Tag Archives: Mazda

Mazda3 GT keeps the fun, adds class

The 2015 Mazda3 GT surprised with its affection for snow.

The 2015 Mazda3 GT surprised with its affection for snow.

The following review appeared in the Oye! Times automotive section on Feb. 26, and can be viewed here.

Is the Mazda3 GT as good as it gets when it comes to affordable, sporty compact cars?

It could very well be.

Two weeks in the 2015 Mazda3 GT revealed the taught, shapely sedan to be a comfortable, refined performer, and a surprisingly good vehicle for tackling the worst of Canadian winters.

It’s not hard on the eyes, either.

When the third-generation Mazda3 debuted for the 2014 model year, the cartoonish ‘smile’ that adorned the front end of the previous generation had been wiped away, replaced with a mature and subtly elegant look.

Mazda likens its company-wide KODO design language to a cheetah pouncing on prey, which isn’t a bad metaphor. Viewed from any angle, the Mazda3’s long hood, short deck and curvaceous flanks hint at the proportions of the classic Jaguar E-Type of the 1960s – another famous automotive cat.



IMG_8081 (1484x1824)

Mazda’s CONNECT system allows the driver to control infotainment systems from this console-mounted dial.


The GT is the Mazda3’s top trim level, and comes with all the goodies needed to stand out from the rest of the lineup.

Under the hood lies Mazda’s SKYACTIV-G 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, a high compression (13:1) direction-injection powerplant that makes a smooth 185 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque.

A six speed manual transmission comes standard, and is the gearbox you’d want in a sporty car like this. With short, notchy throws and a lower gearing than the optional six speed automatic, the transmission helps the driver wring the most fun out of the GT’s engine.

The GT ditches the 16-inch wheels of the base and mid-range Mazda3 in favour of 18-inch alloy rims, wrapped with wide 215/45R18 rubber.

This tester came with the optional luxury group, which added leather upholstery and interior trim to the GT’s long list of standard features, which includes a power moonroof, fog lights, 9-speaker Bose audio system, heated seats, rear backup camera and power everything.

Heads up! Mazda's flip-up speed display keeps your eyes on the road.

Heads up! Mazda’s flip-up speed display keeps your eyes on the road.

To aid the driver, the GT employs Mazda’s heads-up driving display, which projects the vehicle’s speed onto a flip-up glass panel above the instrument panel. Gimmicky but useful, it helps keep your eyes on the road.

The seats, shod in black leather with red stitching, were a little flat on the bottom, but were infinitely adjustable.

The rear seats folded down to expand the 12.4 square foot trunk, which is on the small side for its class (No worries, as the Mazda3 comes in a hatchback version for those wanting more cargo space).

The nerve centre of the Mazda3 uses a 7-inch touchscreen display mounted atop the dash (eyes on the road, people!), controlled by a large rotary switch located on the console.  The MAZDA CONNECT infotainment system controls all radio, audio input, navigation and wireless connectivity functions, and was easy to get used to.

Mazda's KODO design language doesn't ignore the taillights.

Mazda’s KODO design language doesn’t ignore the taillights.

Besides being user-friendly, the CONNECT system serves to de-clutter the dash, which is reserved mainly for the dual-zone climate controls.

That sparse but expansive dash, coupled with the tasteful use of shiny bits and decent quality interior trim pieces, made the Mazda3 GT look and feel like a low-end German luxury car. That’s not a bad thing to be compared to.


Driving impressions


Lower gearing helped the Mazda3 respond quickly in city driving and reduced the need for downshifting.

Lower gearing helped the Mazda3 respond quickly in city driving and reduced the need for downshifting.

If isolation from engine and road noise is a sign of luxury, then the Mazda3 GT comes close to attaining that status.

The SKYACTIV-G engine only lets on that its running when the throttle is opened up, and even then there’s little vibration or harshness to be felt through the vehicle.

The 2.5-litre never feels like it’s working all that hard, and under brisk acceleration, the engine note in the cabin remains muted.

Fitting for a model with a reputation for sportiness to uphold, the GT’s suspension is on the firm side, which makes softening winter road cracks and frost heaves a challenge.

The worst pavement imperfections make their presence widely felt, an issue compounded by the GT’s wide low-profile tires, but they were at least buffered somewhat. The cure – a softer suspension – would run the risk of turning a sporty car into a marshmallow and ruining summer driving fun.

