Mazda has touted their third-generation 3 as a fun, efficient, and versatile compact that emphasizes an engaging driving experience. The so-called SKYACTIV technology provides a series of methodologies and departures from conventional automotive design, with copious use of high strength steel, advanced engine technology, and clever chassis design to reduce weight, increase engine output, while maintaining excellent real-world fuel economy. All these things combined typically result in a better, sportier driving experience without being hard on the wallet. I was handed the keys to the DoubleClutch.ca long-term 2015 Mazda 3 GT Sport to find out for myself what SKYACTIV was all about.
Finished in Soul Red Mica, the 3’s styling made a favourable first impression, with an aggressive-but-happy-looking grille, accented by LED marker lights that also serve as daytime running headlamps. Inside, light tan leather seats with black accents grab your attention and lead you around the well-equipped interior. Rear seat legroom is more than respectable for a vehicle in this class – having three adults out back may elicit some protest on longer trips, but it is by no means a bad place to spend time. Cargo space with the hatchback format is generous and well worth the $1,000 premium over the sedan.
Among other features, this GT tester was appointed with navigation on a 7-inch colour touchscreen display, a 9-speaker Bose audio system, heads-up display (“Active Driving Display”), automatic climate control, and eighteen-inch wheels shod with 215/45R18 tires. I was particularly impressed with the Bose audio, which had clean sound and bass that didn’t feel artificial or distorted, even at higher volumes. The multimedia interface, using Mazda’s HMI Commander Switch, was fairly intuitive, and allowed me to find all functions fairly quickly. The Active Driving Display functionality was also particularly useful, with speedometer functions projected in the driver’s field of view. My only small gripe stems from how Mazda executes their retained accessory function when the car is switched off. Only the driver’s window is allowed to be rolled up or down, and without the automatic function. The ignition needs to be switched back on to adjust any of the other three door windows.
The SKYACTIV-G 2.5L four-cylinder engine packs a healthy 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, and 185 pound-feet of torque at 3,250 rpm. Paired with a six-speed manual transmission, this combination is definitely one that likes to be pushed, with a surge of power coming on as you cross over 3,000 rpm. Personally, I would have liked to see a little more bias towards low end grunt, but engines that breathe and flow air as well as the SKYACTIV line will typically be livelier in the upper rev range – this is not to be confused with a need for more power.
Shift throws from the 6-speed manual are delightful and short, inspiring confidence and encouraging spirited driving. I still prefer the snick-snick action of the shifter in the Honda Civic Si, though you will find opinions on both sides amongst DoubleClutch.ca staff. The clutch is light and easy to modulate, and will make you look like a manual-transmission superstar from the get-go. Gear ratios are spaced closely together, and as a result I often found myself skipping either fourth or fifth gear when upshifting around town. Heel-toe downshifts are easy as pie with good pedal placement, and engine speed is not offensive during highway cruising in sixth gear.
On the road, the 3 GT Sport demonstrates Mazda’s expertise on handling and overall driving dynamics. Steering feel from the electrically-assisted power steering was good, providing more feedback than most other electric systems on the market. Braking performance was also excellent, with a slightly grabby pedal that hauls the 3 down from speed without any fuss. The tuning of the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension is definitely on the firm side, with the short sidewalls of the low-profile eighteen-inch wheels also adding to the equation. Even so, ride quality isn’t overly harsh, particularly on Toronto’s pothole-ridden streets. The end result is a handling package whose roadholding abilities will put a smile on your face, without knocking out the fillings in your teeth.
Mazda has proven that with the 3 GT Sport, one can have their cake, and eat it, too. With an as-tested price just under $30,000, it represents a solid value in the compact hatchback class, with an impressive array of features and allows for good driving fun. The base GX and mid-level GS models are also worth looking at, as they provide almost as much equipment while still maintaining a reasonable price. At the pumps, the 2.5L engine is also certain to impress, with a rating of 9.3L/100km in the city, and 6.4L/100km on the highway, on regular fuel. With a half-and-half split on city and highway driving, I managed 7.4L/100km.
With the third generation of the 3, Mazda has certainly lived up to its reputation as a maker of fun and economical cars geared towards buyers who are looking for a little more than a generic appliance. Of note, Mazda Canada is offering unlimited kilometer bumper-to-bumper, powertrain, and perforation warranties (3, 5, and 7 years, respectively), which will offer extra peace of mind to prospective buyers. Overall, the 3 GT Sport leaves a very positive impression, and it remains very well liked amongst the many cars that pass through the hands of DoubleClutch.ca staffers. When the time comes to return the keys for good, it will be missed.
Long-Term Test Update: 2015 Mazda3 Sport GT