Review: 2017 Mazda3: More of a good thing
— Montreal, Quebec
The 2017 Mazda3 represents that rarest of affordable compact cars: one that prizes the driving experience just as much as it does fuel efficiency. Although there are few poor choices to make when seeking an inexpensive daily driver these days, the majority of the small car options facing Canadian shoppers are more interested in coddling customers and sipping gas rather than whipping up their blood. That the Mazda3 can do both of these things while remaining interesting to drive makes it a genuinely appealing option for enthusiasts forced to bow to their left-brains.
The most recent model year Mazda3 has also seen a host of tweaks, changes, and improvements made to both the sedan and the hatchback versions of the car. Cosmetically, it's largely status quo, but chances are you may notice the revised grille, LED headlights, front and rear fascias, and steering wheel, as well as the trim updates that have been scattered throughout the vehicle's cabin. The Mazda's seats - both in terms of materials use and design - have also been given a boost, and offer better support than in years past.
The system is transparent to the point where you're really not supposed to be able to tell whether G Vectoring is having any effect.
More important to drivers, however, is the shift to something the company is calling 'G Vectoring,' a marketing term that refers to the Mazda3's ability to better manage the amount of torque being transmitted to the front wheels. It's a move intended to not just enhance cornering capability, but also help make the car smoother to drive in every situation, and it yokes together the transmission and revised suspension tuning as part of this overall effort.
Does it work? To be honest, the system is transparent to the point where you're really not supposed to be able to tell whether G Vectoring is having any effect, and I certainly didn't notice anything intrusive about the engine's behaviour, even under full throttle. My tester's 2.5-litre 4-cylinder offered up its 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of twist in unfettered fashion, and the optional 6-speed automatic gearbox (a 6-speed manual is also offered) was likewise driver-friendly in its operation. Thanks to its Skyactiv-sourced direct fuel injection and frugal mindset, the Mazda was also quite reasonable on my wallet when it came time to fill up, too.
All the electronic gizmos and driver's aids in the world won't help transform a scrub into an athlete.
Still, all the electronic gizmos and driver's aids in the world won't help transform a scrub into an athlete - and it's in the chassis department that the Mazda3 truly shines. This is a car whose platform was already rewarding to push harder than one would be comfortable doing in almost any other compact, with or without G Vectoring, and that remains true for the 2017 edition as well. Mazda's ability to tune the handling of even its most affordable models to deliver exceptional fluidity and feedback out on the road is made that much more impressive by the fact that the enhance agility detracts not a wit from ride comfort.
From a dynamics perspective, Mazda is clearly leading the small car pack with the Mazda3 - and our only complaint, really, is that the car's platform is screaming out for a hot hatch variant a la Focus ST or Golf GTI (you can get a more modest 155 hp 2.0-litre, but nothing mightier than the 2.5). The same can't be said, however, when it comes to evaluating the level of technology that Mazda has stuffed inside its entry-level automobile.
I'm hopeful that in the future, Mazda's feature execution will match its chassis development.
Inherently, there's nothing 'wrong' with the Mazda3's infotainment system, which covers the mobile phone-linking, navigation-having, and satellite-radio listening needs of most drivers. It's the interface itself, with its unusual combination of a small rotary dial on the center console and a touchscreen that is only active when the vehicle isn't moving, that makes it somewhat difficult to move from one menu to the next - particularly when driving.
Then there's the head-up display, which consists of a plastic screen that folds up from the dash on top of the gauge cluster and which can't ever be retracted, even if the information display functionality itself is turned off. I found the position of the screen required us to glance down away from the road to view it, which defeated the purpose of having a head-up unit in the first place. Still, going down the list of available safety gear - including blind spot monitoring and automatic braking - it's clear that Mazda has set its sights on keeping pace with other tech-heavy options in the compact segment. This has me hopeful that in the future, feature execution will rise above its current level and match the excellence the Mazda3 displays in other areas.
Taken as a whole, the 2017 Mazda3 can hold its head high when in the company of illustrious peers from Ford, Toyota, and Honda. It can also leave most of its rivals behind in the dust once the roads start to get twisty.
Photos: Benjamin Hunting