The Mazda3 isn’t good, it’s great! Since it was first introduced 10 years ago, the Mazda3 has been like a magnet to Quebec drivers. The question is, why hasn’t it been as popular throughout the rest of Canada or the U.S.? Maybe it’s our Latin blood, but here in Quebec we’re hot under the collar of this dynamic little car. Whatever the case may be, every new generation of the Mazda3 is carefully examined under the microscope. And the verdict for the third gen?
While some manufacturers prefer to put all their eggs in one basket with a single configuration, Mazda wants to cover all its bases and make sure it offers something for everyone. Thus, the Mazda3 is once again available as a sedan or as a five-door hatchback. So, that would be your first choice: a classic sedan style or a sportier five-door family wagon. The former is a little more affordable, while the latter is more practical thanks to its liftgate. We tested the Sport version because it seemed like the more attractive of the two options.
Oh, so pretty!
It’s hard not to swoon when you look at the new Mazda3. Not that the previous generation wasn’t pretty, but it was a bit cartoonish, particularly the front end with its huge grin. This time, the Mazda3 is more sophisticated and mature. The Sport version is well executed thanks to the fact that its interior cabin has been set back a notch and the roof line plunges toward the back. This cuts into visibility somewhat, but from a style perspective, it’s worth it. Overall, this car looks a lot more like a luxury vehicle than an affordable one.
For those of you who like comparisons, the new Mazda3 is a touch longer, lower and wider than the previous generation. The wheelbase is also bigger, so all four wheels have been nudged out toward the vehicle’s corners. It goes without saying that the changes are not just esthetic, the vehicle’s handling has been enhanced too.
More efficient SKYACTIV engines
All the same trims are available for 2014, from the basic GX to the GS and GT. All come with a good equipment level. We thought we were test driving the most expensive trim because of the rear back-up camera, but in fact we were just driving the middle trim. The price-to-equipment ratio is excellent.
You will note that the "Sky" name has been dropped from some of the versions because, as of this year, all Mazda3s come with the SKYACTIV-G engine. The new generation is now fully compatible with all aspects of this technology, including the extra space under the hood for the 4-2-1 exhaust.
One of the only things we can criticize about this car is the fact that for each version, the mechanical components are chosen for you. As such, there are few options. The Mazda3 GX and GS come with a direct-injection 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 155 horsepower and 150 lbs.-ft. of torque. It is paired with an outstanding six-speed manual gearbox or an optional six-speed automatic.
The pricier GT comes with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder SKYACTIV engine that delivers 184 horsepower and 185 lbs.-ft. of torque. No manual transmission is available for this trim, as the six-speed automatic comes factory standard.
Inside the vehicle, they’ve done terrific work. The dashboard has been fully revamped. The instrumentation cluster now features a large round dial in its centre that indicates most of the relevant information. The rest of the dashboard is very serious, with information displayed on a screen that rests atop the middle of the dash instead of being integrated into it. It is reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz B-Class and the CLA, especially since information is controlled using a few buttons and a rotating dial located between the two seats. Overall, it’s good, but not as good as a touch screen.
On the road
The Mazda3’s core characteristics remain unchanged: it’s a dynamic car that is surprisingly fun to drive. Everything is calibrated perfectly to enhance the driver experience, the steering, the clutch and the manual gearbox. Mazda is the master at balancing these aspects and that’s exactly why this car is so popular.
The GS we drove came with the least powerful engine, the one that most buyers will end up choosing. And the thing is, no extra ponies are needed. The 2.0-litre engine’s 155 horses are more than up for the job under most circumstances, and they surpass the Honda Civic’s 140 horses and the Hyundai Elantra’s 148.
Thanks to its SKYACTIV technology, Mazda has dealt with the fuel consumption issue that people complained about in the past. Fuel economy is much better now and the 3 is now one of the most frugal cars in its category. How’s that for a change!
Once again, the Mazda3 offers style and handling that will make you forget you’re driving an affordable car. The only thing that’s missing now is a version with all-wheel drive!