Simply put, the latest generation of Mazda3 is a runaway hit. Since its conception just over a year ago, my colleagues and I have been fortunate enough to test nearly every variety, and we’ve been blown away by every single one. It’s as if Mazda has taken the relatively simple formula of the economical compact and hit a home run in every sense of the phrase. Though I had the opportunity to drive nearly every Mazda3 tester we have had in our garage, I didn’t actually get to put one through the paces. I was handed a 2015 Mazda3 Sport GT painted in a stunning Soul Red Mica for a week.
Mazda remains one of the few manufacturers that continue to produce the manual transmission. It’s available right across the lineup, starting with the subcompact Mazda2 and even on top-trim level Mazda6 models, as well as the Mazda5 GT micro-minivan. Even though automatic gearboxes are now at a point where they’re more efficient and quicker, Mazda at least offers purists like myself the chance to row our own gears for that extra little bit of satisfaction. When the third-generation Mazda3 was introduced for model year 2014 though, the more powerful 2.5L engine was only offered with the 6-speed automatic. It’s important to know that the “Sport” name attached to this car refers to the hatchback body style.
For 2015 though, Mazda has kept their word – this top-trim 2.5L Mazda3 GT is equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission. With 184 horsepower available at 5700rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 3250rpm, the Mazda3 doesn’t really shoot off the line like the now-defunct Mazdaspeed3. However, its SKYACTIV-G engine is surprisingly peppy and the transmission’s excellent gearing helps it feel more than adequate both for commuting and spirited driving. It doesn’t really have too much oomph below the 3,000rpm mark, but north of there it’s all go.
The manual transmission, easily the highlight of this car, is lovely. The clutch is light enough to easily modulate in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but provides satisfactory feedback when you want to push the car near its limits. The shifter itself is incredible; easily Honda Civic Si-levels of good. I did find that the knob itself was a bit loose; tightening it would tangle the leather shift boot within itself and prevent it from going into certain gears. I’m sure this is an early production issue that’s isolated to my specific test vehicle.
Handling and overall ride quality of the new Mazda3 are two factors in which the car is well ahead of its class. The rack and pinion steering is direct and provides plenty of feedback, making this car a dream to push through curvy roads. When navigating the pothole-ridden streets of Toronto, the independent suspension is great at absorbing it all and ensuring a comfortable ride for all passengers.
With their SKYACTIV series of engines, Mazda has emphasized that along with a passionate, soulful driving experience, they are focusing very seriously on the efficiency aspect of everyday motoring. As such, everything from the aerodynamics of the vehicle to the wheels and tires are optimized for efficiency, and this is particularly evident in the Mazda3 Sport. My 2.5L car was rated at 9.2L/100km in the city and 6.6L/100km on the highway. I actually put about 700km on the car, and in combined driving averaged roughly 7.3L/100km. Given the fact that the Mazda3 Sport, even in GT trim, accepts regular fuel, this car is seriously efficient.
Considering there is no Mazdaspeed3 currently available, the Sport GT is the highest trim level currently available on the Mazda3. The GT includes things like bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, a proximity intelligent key system, Bose audio with 9 speakers, a heads-up display, navigation system with 7” display, and a rear view camera. Mazda sent us this car with the optional $1500 Luxury Package, which adds leather seats, faux-leather trim all around, and a power driver’s seat. This is a very well-appointed car and can easily give cars like the Audi A3 and the base BMW 3-series a run for their money.
The new infotainment system with the 7” touchscreen display is among the best currently available on the market at any price point. The HMI controller (known as the “commander”) is super intuitive and allows simple navigation through all menus, playlists, and albums. The system itself is virtually lag-free and very high resolution. This system is currently only available on the Mazda3, while other models across the lineup carry forward the old Garmin-based system. USB and Bluetooth connectivity are both essentially perfect, making this my current favourite infotainment unit around.
Manufacturers have been working so hard at perfecting technologies that it’s getting increasingly harder to find faults with most mainstream models. As such, I had a pretty difficult time trying to come up with things I didn’t like about the Mazda3. The 2.5L unit is an excellent motor, but seeing as this is the more sport-oriented model, I can’t help but wish that they implemented a slightly louder or throatier exhaust. The car is whisper quiet both upon acceleration as well as at cruising speeds, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as a driving enthusiast, I like to hear a bit more of the engine. Also, the front plate placement Mazda has chosen isn’t exactly flattering. Now that this car has been out for just over a year, there are plenty of aftermarket plate relocate kits that allow the beautiful natural lines of the body to flow much better.
The affordable compact class is one in which manufacturers seriously have to nail their entries. With great cars like the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra and Honda Civic selling like hotcakes, it’s a constant hunting game. We’re lucky that we live in an age where there’s no truly horrible choice in this market, but some contenders are certainly better than others. With its excellent road manners, awesome styling and great powertrain options, the new Mazda3 is easily my new favourite in the class. It’s no surprise that the car is a bestseller as well as the winner of tons of awards worldwide. Those requiring all-wheel-drive could look at the Subaru Impreza, a wildcard entry in the class, but other than that, the 2015 Mazda3 is a great all-around pick that never fails to impress.