Fresh off of a redesign for the current model year the 2014 Mazda Mazda3 Sport has become the darling of the automotive press, and it's easy to see why. Once again Mazda has seemingly created the blueprint for compact hatchback success in the Canadian market: expressive styling, thrifty fuel consumption, and an engaging driving experience that suggests an MSRP loftier than the one displayed on the Mazda3's window sticker.
When fighting for top spot in a segment as competitive as the entry-level small car space, it's all about the details. The new Mazda Mazda3 Sport emerges as one of the most carefully-considered automobiles at its price point, and one that offers an all-around performance that makes it a 'must drive' for anyone seeking a compact commuter.
Kodo Comes Calling
Like most car companies, Mazda names each of its design languages. The 2014 Mazda Mazda3 swaps the upward-curved grille of the previous model for the sleeker lines and flared surfaces the brand calls 'Kodo.' It's quite pleasing to the eye, and it manages to look respectably attractive without calling too much attention to itself. It's an ideal combination that I would label 'formality of spirit.'
The Mazda3's passenger compartment is similarly-themed, making excellent use of trim and shape to keep things interesting on the dash, the door panels, and the center console. The level of ornamentation on my test vehicle was not out of line with that of a more premium model from Lexus or Acura, accented further by the large LCD touchscreen that stood at attention at the top of the center stack. I liked that I could navigate the on-screen menus using either my fingers or a rotary dial on the console, but wasn't happy that the Mazda3 made use of a tiny, black-and-white LCD sweep to the left of the analog speedometer instead of installing a proper tachometer.
Enough Room For Everyone
There's plenty of passenger space inside the 2014 Mazda Mazda3 despite its compact size, with even those riding behind the driver enjoying respectable amounts of legroom. Credit goes to the car's stretched platform, which offers a wheelbase that's almost four centimetres longer than that of the model it replaces. Cargo space is equally generous, with 1344 litres of total room available under the hatch with the back seats folded forward (something you can do without having to take out the headrests, too). My tester came with an integrated storage organizer that took up a lot of trunk space - I'd recommend against this accessory.
Better, More Frugal Engines
Mazda's Skyactiv drivetrain technology is out in full force with the 2014 Mazda Mazda3 Sport. The base motor is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder unit that develops 155 horses and 150 lb-ft of torque. This is the engine that was outfitted to the vehicle I drove, where it was paired with a six-speed manual transmission (a six-speed automatic is also available). Mazda's reworked the 2.0-litre to provide a better torque delivery than it did last year, and it's worth noting that the Skyactiv mill now replaces 2013's entry-level four-cylinder of similar displacement. The motor revs willingly, remains smooth at all speeds, and is well-matched with the six-speed's individual cogs.
The base Mazda3 Sport might not be especially quick, but it's certainly got enough guts to handle daily driving chores. If you're looking for more speed then you can always opt for the car's 2.5-liter, 184 horsepower four-cylinder, which also benefits from Skyactiv but loses the manual transmission option. Fuel mileage for either option is quite impressive, with the smaller motor only somewhat more frugal with a rating of 4.9 l/100 km on the highway.
Premium Handling For The Price
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the 2014 Mazda Mazda3 Sport, aside from its fuel-sipping habits, is its ability to make you feel like you're driving a much more expensive car. Although there's an expected amount of road noise inside the hatchback, there's also the rare sensation of being connected to the road through the car's steering and suspension that not many of its compact rivals are able to provide. The Mazda3 keeps every commute interesting, and it even suggests that maybe, if you took the long and twisty road home from work one or two nights a week, you wouldn't regret it.
One For Every Budget
The 2014 Mazda Mazda3 Sport is a strong contender for your entry-level hatchback dollars, and one that walks the line between content and price by offering a wide range of available features and trim levels. If you want to pay more for features like the i-Eloop regenerative braking system (for additional fuel efficiency), blind spot and lane departure warning systems, adaptive cruise control, and leather seats, you can certainly do so, but the less well-equipped versions of the car still come off as substantial. This isn't the case with all small cars, as some models need those extra checkboxes filled out at ordering time to keep up with their compact brethren. By adopting a holistic approach - one that takes into consideration not just the bells and whistles, but the very essence of the hatchback's platform - Mazda has managed to keep the Mazda3 competitive regardless of price.