Nearly three years after its launch, the 2016 Mazda3 GT still feels fresh and relevant.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have logged many hours in the current Mazda3; including the top-spec GT hatchback we spent six months with last year. In 2004, when the original Mazda3 was introduced it quickly became an absolute game changer in my mind. This car brought sporty driving dynamics and handsome looks to an otherwise-boring segment, and has since been rewarded with huge sales success. For its impact on the market, the original 3 remains one of my favorite Mazdas, and even though most of them have rusted away over the last decade, a clean well-kept example still catches my eye.
The second generation never really grew on me; its larger dimensions and silly jack-o-lantern smile looking front grill really made it difficult for me to get excited over it. Happily, Mazda set things right with the current generation, bringing back a better-flowing, more conservative design and nicer overall proportions.
Now, two years in, this 2016 Mazda3 GT Sedan still looks good, although maybe less striking as I’ve gotten used to seeing them on the roads. While my previous test cars came in the now infamous Mazda Soul Red Mica, this car came in what Mazda calls Deep Crystal Blue. It’s a very deep dark blue that looks black at night, but offers a nice deep sparkle in the sunlight. Being a GT, my tester came with a good looking set of 18” wheels on Dunlop low profile tires. The rim and tire combo give the 3 a bit of an aggressive stance and serve as one of the few obvious exterior distinctions between the loaded GT and the lesser G, GX, and GS models.
Getting behind the wheel of the 3 now feels like getting reacquainted with an old friend – it’s just like I remembered it. The folks at Mazda have cleverly designed the 3’s interior to feel upscale and unique without sacrificing comfort or practicality by adding a few interesting features. The seats are definitely the most prominent feature and they are the first thing any of my passengers this week noticed when entering the 3.
The GT, when equipped with the Luxury package like my tester, comes with beautifully-sculpted seats finished in a cream perforated leather with black accents and red stitching. They look great and have proved themselves quite comfortable over the many hours I spent in them. The seats are not the only part of the interior that’s nicely finished. Piano black plastics of various finishes are used throughout, and while it’s important to remember that this is an economy minded compact car, the plastics are of decent quality and fit together quite well.
Another little add-on worth mentioning is the heads-up display that flips up from the dash in front of the driver. It’s a little unnecessary and is actually just a little tinted plastic screen that acts as the reflecting surface for the display. The plastic screen looks cheap, and no amount of adjusting my driving position could get me lined up enough to see it properly. Thankfully, it is easy to ignore, especially when it’s greatly overshadowed by the virtues of the infotainment system.
The Mazda HMI Commander in charge of the system is located on the center console, something I greatly prefer to use over a touchsreen. Try setting a destination into the navigation system with your winter gloves on using a touchscreen – it’ll never happen. With the controller in the Mazda, it’s a piece of cake. Even more genius is that when you’re approaching a cross-street, the street name flashes up across the top of the screen, regardless of which application you are viewing. This is perfect for quickly identifying poorly-marked streets without having to fumble to pull up the map.
The top of the line GT trim level starts at $25,350, which is almost exactly $10,000 over the base model Mazda3. The GT comes with the more powerful engine, LED daytime running lamps, HID headlamps, rain sensing wipers, moonroof, voice-activated navigation, a rear-view camera and more. My test car came loaded with the two available option packages. The Luxury Pack ($2100) adds the leather seats, dual-zone climate control and a Bose 9-speaker sound system. The Technology Pack ($2500) basically adds all the latest electronic safety and driving nannies, and satellite radio. Yes, you need to spend on the Tech pack in order to get satellite radio in a Mazda3. When so many cars come with satellite radio standard no, having to pay for this package would be an issue for me.
Being a top of the line GT trim level car, my tester was powered by the SKYACTIV 2.5L inline four-cylinder, pushing out 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. This is all through a nice six-speed automatic. With the rapidly growing popularity of turbochargers in the market today, the Mazda’s refined linear power delivery and sharp throttle response from the naturally aspirated engine is actually a refreshing experience. However, peppy and responsive as it may feel in the city, the 3 is no sports car and you will find yourself using the cars full power range at times when merging or passing on the highway. Happily, the automatic is a good little unit with quick shifts and had no problem keeping up with whatever you demand of it.
Sporty handling has always been one of the Mazda3’s biggest selling features, and that absolutely holds true. The steering is tight, responsive, well-weighted and offers stable and confident tracking on the highway. The handling of the car definitely feels more engaging than anything else in the segment, and that’s saying a lot when you include some very competent competitors like the and new Civic (reviewed here). What’s really important to note though is while the Mazda3 is well composed and fun while playfully tackling low speed corners and even highway ramps at moderate speeds, it’s not really a performance car and it has limitations.
Over the last couple of years, the only disappointed Mazda3 buyers I’ve heard from are those who bought the 3 thinking it was going to be to handle like a proper sports car, and it’s just not going to do that. The responsiveness and feedback from the steering might have you fooled on a test drive, but once you get acquainted with the car and spend some time through more challenging corners, you’re reminded that you are behind the wheel of a front-wheel drive compact car.
If you keep your expectations in check the 3 is a very nice driving little car. The chassis is well balanced, and the power is adequate. The ride is harsher than say a Golf or even the Elantra (reviewed here) and I do find the 3’s cabin to exhibit some road noise on the highway. Both of these traits contribute to the car feeling a little less refined, but that’s the trade-off you’ll need to make for the more engaging experience, not to mention the responsive naturally aspired four. Speaking of which, that SKYACTIV four-cylinder returned fuel economy of 7.7L/100km through my week of busy rush hour commuting. While certainly not at the top of its class, very respectable considering we’re talking about a fairly old-school naturally aspirated engine.
Nearly three years after its launch, the 2016 Mazda3 GT still feels fresh and relevant. It’s a versatile little car that’s making many enthusiastic owners smile every day, just as long as you keep your expectations in line. It’s a practical compact with a bit more character and excitement than the rest of the pack and that’s what has continued to keep Mazda3s flying out of dealerships with ease.
2016 Mazda3 GT Sedan Gallery