Fusing man and machine together | The unicorn-like offering of a manual transmission.
As the continuing trend to evaporate the manual gearbox grows on manufacturers due to dwindling demand, some have decided to keep the fire alive. Mazda is one of those manufacturers. Originally, when the third-generation Mazda3 was redesigned for the 2014 model year, you were able to opt for a manual transmission in only the base GX and mid-level GS models. Now, the slick-shifting manual that Mazda has been known for can be had in the top of the line GT model. Why sacrifice fun for luxury? Luckily, the 2015 Mazda3 GT does not force you to make ultimatums.
As some readers may or may not know, this Soul Red Mica Mazda3 GT we have is actually going to be around in our garage for a few months. Thus, instead of feeling like just another press car, we writers come to grow attached to the car; it essentially becomes a part of the family. I was initially very fond of the appearance of the third-generation sedan, but did not really like the look of the hatchback. When I found out our long termer was indeed a hatchback I decided to put my biases aside and give it a go anyhow.
Regardless of my preferences, I still appreciated the design cues that give this little sport compact an extreme amount of potential. The LED daytime running lights that slant towards the front fascia give the Mazda3 a menacing front end. The rear end is where the confusion begins for me though – it looks great from certain angles, but awkward from others. This was a bit of a letdown for me as I did like the previous generation hatchbacks; especially the Mazdaspeed3. However, if Mazda decides to bring back the Speed3 (rumoured for 2016), I feel like the hatchback could definitely grow on me even more.
Inside we opted for the off-white leather interior with contrasted black leather and red stitching. The 3 felt really upscale, and the interior felt very well put together, much better than the interior of the previous generation. The Mazda3 features an intuitive touchscreen for the HMI multimedia interface, sitting atop of the centre stack. However, I rarely found myself using the touchscreen as everything was controllable from the HMI dial that is mounted near the shifter.
As part of the GT package, this Mazda3 also featured the heads-up-display (HUD) mounted on top of the gauge cluster. Displaying on a stylish piece of glass, the HUD projects the speed and cruise control speed giving you the option of not having to look down too far to catch a glimpse of your speed. One major gripe I had with this is the delay between the speedometer and the HUD display. While not noticeable at first, the HUD actually skips numbers in order to try and keep up with the actual speedometer reading. During hard acceleration, I could see the numbers on the actual speedometer rapidly increasing while the HUD lagged behind. Although this is not a huge flaw, it definitely becomes one of those things you cannot unsee once noticed.
Underneath the bonnet of our long-termer is a 2.5 liter dual overhead cam 16-valve 4-cylinder SKYACTIV mill with 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, and 185 pound feet of torque at 3,250 rpm. The extra bump in power and torque makes the Mazda3 GT feel a lot quicker than the GS and GX models. I constantly found myself craving to push the engine past 3,000 rpm. Similar to the kick in the back you get from a turbocharged motor, the 2.5 liter comes alive and then keeps pulling all the way to redline.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the Mazda3 GT for me is the 6-speed manual transmission. The shifter and clutch combination in the is really a blast to use, and every successful smooth shift or rev-matched downshift leaves you with a feeling of pure bliss. The engagement was there, the notchiness was there and the forgiveness was also there. With its ease of use, the Mazda3 would be a great choice for new drivers that want to learn on a stick. I did find that on occasion after a cold-start the car had an unwillingness to go into first gear without a throw to second prior to shifting into first. Even with this small quirk, I would still take the manual transmission in this car over the automatic.
Over my test week I found myself averaging around 8.5 litres/100km. For a 2.5 liter engine I found this stat to be great, and the satisfying feeling of being able to put the car in sixth gear, cruising at just over 2,000rpm and seeing the instantaneous average sit at about 6.5 L/100km is truly astounding.
Only a handful of competitors can offer the similar amount of performance and practicality, these include the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the Honda Civic Si, and the MINI Cooper S. Itis safe to say that this Mazda3 is no chump when comparing it to other sporty hatchbacks. This Mazda3 GT really is the happy medium that I have been craving from Mazda ever since the Mazdaspeed3 left us in after the second generation.
The unicorn-like offering of a manual transmission, in a top-trim model that Mazda offers is something that won’t be forgotten for a long time. While many of us who appreciate and love rowing our own gears would be attracted to a package like this one, it goes to show that Mazda has not forgotten about us. The kind of buyer who doesn’t worry about how fast the latest Volkswagen DSG system can shift, or how efficient a CVT is; but the constant challenge you give yourself when essentially fusing man and machine together. I look forward to spending some more time with this car in the coming months.