Mazda3 Sport hatchback a heck of a ride
NOW in its third generation, this week’s Mazda tester pushes through the economy car envelope while retaining its economy car pricing.
I was greatly impressed with the upscale attitude and sporty driving dynamics of my 2014 Mazda3 Sport GT tester. Bear in mind though, the car I drove was far from the base unit, and was tagged at $26,855. With freight and delivery charges, plus taxes, the quote for ownership escalated to $32,116. Of course, many of the attributes I so appreciated in my GT trimmed example are found in the base Mazda3, which is pinned at a more reasonable $16,995.
While the Mazda3 has always been a top contender in the economy class, it transcends that barrier for 2014 with dramatic styling and a reworked cabin, while riding on a new platform with an increased wheelbase. The additional stretch between front and rear wheels translates into more interior legroom, in addition to improved ride/handling characteristics.
The exterior lines of the Mazda3 now swoop and swoon under the auspices of KODO, Mazda’s new acrossthe-board design language inspired by the divinity of “Soul in Motion.” The reworked body is certainly more artistic than the former, though I’m not sure I find it more appealing. That indecisiveness is all but annihilated when it comes to the spacious cabin.
The materials lining the renovated living space, and the quality of its construction, elevate the Mazda3 to heights that were once the domain of vehicles such as the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz B-Class.
I found the front seats in my GT tester to be remarkably supportive and comfortable and long enough to provide excellent thigh support, something that’s generally in short supply in economy-class vehicles.
More than seating, it was the straightforward layout of instrumentation and Mazda’s HMI (human machine interface) controller and externally-mounted screen that won the day for me. This infotainment interface is superior to similar executions in far more expensive rides, yet it’s standard fare on the GS and GT variants.
In addition to HMI, the GT also receives more heat under the hood as standard equipment, along with a voice-activated navigation system and a heads-up driver information display. Regardless of which trim level is selected, the Mazda3 is fitted with the full scope of Mazda’s SkyActiv economy- and performance-enhancing technology.
While the GX and GS versions of the Mazda3 make do with a 2.0-litre SkyActiv four-cylinder engine dispensing 155 horsepower, the GT puts forth 184 horsepower. This car is beautifully balanced, with near-perfect driving dynamics, and it incorporates outstanding structural rigidity, such that I looked for rough patches of pavement just to feel how effectively it absorbed the degradation without an utterance of objection from the chassis or underpinnings.
And yes, it did this far better than many premium rides I’ve driven.
The combination of the forgoing heightens the Mazda3’s driving pleasure beyond expectations, and my expectations were high for this car, having driven the second generation model a number of times.
Mazda has eliminated torque-steer from the front-wheel-drive setup and managed to infuse the chassis with energetic handling characteristics that put merit in its “Sport” nomenclature. And it did this without compromising ride quality.
My tester steered and tracked with deft precision, never becoming ungainly or rebellious in the process, which added to the rush of pushing the practical five-door hatch when the stars aligned. Too bad the full “sport” experience is curtailed by the absence of a manual gearbox. This would be an ideal sled for a clutch and stick; hopefully that chasm will be bridged soon.
The Mazda3 is relatively quiet on the road. My GT version with twin exhaust ports developed a pleasing note under acceleration — a requisite nod to its GT-ness — prior to settling into a subdued, refined operational mode. It exploited the best of both worlds without overcommitting to either.
A final note before wrapping Mazda’s practical yet engaging compact must go to the car’s braking ability. A closed-eye drive would’ve had me guessing the pedal to the left of the throttle was of German heritage not Japanese, and that’s about as good as it gets for a pseudo econobox.
Though my GT First Steer tester eclipsed $32,000 all in, it’s still a bargain in the affordable compact class. This car looks, feels, and drives beyond its price tag, and thanks to its SkyActiv tech, delivered fuel economy of 8.8 L/100 km in the city, which I thought was pretty decent considering my insensitivity to such matters behind the wheel.
The Mazda3 Sport GT looks, feels, and drives beyond its price tag, and it also delivers excellent fuel economy.