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Can Mazda be cross-shopped vs Audi?

It's the first time we've heard Mazda openly admit to going after established luxury brands, so we're taking the claim seriously. To see how the 2021 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo sedan stacks up, we drove it alongside a 2021 Audi A4 45 TFSI. This admittedly is not the 3's closest upmarket analogue—that would be the smaller Audi A3, the Mercedes-Benz A220, or the BMW 228i Gran Coupe. But the Audi and the Benz weren't available, and the BMW isn't much of a benchmark. Besides, this isn't a traditional comparison test, and we won't be picking a winner. Instead, we're seeking to answer the question: How close is Mazda to being able to run in the same circles as true luxury brands?

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As it stands now, the Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo offers a hell of a lot of car for the money, while the Audi A4 offers an appropriate amount of car for the money. If Mazda can hone the details and successfully introduce the new platform and engines, it has a shot at achieving its goal. It definitely has a better chance than Amati had.




 

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For having "261hp", that Audi is quick.

As far as the Mazda being comparable, I guess it's depends on what you're looking for. You can tell that it's a (very nicely) dressed up inexpensive car. The inside of the Mazda looks better/classier though.
 

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Why didn't they compare to the A3? The A3 is way more similar than the A4.
The Mazda is much closer to the size of the A4, at least in interior volume and overall length. Maybe that's why? Price wise though, yeah, the A3 seems to make more sense.
 

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Cross-shopped? Ehh....

Extremely reasonable value alternative? Definitely!
This for sure. As-tested price is $20k cheaper than the A4. The 3 is a ton of car for a hell of a lot less scratch.

Why didn't they compare to the A3? The A3 is way more similar than the A4.
C&D said that an A3 was not available to compare against. I agree, it would have been a more apt size-comparison with the A3.

I took a hard look at a Mazda3 before settling on a Mk7.5 GTI (coming from a B8 A4). Mazda, IMO, is on par with VW/Audi in terms of quality. I just needed to get my speed fix. If a Mazdaspeed3 existed in this generation, it would absolutely be in my garage right now. With that said, I understand why Mazda is going in the direction it is.
 

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Looks like Mazda is poised for another year as the car/internet world's most overrated car brand. The cars are fine, have strengths and weaknesses, but I'm just not sure why so many people are invested in trying to paint Mazda as more than it is. I guess it's because Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti have suffered such a fall from grace, and people are clamoring for affordable and reliable "luxury" cars. Genesis is getting similar treatment lately, but they at least are making legit premium cars.
 

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Looks like Mazda is poised for another year as the car/internet world's most overrated car brand. The cars are fine, have strengths and weaknesses, but I'm just not sure why so many people are invested in trying to paint Mazda as more than it is. I guess it's because Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti have suffered such a fall from grace, and people are clamoring for affordable and reliable "luxury" cars. Genesis is getting similar treatment lately, but they at least are making legit premium cars.
Have you spent much time with them? They get you about 80% of the way to a luxury car for like 60% of the price. I get that not everybody wants that, but if you like the premium aspects and don't want to pay premium prices they're pretty well unmatched.

Put another way--current Mazda 3 is the closest car today to what a 2004 Jetta 1.8T was then, and this is a forum where we have to spend a lot of time pretending stating we're not VW enthusiasts. 😂
 

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I love the exterior styling of the new 3 hatch and interior as well. It's a great value. Now that it has a decent engine (turbo 2.5) I think it's a great car. If you can get over the badge, the Mazda 3 is a much better car objectively than some of its upscale competitors
 

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Have you spent much time with them? They get you about 80% of the way to a luxury car for like 60% of the price. I get that not everybody wants that, but if you like the premium aspects and don't want to pay premium prices they're pretty well unmatched.

Put another way--current Mazda 3 is the closest car today to what a 2004 Jetta 1.8T was then, and this is a forum where we have to spend a lot of time pretending stating we're not VW enthusiasts. 😂
Yup. Plenty of time. My mom has had two Mazda leases in a row, I've had a 3 and CX-5 as rental cars, and have test drove a few Mazdas over the years, including the CX-5 2.5T when it came out. I think there are plenty of mainstream cars that get you about 80% of the way to a premium car for 60% of the price, which is why I think they're overrated. I also don't gush over thin paint, poorly packaged cramped interiors, dashes covered in padded leatherette, and mediocre infotainment systems. Their NVH has improved but is still noticeably inferior to something like an A4. I like how the Mazdas look on the outside though, which is very low on my car buying priority list, especially when the styling has negative impact on the packaging.

And of course the last 20% is the important part (y)
 

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I have loved Audi for a long time but would have to check out a new 3 turbo, and although it might not be the same quality (or whatever) I think I like the Mazda interior better.
 

