In an industry where the manual transmission is quickly becoming obsolete, we are ecstatic find options still kept alive. Mazda has always been about providing the thrilling and engaging options on the market. The 2020 Mazda3 Sport GT FWD is no exception, with a six-speed manual transmission option available on most trim levels. The Mazda3 has always been the alternative to those who prefer something different and engaging. In the car’s fourth generation, Mazda continues to push the needle.
Before getting into the Mazda3, the striking design will grab just about anybody’s attention. The KODO design language combines flowing lines and a powerful stance. Mazda calls it the Soul of Motion; a combination of graceful, yet energetic lines to express power like a cheetah pouncing on its prey. The result is a vehicle that looks sleek, fast and athletic even when parked. The low chin, long nose and wide stance are design cues normally seen a sports car and not a commuter hatchback. The Mazda3 Sport definitely elicits emotion and excitement looking smart, sophisticated and ready for fun.
The interior of the Mazda3 is exceptional with soft touch materials and classy design as far as the eye can see. Mazda’s claim of meticulous craftsmanship is on full display and not an unfounded claim. From the door panels to center console, passengers are surrounded by leather wrapped surfaces with red and black contrast highlighting a multi-tier design. The contrast stitching and brushed aluminum look great, and notably the brushed aluminum speaker grate on the doors knocks the overall design out of the park. The interior design punches a class above its weight and rivals what you would see in a luxury offering.
In today’s market however, it is not enough to only have an attractive interior. The technology has to be up to snuff. On paper, the Mazda3 has the tech front covered, with an 8.8-inch wide colour display for Mazda Connect. To interface with the system is a rotary dial designed to give access to audio, navigation and vehicle settings at the driver’s fingertips with intuitive controls. With the addition of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to enhance connectivity, the Mazda3 should pass with flying colours. However in practice, the interface is not responsive with noticeable lag. The menus are convoluted making simple tasks such as changing radio stations a brain teaser.
Despite the infotainment blunder, the interior ergonomics make you quickly forget the shortcomings. The seating position is excellent, and the leather seats are supple and supportive. The rear seats are comfortable however legroom is a bit tight. The instrument cluster is simple and clear with the addition of a heads up display. The ample use of leather is not only for aesthetics but also for acoustics. The Mazda3 without a doubt has the quietest and most refined ride of the segment.
The handling of the Mazda3 Sport GT inspires confidence and is all about fun. When the current generation was unveiled there were some concerns over the use of a torsion beam rear suspension, which appeared to be a step back in development. Still, the Mazda3 handles with the enthusiasm expected. Ride compliance does suffer ever so slightly, most noticeable during high speed uneven long sweeping corners. Rear end stability can use improvements and inspire more confidence. Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control improves response and controls body motions. It uses braking to ensure body weight is transferred to the right corner for more grip and control during cornering. The result is active and inspiring handling that makes for an enjoyable drive.
The 2020 Mazda3 Sport GT FWD is powered by a 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G inline four-cylinder engine. The engine has DOHC 16 valve and cylinder deactivation. It produces a healthy 186 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 186 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000RPM, with a redline of 6,500RPM. As you would expect, all the power comes at the top end of the rev range. Power is not the name of the game but rather efficiency. There is sufficient juice to get the car up to speed and overtake at highway speeds. Unfortunately, power output is not where you will be getting your thrills in this car.
The thrills come from the driver’s ability to row their own gears. The four-cylinder engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission, allowing drivers full control. Before you get too excited though, the gearbox here seems to be tuned for comfort and efficiency over aggressive sport driving. Shifter throws are long with wide shifter gates requiring elaborate motions when shifting. Clutch travel is light and long with a springy release, making engagement tricky. Long gearing in first and second means the car is not quite willing to rev off the line. However, the slick shifter and good pedal placement is ideal for heel-toe downshifting when in a spirited mood.
The fuel consumption rating of this car is rated at 9.2L/100km city and 6.6L/100km highway, thanks to the SKYACTIV technology here. During our test week, we averaged 9.6L/100km in a heavy city-biased commute. It’s close enough to the ratings and of course, the Mazda3 gets all of its projected power and efficiency numbers operating exclusively on 87-octane regular fuel.
In Mazda speak, “Sport” means hatchback. The vehicle Mazda Canada sent over is a Sport GT with the Premium Package, which at $28,500 is significantly more than the base $21,300 model. This is the top trim available in front-drive form, with a manual transmission. Strong competition at this price point includes the Volkswagen Golf, Honda Civic Hatchback, and if driving engagement is a high priority, the Toyota Corolla Hatchback (reviewed here). The Golf boasts better fuel efficiency, and the Corolla is more captivating in the corners, while the Mazda is obviously focused on delivering a more premium experience all around.
The 2020 Mazda3 Sport GT FWD is an absolute joy to drive and own. The interior has to be praised with its class leading design and material use. On paper, the equipment list and drivetrain efficiency is excellent however the execution requires a bit of improvement. Even still, the car still shines in driving engagement, overall comfort and design. If class leading efficiency and practicality is not the top priority, then the Mazda3 is a no brainer for someone looking for a fun hatchback. Having a manual option in a well-equipped trim is blessing in disguise for enthusiast drivers.