Despite the war zone roads and frequent snowfalls, the Mazda3 felt planted and stable in all conditions. It felt, actually, like it was several hundred pounds heftier than it was.

Traction control that wasn't overbearing was a pleasant surprise, and lent itself to a sporty ride.

Traction control that wasn’t overbearing was a pleasant surprise, and lent itself to a sporty ride.

Mazda’s use of ultra-high-tensile steel in key areas of the body (it’s the first automaker to do so) makes for a stronger, lighter vehicle, and the GT tips the scales at a lean 2,980 pounds.

On the highway and around town, the steering remained heavy and on-centre, with no tendency for the car to wander, even in heavy crosswinds.

That heavy steering helped keep the GT pointed forward in deep snow, while the Michelin X-Ice snow tires our tester came with deserve a lot of credit for keeping their grip.

Unlike some traction control systems, the electronic nanny keeping the GT in check didn’t shut down the party prematurely. Corrections to wheel slip and skids were quite subtle – enough to keep the driver firmly in control while still making the GT a fun vehicle to drive, even in deep snow.

Despite the performance-geared manual transmission, the GT’s gas mileage didn’t stray from factory numbers. On one 100 kilometre highway trip (both 4-lane and 2-lane), the GT returned 6.4 litres/100 km, which matches its official rating.

The Mazda3 weathered the coldest February on record in the Ottawa Valley with ease.

The Mazda3 weathered the coldest February on record in the Ottawa Valley with ease.

Another trip of similar distance returned 6.1 litres/100 km. In the city, the GT is rated at 9.3 litres/100 km, which is achievable in light traffic (with at least a few green lights).

Thanks to a taller gearset, Mazda3s equipped with the automatic transmission return better fuel economy, both in the city and on the highway. Even thought the majority of GT buyers will go this route, not having an available stick shift in this model would seem like sacrilege.

The ‘fun and sporty’ reputation Mazda developed over the years is still present in the Mazda3 GT, but in a more mature form. With the model’s adolescence now in the rear-view, the newly refined Mazda3 is ready to be appreciated by an adult audience.

In the land of giants

2014 Mazda 2 proves a surprisingly liveable road trip companion*

*too bad about the transmission

The Mazda 2 beams with joy after reaching the Rockies...all by itself!

The Mazda 2 beams with joy after reaching the Rockies…all by itself!

Like Texas of the North, it just seems that everything’s bigger in the province of Alberta.

Personal wealth, population growth and the proportions of private vehicles all outstrip the national median. Oh, and there are big mountains, too.

The only thing not in oversupply after landing in a hot, sunny Edmonton two weeks ago was rental car choice – the airport cupboard was as bare as supermarket shelves before a hurricane. A cab took me to an off-site agency, where I waged a bloody battle for the last four-wheeled machine that didn’t possess a half-ton carrying capacity.

Beggars can’t be choosers, so fate and circumstance left me holding the keys to a diminutive Mazda 2 – a zygote of a vehicle by Alberta standards, but one that would ultimately carry me for several thousand kilometres over two weeks.

As a 6’4″ man with a sensitive back and (maybe) a similar ego, I was a little worried. Would Mazda’s smallest offering ultimately break me like an adolescent’s heart?

My initial fears proved unfounded. After two weeks of driving across picturesque landscapes both urban and rural, mountainous and endlessly flat, the Mazda 2 proved itself to be a comfortable, roomy, and compliant driver, albeit one with a few qualms.

The nitty-gritty

First off, the car’s drivetrain is more likely to inspire flashbacks to the 90s than get pulses racing. With a 1.5-litre four-cylinder (the only available engine), making 100 horsepower and 98 foot-pounds of torque, the hatchback’s power numbers fail to impress when viewed on paper.

Transmission choices are also archaic – a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic rounded out the gearbox menu.

"You think you're pretty tall, huh? Let's dance."

“You think you’re pretty tall, huh? Let’s dance.”

Venturing inside the silver 4-door rental tester, the base-level interior matched the drive train for sheer minimalism. A tachometer and CD player with radio presets joined power windows and door locks in the luxury item category, though the door locks were inconveniently placed on the centre console and the exiting door had to be locked via a key.

Air conditioning came in handy on the hottest of days, and when acrid forest fire smoke encroached from faraway blazes. However, being a windows-down kind of guy (and wanting to maximize mileage), AC usage was kept to a minimum during the trip.

