The year is about to come to an end and by now, you think it’s a foregone conclusion on what the best compact car is. Well, depending on what your priorities are, the answer isn’t as clear cut as you may think. If you still value driving above everything else, then you shouldn’t settle for a car with an “H” upfront. There’s only one definitive driver’s compact out and that’s the Mazda3.
Still looking every bit as sporty and modern, it comes as a surprise that the current Mazda3 has been around since 2014. Considering that two years is a long time in automotive terms, the overall design has stood up to the test of time. Of course, that’s not to say Mazda hasn’t made any improvements to the way it looks. On the contrary, revisions have been done to visually widen the stance.
It’s appreciated especially from the front where the Mazda3’s new headlight clusters, now illuminated by active LEDs, flow better to the bigger and wider wing grille. From there, the Mazda emblem has been repositioned, fitting much better with the thicker horizontal slats. Even the signal indicators, fog lamps (now LEDs as well) and lower air intake have been tweaked all in the name of stance. The rear-end changes are far less dramatic, but the reduction in the high-gloss plastic bits is very welcome. Far less welcome is the 2017’s more aggressive wrap-around aero kit which has somehow increased its propensity to scrape when going through steep driveways.
While Mazda engineers put their effort on giving the Mazda3 a wider stance outside, inside, they’ve concentrated on upping the fit and finish. There hasn’t been any doubt that they’ve already been providing a premium feel for this car’s class, but after this update, they’ve upgraded it even further. Raiding the Mazda6 parts bin, which isn’t a bad thing, the Mazda3 now dons a completely new center console from the climate control buttons all the way to the arm rest. The Command Controller rotary knob is still there, but the mechanical parking brake has been ditched for an electric, push-button one. This zeros the chance of would-be drivers from ever attempting a handbrake turn, but it does also give birth to two Venti sized cup holders.
Looking around, there are other detail changes from the steering wheel with thicker spokes and larger controls, darker metallic accents on the dashboard and vents, and (sadly) scratch-prone piano black power window switch bezels. The ingenious use of screen protectors can probably rectify the last bit, but there’s no correcting the Mazda3’s most glaring issue: the gauges. For the love of the driving gods, Mazda, please do with something with a bit more pizzazz. Sure, it’s legible and it’s new for 2017, but it still looks like something plucked out of a calculator.
Apart from the instrument cluster, interior space is still at a premium. There’s no problem with the seat support front or back (they’re great and equally comfy), but the rear passengers will clamor for more head and knee room. Together with the upward slope of the greenhouse, it lends a claustrophobic feel at the back. Finally, your eyes aren’t deceiving you: Mazda finally ditched the impractical Pure White leather for an all-black number. It’s a definite plus for those wanting an easy to maintain car.
As the Speed model, this particular Mazda3 is priced at P 1,398,000. For those keeping score, that’s down exactly to the last peso as the newest kid on the block and 2016’s biggest headline: the Honda Civic RS Turbo. So how do these two stack up against each other? Surprisingly, the Made in Japan Mazda holds out on its own. It has: blind spot indicators, dual zone climate control, heads-up display (that niftily displays navigation and blind spot information), front and rear parking sensors with cross traffic alert and reverse camera, a moon roof, and a 9-speaker Bose sound system—things not found in the Civic. Clearly, the Civic is walloped in terms of equipment and offers only two advantages. First, it’s the only one that offers Android Auto and Apple Car Play; and second, it’s got 20 more horsepower on tap.
Technophiles will say that the Civic’s first advantage makes its infotainment system much more future-proof than the Mazda’s, and that’s entirely believable. The second advantage though, the one about the power, is debatable. If the world were all drag strips, then sure, the Civic will smoke the Mazda3 each and every time. As it is though, the Mazda3 is the better car to drive in the real world and by a huge margin. Credit goes to Mazda’s new Skyactiv-Vehicle Dynamics which starts with G-Vectoring Control or GVC. Without getting too technical, GVC uses the engine to extract more grip from the chassis. It minutely controls the torque going to the wheels and thanks to physics, it reduces the unwanted swaying or pitching motion. It’s ingenious and unlike other torque vectoring systems, it works the moment you turn the steering wheel.
By far, GVC is the ace up Mazda’s sleeve and the very reason why the Mazda3 is still the best driver’s compact. Thanks to the horrendous traffic, there’s no love lost in doing that daily home to office commute and yet these driving chores can be fun in a Mazda3. The added precision from the steering together with the noticeably improved NVH makes a world of difference. For instance, it’s more stable and responsive to quick, sudden lane change maneuvers. Meanwhile, parking ramps can be fun too if they have a long, continuous slope. With just well-calculated turn of the wheel and GVC gives you prowess; there’s no need to saw the wheel anymore. It’s also more than just a parlor trick. It also reduces body sway during cornering thereby minimizing the chance of motion sickness for sensitive passengers. At higher speeds, noise intrusion is noticeably reduced and stability has been improved.
This newfound sense of stability and linearity goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the drivetrain. Using a normally-aspirated engine, it’s down in terms of outright power, but makes up for it with a well-tuned throttle pedal. This makes the Mazda3 very easy to drive in stop-and-go traffic. The only flipside is that once you want some race pace, you’ll need to wring the engine a bit more. And that’s fine because the powerplant is smooth with a nice, throaty note at the top end. The 6-speed automatic is also a willing partner-in-crime, shifting quickly and efficiently. There are paddle shifters, but you won’t need them.
As a company, Mazda has dedicated themselves to designing and engineering cars which celebrate driving; and the 2017 Mazda3 flows with that kind of personality inside and out. It’s not promising to be the compact segment’s jack of all trades and it most definitely is not. Rather, it’s got a clear cut mission to satisfy the few who still put spirited handling above everything else, even if it’s just for the daily grind. It’s hard to imagine a “regular” compact car being this good, but here it is in full Soul Red glory. For the handful who appreciate driving, the Mazda3 is a godsend in a sea of cold, lifeless computer cars, be it turbocharged or not.
2017 Mazda3 Speed
|Ownership||2017 Mazda3 Speed Hatchback|
|Year Introduced||2014 (Refreshed: 2016)|
|Vehicle Classification||Compact Car|
|Body Type||5-door Hatchback|
|Engine / Drive||F/F|
|Under the Hood|
|Fuel Delivery||Direct Injection|
|Layout / # of Cylinders||I4|
|BHP @ rpm||153 @ 6,000|
|Nm @ rpm||200 @ 4,000|
|Fuel / Min. Octane||Gasoline / 91~|
|Fuel Economy @ Ave. Speed||8.47 km/L @ 12 km/h|
|Dimensions and Weights|
|Curb Weight (kg)||1,322|
|Suspension and Tires|
|Front Suspension||Independent, MacPherson Strut|
|Rear Suspension||Independent, Multi-link|
|Front Brakes||Vented Disc|
|Tires||Dunlop Sport Maxx TT 215/45 R 18 W (f & r)|
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)||Yes|
|Traction / Stability Control||Yes|
|Parking Sensors||Yes, Front and Rear with Camera, Cross Traffic Alert|
|Other Safety Features||Blind Spot Detection|
|Fog Lamps||Yes, Front|
|Steering Wheel Adjust||Tilt/Telescopic|
|Steering Wheel Material||Leather|
|Seating Adjustment||Electric (driver)|
|Folding Rear Seat||Yes, 60/40|
|Power Door Locks||Yes|
|Power Mirrors||Yes, with Fold|
|Climate Control||Yes, Dual Zone|
|# of Speakers||9, Bose|