2017 Mazda3 Sport: Vying for Your Attention

Strong points
  • Excellent infotainment system
  • Well-designed, comfortable interior
  • Competitively priced
Weak points
  • Slightly noisy at high RPMs
  • Manual transmission could be slicker
  • Steering wheel leather could use upgrade
Full report

With the current-generation Mazda3 being on the market since the 2014 model year, it was time for a slight refresh to keep things relevant to today’s buyers. Slight might even be an understatement as there have only been a few small changes to speak of.

Up front, we find a new front grille where the license plate holder and Mazda logo have been lowered ever so slightly. The adoption of LED headlamps to replace HID headlights on higher-end versions rounds out the modifications up front. A slight reshape to the rear bumper on the hatchback (aka Sport) as well as a new 18” wheel design complete the aesthetic updates. Three new colours are available: Machine Grey Metallic, Eternal Blue Mica, and Sonic Silver Metallic.

In terms of the overall look of the Mazda3, it’s arguably on the conservative side compared to the car’s immediate competitor, the Honda Civic, though it still remains quite attractive and has aged well. We expect a new design to hit the market in 2019 along with new high-compression SKYACTIV-X engines.

Photo: Danny Geraghty

The interior has received several refinements including a new steering wheel, new door panels and a new floor centre stack to accommodate the electronic parking brake. The move to an electronic unit frees up the considerable space used by a standard handbrake and it’s something most manufacturers are doing, so you probably should get used to it.

The test vehicle was the fully-loaded Mazda3 Sport GT with the Premium package including leather seats, a premium Bose audio system, navigation, head-up display, a slew of safety features and a blacked-out front grille. The perforated leather seating is extremely comfortable and the seats provide above-average comfort and refinement. It would be nice if the perforated leather made its way to the steering wheel because the feel is rather ordinary. The new button layout on the steering wheel is a slight improvement over the previous model.

Where Mazda really shines is with its infotainment system. The elephant in the room is the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto—large factors with today’s younger buyers, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that it doesn’t matter (yet). The design and intuitive nature of the Mazda Connect system is among the best in the industry (if not THE best) and is enough to make you forget the fact that the brand is one of the last remaining ones that doesn’t offer Apple or Android support in its vehicles. It does intend to offer them eventually, but no date has been announced as of this writing. When they do come, they should be backwards compatible to most Mazda Connect systems so you’ll be ok if you purchased a vehicle from about 2014 or later.

Photo: Danny Geraghty

What Mazda has figured out and that other manufacturers haven’t (except BMW) is how amazingly easy it is to operate the infotainment menus by way of a dial on the ground centre stack (next to the parking brake). Mazda goes one step further by placing the volume control there as well, with a nifty push-mute function that I wish all other brands would incorporate. These two simple knobs are my favourite features in any Mazda and something that is important enough to sway buyers away from the competition. At a time when Honda engineers have been widely panned for their ridiculously tiny (and dangerous because you have to take your eyes off the road to find them) touchscreen volume controls, Mazda couldn’t have done a better job.

New for 2017 is something Mazda calls G-Vectoring Control. According to Mazda’s press release, GVC adjusts engine torque in response to steering wheel action, delivering unified control over both of these forces and optimizing the vertical load on each wheel. Basically it improves the vehicle’s handling slightly, but in reality not enough to matter a great deal in daily driving.

You have the option of a 155-horsepower, 2.0-litre four or a 184-horsepower, 2.5-litre engine with your Mazda3. I had the latter with a manual transmission for this road test and found it peppy enough. The operation is by no means sporty with long shifter throws, a noisy engine when operating in the higher end of the RPM spectrum, but otherwise it was fine. In my heavy city driving, I managed a fuel consumption average of only 11.8 L/100km.

Another aspect that bears mentioning is how much I missed having a vehicle with all-wheel drive in a snowstorm. A compact front-wheel-drive car doesn’t fare too well even with proper snow tires. Having a vehicle with all-wheel drive is something anyone who lives in a snowy climate should seriously consider.

In the race for best-selling compact car in Canada, Mazda is in fourth place, having sold 27,862 Mazda3s in 2017 compared to 46,112 Elantras, 50,332 Corollas and 69,030 Civics. The Mazda3 beats other competitors such as the Chevy Cruze, Volkswagen Golf/Jetta, Kia Forte and Nissan Sentra.

With a starting price of $15,900 before transport for the base sedan and ranging to $27,900 for the top-of-the-line vehicle pictured here, there is a Mazda3 to suit almost any need. It’s equally capable as any of the top sellers and represents a superbly-engineered vehicle with fantastic value which deserves your attention.

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