The Mazda’s spartan instrumentation didn’t leave much room for computing power. A trip meter was provided, but on a long road journey through vast stretches of wilderness, a miles-till empty display would have provided piece-of-mind (especially given the car’s less-than-exact eight-bar digital fuel gauge and tiny gas tank).

These little details proved an annoying yet minor distraction from an otherwise compliant vehicle.

The drive

The first few days of the test involved inner-city and highway driving in and around the rapidly growing city of Edmonton, as well as a trip to Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies – about three-and-a-half hours each way.

The base Mazda 2 didn’t come equipped with a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, but I found the wheel was already optimally placed for my stature.

So too was the cushy-yet-supportive seat, which provided proper back support and was the right height for the wheel.

Headroom and legroom was surprisingly abundant in the Mazda 2’s cabin, and the armrests never once caused elbow soreness (a common complain on long-haul drives). Amazingly, I had lucked into a very comfy subcompact for this journey.

On the road,  the car’s light weight (about 2,300 pounds), tight turning radius and 55-series tires (mounted on 15-inch rims) made for a taught feel and nimble road manners. At all speeds, the steering remained weighted and on centre, with no play or need for minor corrections at high speed.

"Finally, a field as cheerful as I am!"

“Finally, a field as cheerful as I am!”

These mannerisms came in handy not just on the streets of downtown Edmonton (clogged with menacing mountains of moving steel) but also on hair-raising hairpin mountain roads where the car’s handling and precision was an asset.

In a straight line, the cog-challenged automatic was happy to revv close to redline under moderate acceleration, making the most of the engine’s meager horsepower, but was reluctant to leave the comfort of overdrive at speed unless the accelerator was nearly floored. With no cruise control (another gripe), this meant a falloff in speed before a looming monster in the rear-view necessitated a throttle jab and the desired downshift.

An overdrive lockout button was located on the shifter, which ended up being used regularly in loftier elevations. Equipped with the manual transmission, I could see this car coming alive and being a fun little runabout, not unlike older Honda Civic hatches from the late 80s and early 90s.

The front disc/rear drum anti-lock brakes reliably brought the featherweight car to a halt in short order, and exhibited a firm, consistent brake pedal feel that didn’t go unappreciated.

With double-trailer transport trucks regularly plying area highways, mingling with the standard single-occupant commuter vehicle favoured by Edmontonians (A Ford F-350 or Ram 3500 crew cab 4×4, often with lift kit), the wee Mazda seemed to be in a perpetual state of menace.

However, absent from the driving experience – on 110km/h highways as well as on windy mountain passes – was the buffeting normally encountered by small cars traveling fast outside of a vacuum. The little Mazda must have all the right curves, as it stayed planted in its lane as crosswinds slipped around it.

I’ll admit to feeling a little emasculated by my losing hand in the automotive size contest, but not having to spend more than $40 at the gas pump was a bonus that gave me just a little feeling of smug satisfaction.

Mazda lists the automatic’s fuel consumption at 7.1 litres/100km in the city and 5.8 on the highway, while the 5-speed returns slightly better numbers. Even with the automatic, these numbers are better than those returned by, say, the Nissan Micra, and pretty much identical to those of a base Chevy Sonic.

What next?

A lack of interior refinement and available features is a handicap for the 2 that could affect sales, though a replacement looms on the horizon. Recently, Mazda announced it will be introducing the subcompact’s successor sometime in 2015 as a 2016 model.

The new model is expected to incorporate the ‘Kodo’ design language currently seen on the Mazda 3 and 6 (thus banishing the last of the demented clown faces to the scrap heap of history), while also piling on the technology.

It's not the size that matters; it's where you go with it.

It’s not the size that matters; it’s where you go with it.

A fuel-efficient Skyactiv engine of an undetermined small displacement will likely be found under the hood, and it should be safe to say goodbye to the 4-speed automatic, and possibly the 5-speed stick as well.

Despite being modestly endowed with power and saddled with a museum artifact for a transmission, the Mazda 2 held up well during two weeks of extensive driving under very diverse conditions.

From the endless fields of Saskatchewan to the towering peaks of British Columbia, in rain, heat and forest fire smoke, the tiny hatchback proved easy to like and held its own against Alberta’s road-going battlecruisers.

If the next generation of Mazda 2 keeps the current model’s nimble, roomy attributes – and low price – while bringing the technology up to date and boosting mileage, Mazda will have a very competitive vehicle on its hands.