Last year, we drove, what would be the essence of a great car, the Cadillac CTS VSport. Since then, we haven’t been able to find another car that offers that same kind of enthusiastic driving ecstasy. The problem with the Caddy, it’s too much dough for the civilized world, you can score for a Subaru WRX or Mitsubishi Lancer Evo – but those too can get pretty costly when your start having too much fun with the options lists. So that really only leaves the Mazda3 2.4L and the Civic Si as the only way to go when wanting an affordable sports car that can haul two other passengers.
Last year we took a look at the more sensible road going version Mazda3 i-Grand Touring with a 2.0-liter six speed automatic. Our conclusion was a mere respectable above average for something that achieves over 40 mpg and continues to offer some driving gratifications. However, here at SSB headquarters, we’re drivers, not fuel sippers – so we are taking another look at the Mazda3 only this time with the 2.4-liter and a manual transmission.
Carried over from 2014, not much has changed. The Mazda3 continues its striking good looks, and aggressive body style. To get the 2.4-liter engine as seen on our tester here, you have to opt for the ‘S’ models – ours is featured as the top spec’d Grand Touring. Opting for the S Grand Touring offers the Mazda3 with a much more suitable appearance package adding LED Daytime Running Lamps, swiveling Bi-Xenon Adaptive Headlamps, LED Taillights and aesthetically pleasing 18” alloy wheels which all ties in nicely to our optioned $300 Soul Red Metallic paint.
In a turbo happy world, it’s nice to see that Mazda hasn’t drank the Kool-Aid. 184 horsepower is fed from an eager to please 2.4-liter SKYATIV-G engine to the front wheels – power down the Mazda3 will happily do zero to 60 in just over 7 seconds. The standard six-speed manual transmission is one to favor – gear changes are relatively smooth, the throws are short and the clutch has a subtle hint of heaviness that makes it easy to live with.
One of the features of the SKYACTIV Technology is a well-built chassis – the chassis is light weight for fuel efficiency but strong enough to endure aggressive, exuberant driving styles. Usually when manufactures start adding the word “Sporty” to the mix, it’s a tell-tale sign of spinal altering misery. However, Mazda has sorted all of this out – the suspension here is setup to be a comfortable, daily city driver and then when the weekend hits, the Mazda3 holds a steady balance of firmness in the suspension providing minimum body roll in and out of corners. You couldn’t ask for more precision from a compact car in terms of handling – there steering provides excellent feedback and feel – you constantly get a good feel for the road and where your tires are at – this is about as good as it gets for something under 30-grand.
Onto interior dynamics – it’s the same our sampled 2.0-liter automatic we tested last year – Dual Zone Climate Control, Push Button Start, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and an excellent 7” Color Touch Screen Display with Navigation and Mazda Connect. With our tested S Grand Touring we were upgraded with comfortable, supportive sport leather seats and a heads up display (Mazda term: Active Driving Display), as well as a more sport enhanced gauge cluster.
Unlike the 2.0-liter auto – we weren’t so lucky at achieving the 41 mpg rated fuel efficiency. Adding the extra power means less fuel economy. Rated at 25/37/29 (city/highway/combined) we recorded 28 mpg combined during our week of testing – not too shabby from something that consistently put a smile on our face.
We’re constantly asked, “What’s a good car for a good value” – usually our response is depends on how much you want to spend. However in this case, you’re looking at it. At an as tested price of $26,335, the Mazda3 is not only good value for the money, but manages to bring that enthusiasm of driving back – and these days, that’s a rare find.
|Price (As Tested):|
|2015 Mazda3 2.4L S Grand Touring:||$25,045|
|Scuff Plates/Door Sills:||$125|
|Soul Red Metallic Paint:||$300|