A game-changer in its most practical form
In my eyes, the Mazda3 Sport is back, and it is very much the game-changer Mazda claims it to be.
In recent memory, Mazda has gone through some dramatic changes in many ways; design language, dynamics, and ownership, to name a few. One model which has borne the brunt of many of these changes is no doubt the all-new 2014 Mazda3. Arguably the brand’s “bread & butter” car since its inception, the 3 has always seen the most noticeable changes whenever Mazda decides to refresh their lineup. Over the years, its aggressive styling has moved from conservative, to contrived, and now to clever. For this past week I spent some time with what I think is the best-looking model yet, a 2014 Mazda3 Sport GS with the optional automatic transmission.
Since their separation from Ford, Mazda has seemingly gone through painstaking lengths to revive their brand and carve out their own unique automotive footprint. This has been especially evident in the styling on the new 6 and 3 models. With the 3, we’ve seen the elimination of the extremely polarizing “goofy-grin” grille, reduced powertrain options by half, and some serious changes in the interior styling and interfaces – it’s clear to me that Mazda had every intention of outshining the Focus (which bears a few odd resemblances to the outgoing generation 3, now that I think of it). Some may argue that Mazda is experiencing an identity crisis, caught between Hyundai and Toyota’s respective design languages. To those people I say “if this is a crisis, stay in crisis”, as the design is sophisticated, unobtrusive, and it just works.
Under the pretty sheet metal Mazda has fitted the GS model with a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder SKYACTIV-G engine, which puts out 155 horsepower at 6000rpm and 150 lb-ft of torque at 4000rpm. It really doesn’t sound like much on paper but considering the fact that fuel efficiency (according to Mazda) is 6.8L/100km in the city, and 4.9L/100km on the highway without sacrificing sportiness makes it absolutely brilliant within its segment. Fitted with an optional 6-speed automatic gearbox on my test car, the engine provides ample power for highway passing, but if I’m honest when you’re driving it feels like acceleration is much slower than it actually is. This is attributed to a combination of how quiet the cabin is and just how smooth the transmission is. You really aren’t listening to an angry, growly sports car, you’re listening to… well, whatever is playing on the 6-speaker stereo. The suspension feels oddly stiff for what many would consider a simple commuter car, but geared towards the enthusiasts out there it’s certainly refreshing and means you can have that extra bit of fun in the corners.
The interior of the Sport GS has seen as many changes as the exterior, if not more. There are the very obvious ones like the TFT colour display mounted front and center on the dash, which does a great job of displaying vehicle and stereo information as well as the rear-view camera, and the HMI (Human Machine Interface) Commander knob and accompanying buttons which control the aforementioned display, both of which look and feel like they have been pulled straight out of a BMW. This isn’t a bad thing at all – in fact I say, why not improve on the success of others? The Mazda equivalents come close, save for a few minor frustrations such as the touchscreen going numb once the vehicle starts rolling. Mazda has also added a lot of soft-touch material around the cabin – along the entire dash, and upper door sills for the driver and front passenger. My particular GS had the optional Convenience Package on it as well, which added in sweat-inducing heated seats, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, and leather wraps around the steering wheel, shift knob, and emergency brake. This package costs only $500, and is truly indicative of the value that comes in this car – you get a lot without necessarily paying up the wazoo for it.
Throughout my week with it, the 2014 Mazda3 Sport GS kept me comfortable, safe, and obscenely warm. Facing the now-typical frigid cold of this year’s winter, the car still managed to return an impressive 6.2L/100km average in 60/40 city/highway driving, even with my enthusiastic foot on the throttle. Equally impressive is that my tester came in with a price tag of $22,395 as-tested, missing only a moonroof (which comes as a package with fog lights for an extra $1,200). In my eyes, the Mazda3 Sport is back, and it is very much the game-changer Mazda claims it to be.
2014 Mazda3 Sport GS Automatic Gallery