• 2018 Mazda3 review

Mazda3 in Two Flavours

The Mazda3, in whatever form or trim level, continues to be competitive in the compact car category, offering an elegantly sporty and, dare I say it, unique “zoom-zoom” quality as an alternative choice.

Rob Beintema By: Rob Beintema December 20, 2017
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THE PROS & CONS

    • What’s Best: Great looks, good handling, premium-style interior.
    • What’s Worst: Compact rear seats always require a little compromise.
    • What’s Interesting: This fall at the Tokyo show, Mazda showed the Kai concept, foreshadowing a future sexier, swoopier Mazda3 by 2019 or so, possibly powered by a Skyactiv-X supercharged, homogenous-charge combustion-ignition (HCCI) engine. Or maybe electric models . . Stay tuned

After a thousand or so test drives, you don’t expect to be gob smacked in your tracks by an economy car.

But the freshly washed and waxed Mazda3 sedan seemed to shine in the sun with its own kind of luminescence, glimmering in a deep and handsome shade of Soul Red.

Soul Red is one of Mazda’s two pricier optional paint choices ($300) but it is probably well worth it.

Its the kind of eye-catching colour one of my colleagues refers to as “Arrest Me Red”, a scarlet shade you’d expect to see draping the flanks of some exotic supercar.

Yet it also perfectly suits the “Kodo – soul of motion” theme, lines and cues of Mazda’s current design mantra.

This third generation Mazda3 got a substantial makeover last year, with a refined and quieter 2017 model mounting a bolder grille, available LED lighting, new horizontal exterior styling cues, a new steering wheel with available heating, an electronic parking brake and other upgrades.

2018 Mazda3 review

Added technologies – Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring, Traffic Sign Recognition, Radar Cruise Control and a new Active Driving Display (head-up display) – complement the Mazda3’s holistic suite of Skyactiv technologies and the i-Activesense electronic driver assists that include Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Smart Brake Support systems.

Following on the heels of those upgrades, the Mazda3 carries over on this 2018 version, save for annual package tweaks and minor wheel and colour changes.

Slip inside and the Mazda3 offers compact size accommodation with a premium uptick, very nicely done in this mid-level GS trim.

Mazda may have replaced its former “zoom-zoom” ad campaign with a “driving matters” theme but a sporty continuum is reflected in the sexy three-spoke steering wheel and gauge cluster behind it – a rectangular digital speed readout housed within the round tachometer rather than the usual speedo/tach twin meter combo, accented by the Active Driving Display HUD system in your line of sight.

Mouse-happy millennials will instantly take to a multi-function HMI control dial on the console that accesses menus on the seven-inch full-colour touchscreen mounted tablet-style atop the centre IP.

And, okay, I get it. Cleaning up extraneous controls and buttons, a simplified interior design, yadda, yadda. But give me back my radio tuning button and I’ll be happier.

Also Read: Cruze into a Family-Friendly Car

More rolling, less scrolling.

Speaking of rolling, under the hood the Mazda3 lineup starts with a 155 hp Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre four-cylinder mated to a standard six-speed manual or, in this case, a six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and Drive Selection switch ($1,300).

This is a thrifty and adequate power supply, pulling as needed and offering an economical 8.4/6.4L/100km (city/hwy) rating. My average worked out to a pleasing 6.6L/100km (comb).

But, of course, you can’t help but wonder what a little extra oomph would feel like.

2018 Mazda3 review

Mazda3 Sport GT:

Well, wonder no more.

Our second test sled is the Mazda3 Sport GT hatchback version.

Like the sedan, it is offered in GX, GS and GT trim levels. And the top-of-the-line GT version tested here adds the extra pop of a 184 hp Skyactiv-G 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine.

The 20 per cent power boost is welcome, especially mated to a six-speed manual that sharpens driver involvement. This combination spins a few hundred revs higher than the 2,000-rpm plateau of the automatic at highway speed – a negative on fuel economy, but a positive on responsiveness.

But even with the added power and manual tranny involvement, you’ll need to downshift a gear or two to really mine the power band for quick passing maneuvers.

Both Mazdas offer taut handling that reflects well on Mazda’s sport emphasis. One subtlety also added across the lineup last year is G-Vectoring Control (GVC), an engine torque management system that ties power more directly to chassis response, for improved response and steering feel.

The Mazda3 Sport GT with the more powerful 2.5-litre engine offers a 9.6/7.0L/100km (city/hwy) rating. My real world results came in at 8.2L/100km (comb). Judging from that, I might have had a little more fun in the GT.

Besides pricing, the main difference between the Mazda3 sedan lineup ($17,730 – $25,830) and Mazda3 Sport hatchback models ($21,630 – $26,830) is body configuration, which not only changes the flavour of the Mazda3, but also shifts the shape and utility of the vehicle.

Both models offer the same passenger volume but the sedan offers a 350-litre trunk while the Sport boasts a taller 572-litre hatchback space that expands to 1,334 litres with the second row folded. And it’s handier for owners with cargo demands and/or dogs to take to the leash-free park.

Our as-tested Sport model also came in Machine Grey Metallic, a result of a special Takuminuri painting process that aligns a thin layer of aluminum flakes within the paint for a real billet-cut, metallic look.

Very handsome, but I would have switched the colours, applying the Soul Red to the Sport and the more demure Machine Grey Metallic to the sedan.

I’m not sure that it would have made the choice any easier, though.

The Mazda3, in whatever form or trim level, continues to be competitive in the compact car category, especially here in Canada where it chases the top three contenders – Civic, Corolla and Elantra – while offering an elegantly sporty and, dare I say it, unique “zoom-zoom” quality as an alternative choice.

2018 Mazda3 review

2018 Mazda3 GS Sedan/Mazda3 Sport GT Hatchback

BODY STYLE: Four-door sedan/five-door hatchback.

DRIVE METHOD: Front-wheel-drive, six-speed manual or six-speed automatic

ENGINE: Mazda3 GS 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G four-cylinder, 155 hp, 150 lb/ft of torque; 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G four-cylinder (184 hp, 185 lb/ft)

FUEL ECONOMY: Mazda3 GS 2.0-litre 6AT FWD 8.4/6.4L/100km (city/hwy), as tested 6.6L/100km (comb); Mazda3 GT 2.5-litre 6MT FWD 9.6/7.0L/100km (city/hwy), as tested 8.2L/100km (comb).

CARGO CAPACITY: Mazda3 GS sedan – 350 litres; Mazda3 Sport GT hatchback 572 litres, 1,334 litres behind front seat

PRICE: Mazda3 GS sedan $20,300. As tested $24,300 includes Skyactiv-Drive 6AT ($1,300), i-Activesense Pkg ($1,500), Moonroof ($900), Soul Red paint ($300).

Mazda3 Sport GT hatch $25,000. As tested $28,200 includes Premium Pkg ($2,900), Machine Grey Metallic paint ($300).

WEBSITE: Mazda.ca

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