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Yup. Plenty of time. My mom has had two Mazda leases in a row, I've had a 3 and CX-5 as rental cars, and have test drove a few Mazdas over the years, including the CX-5 2.5T when it came out. I think there are plenty of mainstream cars that get you about 80% of the way to a premium car for 60% of the price, which is why I think they're overrated. I also don't gush over thin paint, poorly packaged cramped interiors, dashes covered in padded leatherette, and mediocre infotainment systems. Their NVH has improved but is still noticeably inferior to something like an A4. I like how the Mazdas look on the outside though, which is very low on my car buying priority list, especially when the styling has negative impact on the packaging.

And of course the last 20% is the important part (y)
Fair enough. I've helped a few people decide on a Mazda and loved the results. Agree to disagree or whatever. 😂 (y)🍺
 

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Fair enough. I've helped a few people decide on a Mazda and loved the results. Agree to disagree or whatever. 😂 (y)🍺
I'm not disagreeing in saying that they are bad cars at all, but are you contending that they're aren't tons of mainsteam cars that do a decent impression of a premium brand car for much less money? That's 100% where my "overrated" claim comes from....I see why people like the cars.

It seems like because they don't have a related premium brand, everyone is obsessed over the "punching above their weight" thing that admittedly the car world loves to be obessed with, regardless of the flavor of the month.
 

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I'm not disagreeing in saying that they are bad cars at all, but are you contending that they're aren't tons of mainsteam cars that do a decent impression of a premium brand car for much less money? That's 100% where my "overrated" claim comes from....I see why people like the cars.

It seems like because they don't have a related premium brand, everyone is obsessed over the "punching above their weight" thing that admittedly the car world loves to be obessed with, regardless of the flavor of the month.

I think you're undervaluing the effort Mazda has been making in terms of making their design be more premium. You don't see Honda, Toyota, and H/K doing that for instance. Yes, they can all dress up the materials on the interior, but between the exterior proportions of the Mazda (something C&D mentions, but often does unsaid, especially the extended hood and increased dash to axle ratio), and its interior surfacing, enables the Mazda to be more comparable to a premium brand versus say what you'd get in a top line Sonata. The latter has a premium feeling interior on top trims, with a leather covered dash, quilted seats, etc, but the proportions of the car aren't premium. There is a lot of cost to achieve that, and that's where Mazda has been spending its limited $$$.

Mazda is in a transitional stage. In their next generation we'll see them become more premium until they reach a more level status with the lower to mid level Audis/MBZ/BMWs.

It's ok to not like them. They aren't yet level to a true premium brand. But also their effort isn't just via adding some fancy materials to the interior and more premium paint on the exterior. It's more than skin deep.

Also, that A4 is f-ing quick.
 

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For having "261hp", that Audi is quick.
Also, that A4 is f-ing quick.
I'm continually impressed with how quick my A4 Quattro is. I think C&D tested my particular model 0-60 at 5.2, but it looks like the newer build B9s are tweaked even more.
 

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Eh, not really. I think you're undervaluing the effort Mazda has been making in terms of making their design be more premium.
Eh, not really. I already said that is my favorite part, but when it comes down to it, I'm a "forms follows function" guy, so if your premium-ish design results in worst-in-class interior packaging, you lose for me. I spend much more time inside my cars using them than I do standing outside looking at the prestige gap. Just like with the new TLX's 5er dimensions with 3er interior space, I don't gush over the styling when it has a significant cost.
 

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I'm not disagreeing in saying that they are bad cars at all, but are you contending that they're aren't tons of mainsteam cars that do a decent impression of a premium brand car for much less money? That's 100% where my "overrated" claim comes from....I see why people like the cars.
Sort of. It depends on what you mean by 80%. 2 years ago we adopted a stray kitten, to our surprise he grew up into a Bengal cat. I understand he's likely a few percent wild animal. Thing is, 98% of the time he's a docile house cat. But also, just last night he broke into a closet, dragged a 20lb bag of food 20' across the kitchen, and ripped it completely open. It'd be great if he were 2% wild. But no, he's 100% wild 2% of the time.

I think it's fair to say other cars may add up to 80% most of the time, but every now and then you'll see the roots. The Mazda 3 is 80% from the ground up. Nothing really draws me back to Earth in it. Just hitting the home button in a Malibu can do that.

I'm a "forms follows function" guy, so if your premium-ish design results in worst-in-class interior packaging, you lose for me.
Well, luxury is a moving target. If luxury to you is pragmatism entirely reasonable to disagree here.

edit: I should say we do love the cat tremendously. I just...didn't know there were cats that could jump 6'+ up the wall. 😂
 
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