2021 Best Compact Car: Mazda3 / Mazda3 Sport

It’s no secret that the Mazda3 is an impressive vehicle. The stylish sedan and hatchback have been voted by our panel of more than 20 automotive experts from all over the country as the Best Compact Car in the 2021 Awards, meaning it has won this category two years in a row.

In the estimation of’s expert jury, nothing has come along in the past 12 months that can top it. The Mazda3 rises to the top of its segment once again, an impressive feat considering how competitive this segment has gotten. Our jury considered every single vehicle available in this segment and once again voted the Mazda3 as a best buy for Canadians.

And what makes this car exceptional enough to win this award for two years in a row? Essentially, it’s a near-luxury car at a non-luxury price, up to and including the available all-wheel drive that’s a rare find in this segment.

Our expert reviewer Peter Bleakney says that the Mazda3 “might not look that much different from other compact sedans, but spend some time with this offering from Japan’s fiercely independent automaker and you’ll be wondering if it has been beamed in from an alternate reality.”

The Mazda3 is offered from a starting price of $20,500 for the entry-level sedan iteration and peaks at $37,100 for a hatchback finished in the limited-run 100th Anniversary trim that’s available in both body styles. There’s also plenty of powertrains to choose from, including the entry-level 155-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder, a 2.5-litre four-cylinder making 186 hp, and new for this year, an available turbocharged 2.5-litre that makes up to 250 hp when filled with premium fuel. (Just don’t call it a Mazdaspeed, we’re told.)

Its visual appeal is also a strong suit, from the sweeping curve on the doors that intentionally reflect light just so, to the layers of colour, subtle air vents, and deliberately calming symmetry of the interior.

While some of its competitors offer more safety features from base, the Mazda3 comes with some key standard technologies such as blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and it’s also rated a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The usability of the infotainment system is a key selling point. Mazda’s engineers put painstaking attention into ensuring that the system can be seamlessly controlled through a dial and button combination mounted on the centre console and that the screen is positioned as far as possible from the driver to reduce its focal difference relative to the road. This means that the system can be operated with minimal disruption to the driver’s attention. And in recent years, Mazda has begun adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to its vehicle lineup as standard equipment.

But for this writer, it’s the available Bose premium sound system that’s among this car’s key highlights. Careful speaker positioning to avoid rattles in places such as door panels results in a system that’s so exceptional, that it has no business whatsoever being available on a car priced under $40,000. Bleakney, a professional musician and our resident audiophile, agrees and calls it a “real treat for the ears” that’s only made more enjoyable by the Mazda3’s notably quiet cabin.

To be fair, the Mazda3 isn’t noted for its fuel economy: consumption varies with equipment, but the lowest combined average is 7.6 L/100 km from the 2.0-litre engine in the sedan, and the highest is 8.9 when the turbo engine is fitted in the hatch, which is higher than normal for this segment.

However, our judging panel is packed with driving enthusiasts who are quite happy to focus less on fuel use when a car prioritizes performance, and that’s where the Mazda3 excels. In his review, Bleakney notes that Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control (GVC) system plays a factor in the car’s excellent handling. “When entering a corner, engine torque is reduced, resulting in slight deceleration which shifts weight to the front tires, enhancing turn-in response,” he wrote. “It basically mimics what a good driver would do, but with more precision. GVC is completely transparent, so you are never aware of it. The clever i-Activ all-wheel-drive system plays along here too, sending more torque to the rear wheels when powering out of a corner.”

To reclaim its position atop this category, the Mazda3 had to best a stout set of finalists, not a single one of which is any sort of slouch: in the eyes of our panel, it comes out ahead of the Honda Civic family, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla sedan and hatchback, and the Volkswagen Golf. But for the many reasons outlined above, our experts have spoken: the Mazda3 continues to be the best choice available to Canadian compact car buyers.