roll, but there’s no monitor. This means shutting the car off and restarting everything, which is a pain.
Lane-keeping, perimeter alarm, etc.: These items are commonplace in the industry but with the Mazda3 Turbo, they must be disabled each time you drive the car. The car will gently redirect itself if you stray over the white line, which is probably a good thing if you’re an incompetent driver. I’m not and I don’t need an automobile to remind me how to drive. I would also argue that these kinds of features make for lazy drivers who start to take things for granted.
Push-button start: This is completely unnecessary and, sometimes, unco-operative. Now and again, the car simply doesn’t start when you push the button and you have to do it again. It’s not a big deal but indicative of the vehicle’s inherent unco-operative nature. The old-fashioned key in the ignition works just fine, thank you.
Price: Before extras, the car I drove, with special anniversary “snowflake white pearl” paint, is just a trifle under $40,000. That’s too much by half.
Mazda has overcooked this one. Instead of just leaving a good vehicle alone, they’ve decided to make things ‘better’ by adding a load of unnecessary and annoying junk.
Make all this stuff optional – those who want it can have it. Those of us who just want a usable, fun-to-drive car, can forget about it.
2021 Mazda3 Turbo
Engine: turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Horsepower: 227 to 250 at 5,000 rpm
Torque: 310 to 320 foot pounds at 2,500 rpm
Price as tested: $37,850
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.1 city and 7.5 highway with regular or premium gas
Some alternatives: Hyundai Veloster, Toyota Corolla Hatchback, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen GTI, Mini Cooper, Hyundai GT, Kia Forte 5.
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).