ESTEREL, Quebec – The stakes are high in the car business. One false move can be catastrophic, especially when changes to critically important nameplates are concerned. Imagine Ford screwing up the F-150 or Toyota messing about with the Camry—such moves would imply immediate doom.
Mazda’s entire product lineup is fresh, but no vehicle amongst its ranks is more important than the 3 as it still represents 50% of Mazda Canada’s total sales. This compact car is the brand’s bread and butter machine as well as its calling card. From the moment it arrived way back in 2003, as the replacement for the equally appreciated Protegé, the Mazda3 began collecting awards. The reasons are far simpler than you imagine: look at the car, drive the car, and you will understand. Despite that, a number of its competitors continue to outsell it, and by quite a margin.
The current Mazda3 was far from broken, as proven by its actual sales success. What Mazda has done for 2017 is augment the car’s Jinba Ittai or “horse and rider as one” factor. No other carmaker in this segment puts as much emphasis on the driving experience, but there is a reason for that: many consumers are not interested in driving, period. However, a certain percentage of the buying public is, and Mazda is speaking directly to them. With these upgrades, Mazda is aiming to please everyone.
SKYACTIV and G-Vectoring Control (GVC)
Mazda’s approach to the driving experience is not limited to any one product, like the MX-5, for example. In fact, you’ll not find an auto critic that will tell you that Mazdas are no good to drive.
The Mazda3 is in reality the second best of the lot, behind only the aforementioned roadster. The car’s chassis is solid and the suspension’s calibration is spot on, precisely tuned between sporty handling and comfort. For 2017, further adjustments have been made to improve what was already good.
GVC is part of Mazda’s SKYACTIV-VEHICLE DYNAMICS that raise the car’s appeal. Mazda wants to enable the driver to enjoy the thrill of driving, but without the inherent compromises that are usually included. The 2017 Mazda3’s changes are designed to refine and filter out the bad stuff and in the process, some body roll has made a mild comeback. In a nutshell, G-VECTORING (eight years in the making, according to the manufacturer) is the manipulation of a number of elements including engine torque, steering response and precision (tighter on-centre) and suspension calibration and management.
On the road
The upgrades were immediately noticeable within the first five minutes of the drive. The suspension has new dampers to limit jolts and vibrations, and it’s apparent. GVC removes, masks if you will, all road irregularities, so much so that taking both hands off the wheel on a poorly paved road at 100 km/h resulted in nothing more than a warning from the car asking the driver to return his hands where they belong. Not once did the wheel shutter.
Throughout the day, my driving partner and I equated the ride comfort and relative silence to what was once the norm in a C-Class Mercedes not five years ago. But even with this level of poshness, the 2017 Mazda3 still carved the roads like we expected it. Steering is quick, and heavy with only a hint of feedback. On a few instances, I entered some corners a little too hot, but the car shrugged it off. This might explain a mildly spongy brake pedal…
What’s great about the 3 is how easily it gobbles up kilometre after kilometre of road.
Under the bonnet
Powertrains have not been touched. The 2.0L and 2.5L four-cylinder engines are still at work, but at this event, only the larger mill was available. Its 184 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque are plenty sufficient for the segment, and as far as I’m concerned, are better exploited with the slick-shifting, six-speed manual gearbox.
As the six-speed automatic accounts for roughly 75% of all Mazda3 sales, I was happy to be reminded how good it is. For our day of driving through seriously twisty roads, I switched on the Sport mode (now available with the 2.0L) and used the automatic gearbox’s manual mode. Upshifts and downshifts are quick and take very little, if anything, away from the driving experience.
The 2.5L is very flexible despite its torque coming in at 3250 rpm, but both transmissions are superbly suited to it.
The physical aspects
A true Mazdaphile will be required to point out all the changes that were made to the 2017 Mazda3 over the outgoing 2016 edition. The thing is that the current-generation 3 is undoubtedly handsome and it still looks just as great three years later. In a side-by-side comparison, the ‘17’s front fascia is bolder, and deeper. In other words, it’s a little more macho. The new LED headlight outline plays a big role here. At the rear, the Mazda3 Sport’s bumper has a more horizontal design with more body-coloured plastic, which makes the car appear wider.
Most of the updates have taken place within the confines of the outer shell. The revised steering wheel (heated from GS on) takes centre stage while the tachometer provides a crisper font and the head-up display has nicer graphics. The handbrake is now gone, replaced in its stead by an electronic parking brake fitted to a new and very sleek centre console located between the attractive and heavily bolstered leather seats.
On the safety front, features once reserved for the top GT now find their way into lower trims such as smart city brake support and blind spot detection. The GT does garner pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition and more.
The GT’s cabin has now reached near luxury-car levels of attention to detail, and fit and finish. This ties into Mazda’s efforts to limit NVH with extra insulation, not to mention a suspension with supplemental damping materials.
A premium 3
Overall, the look and feel is of the new 2017 Mazda3 is far more upscale. These days, perceived luxury/premium anything is a must, and a near guarantee of success.
As is, the 3 reaches over and above its weight class where refinement and comfort are concerned. Sportiness remains a top priority, but there are no comfort/well-being compromises. The best way to explain G-VECTORING goes something like this: it’s like reverse tuning by making everything smoother in order to make driving faster easier, and less intense or stressful. And it works wonderfully.
Pricing wise, a 2017 GX sedan starts at $15,900. The five-door Sport adds $1,000, and the six-speed auto, $1,300. Know that the 2017 models are $350-450 more for the GX and GS trims, but the big news is that the GT’s base price is $1,350 less than the 2016.