Raising the bar on the compact car
Words by: Adam Allen
You say this is a compact car? It sure doesn’t look like one.
That’s true- there really is nothing comparable in the segment on sale today that comes close to the Mazda3. With each passing generation Mazda brings us a car that is much better than the one before it and gives competitors a run for their money. But this time it seems they haven’t bothered with any of their segment rivals, instead choosing to focus on upmarket bogies like the Audi A3, the new Mercedes Benz A-Class and BMW’s upcoming 1-series. After spending a week in the current BP generation, we think the aforementioned entry level luxury suspects are more realistic comparables to Mazda’s best seller, leaving the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla to watch forlornly on the sidelines. The only similarities the Mazda3 shares with its usual rivals is size, weight, and power.
Mazda is moving upmarket.
That much is obvious. It starts off with subtle clues that Mazda is getting serious about their premium aspirations. Remember the whole ‘Zoom-Zoom’ thing? There isn’t any reference to that campy slogan in the press materials and it stands to reason it won’t be part of the marketing plan. The fonts for the Mazda badging and inside the car in various locations are different and have a whiff of sophistication. Heck,even the bongs and chimes the car emits have a polished feel about them.
It’s a gorgeous thing, isn’t it?
Seeing the Mazda3 in pictures and you clearly understand that it is a nice-looking car and that it evolves the 3’s design language in forward fashion. Yet when you first see it in the metal, its aesthetics are more meaningful and the word ‘sensual’ kept popping into our minds. The Hyundai Elantra, which trades on its ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ styling, is as sensual as a coffee maker by comparison. That’s right folks- we used an adjective usually reserved for some of the world’s most beautiful cars to describe the looks of the humble Mazda3. It takes a while to process all the delicate tapers and flares of the body work, and we minutiae geeks adored the attention to detail like the 4 individual LED lighting elements used for the rear turn signals.
It’s pretty ritzy indoors, too.
Can you keep a straight face and say that any of the Mazda3’s compact competition can hang with its exquisite interior? The answer is no, and frankly we don’t think the Germans we mentioned earlier can match the wow factor either. It feels like the assembly and stitching was carried out by fussy craftspeople rather than methods more in line with mass production. That is the main thing we took away after spending time with the 3, but there were some highlights that are worth mentioning too, like the new infotainment system. Mazda’s outgoing HMI unit has the feel of a toddler’s toy when put against the new Mazda Connect system. Even the main control knob and the adjacent one for volume operate with a slickness a level above their predecessors. Menus are thoughtfully laid out and the system responds right now to your commands. We aren’t normally in awe of climate controls, but the ‘form follows function’ and minimalist feel of the interface in the Mazda3 is nothing short of incredible. In an era where so many manufactures are getting this wrong we appreciated the 3’s that much more. Another ‘how’d they do that?’ moment will occur the first time you tune the sound system to satellite radio- you expect the usually crappy sound quality but what meets your ears is pure sonic goodness- seriously people, this stereo is so much better than some of the mega buck so-called upgrades the luxury brands are hawking it’s almost humorous. The last thing we came away impressed with was the noise, vibration and harshness- now, it can be said, for the lack thereof- has been dramatically reduced to the point where you can now use the term ‘refined’ to describe your driving experience.
Speaking of driving experience, what’s it like on the road?
Mazda may have binned the whole Zoom-Zoom thing, but the fact remains that the 3 is still as engaging to drive it’s ever been. We were worried after scanning the press materials and we saw that the rear suspension now features a beam axle, replacing the fully independent setup. For a Mitsubishi Mirage that’s fine, but for a zippy compact like the 3, cousin to the exalted MX-5? It simply won’t do, we cried out in angst. Turns out we were wrong because not only do the rudimentary rear suspenders keep ride quality firm but expertly compliant, there is no perceived demerits where handling is concerned. It helps that the entire car’s mass is shepherded by one of the better electronically assisted steering racks you can find, and the two work together to keep the 3’s sense of fun intact. We’ll take this opportunity to applaud the car’s manual gearbox, an increasing rarity even in this segment. The alternative is an automatic gearbox which happens to function quite nicely, but give us three pedals and a stick any day of the week.
What might go wrong?
As much as we lavish praise on Mazda for sticking with offering a manual, there are a few flies in the ointment. Clutch take-up is a bit vague, and the whole mechanism seems to have lost some of the crispness we recall from the past. Also, and we’re not sure if this affliction was isolated to our tester, but we found at times the shift lever was reluctant to find 1st gear. Again we’ll complain about Mazda’s decision to make the Heads-Up Display default setting ‘on’, rather than having to wade into the infotainment’s menu layers to get it to disappear. Rear visibility is also Camaro-like (read: not great) thanks to those massive C-pillars but it’s telling that Mazda chose to forgo clearer sightlines in favor of aesthetics, a decision we applaud. Lastly- this car is crying out for a high-performance model- it’s likely a spicier version of the turbocharged inline-four found in the CX-5 Signature would fit without too much coaxing and a rear-biased AWD system would look great on the menu too. We’ll remain cautiously optimistic.
Should I buy a Mazda3 Sport GT?
You should buy one, and do it soon, because once Mazda realizes that people would pay more for this car than the number on the munroney, they’ll jack up the price. OK, so we made that last part up, but if you’re seriously considering adding a compact car to your personal fleet and demand they best, how have you not bought one already?
2019 Mazda3 Sport GT- Specifications
- Price as tested: $30,295
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger hatchback
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
- Engine: 2.5-litre inline four, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 186 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 186 @ 4,000 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Curb weight: 1,390 kg (3,064 lbs)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 8.9/100km (27 mpg)