The phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” can apply in spades to automobiles. We could also toss in “leave well enough alone” or “don’t mess with success.” Car makers have an annoying habit of taking a perfectly good model and altering or ‘refining’ it just because … well, just because.
But with the 2020 Mazda3, the changes continue to add value to the package.
When it was introduced in 2003, it was a game-changer for the company. Wildly successful almost from the get-go, the Mazda3 has turned out to be one the company’s best sellers.
Along the way, it has been gradually updated and ‘refreshed’ to the point where it’s definitely not the car it used to be. That’s especially true for the Mazda3 Sport, which I spent some time with recently.
Power for the Mazda3 Sport comes from a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that delivers 186 horsepower and can be mated to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. My tester had the former and all things considered, it’s the logical choice.
Part of Mazda’s SkyActiv program, this engine features comparatively high compression and has a cylinder deactivation system. The idea behind the former is to provide maximum combustion and in the process, maximum efficiency. Combine this with the deactivation feature, which comes into play during highway driving, and you have a thrifty, tractable and very usable four-cylinder engine that delivers decent – but not outstanding – fuel economy. It’s also extremely smooth in operation and both engineering highlights are virtually unnoticeable.
This applies to the manual gearbox as well. I thought Honda had a lock on smooth, usable and well-space manual transmissions, but not any more. The Mazda3 is a paragon of refinement when it comes to well-spaced gear ratios and versatility. One of my standard routines when driving a car of this type is to go through the gears without using the clutch and the Mazda3 didn’t disappoint. I’m not suggesting you drive this way all the time but if you had to, you could drive this car clutch-less, no problem.
I also like the ease of ingress and egress and storage capacity. Pop the hatchback, fold the back seat up and you have almost 600 litres of cargo capacity. Not huge, but for most buyers of this kind of vehicle, more than enough.
Backseat passengers may find the roofline a little snug but that’s the nature of the beast in this market.
Unsurprisingly, the Mazda3 Sport also comes with the usual bevy of safety features, including rear cross traffic alert, hill stop assist, parking sensors and rearview camera. All good.
But there are a couple of things about this car I truly didn’t like:
- I don’t know who designed the sound system for this car, but they need to be spoken to. What an unmitigated mess. Just figuring it out is a time-consuming pain in the posterior and once you’ve done that, it’s a multi-step process to achieve simple things like changing stations or sources.
- Only marginally less annoying is a feature that automatically sets the parking brake when you shut the car off. This means when you get in it, start the engine and put it in gear, you have to release the electronic parking brake every time. I suppose what bugs me most about this is the fact Mazda seems to think drivers aren’t capable of making this decision on their own.
But redesign the sound system and fix the parking brake override and you have a nice little car that’s fun to drive, nimble and nice looking. And it comes standard with a heated steering wheel, which helps to counteract the negatives.
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual or automatic
Horsepower: 186 at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 186 foot pounds at 4,000 rpm
Base price: $26,200; $30,395 as tested
Fuel economy: 9.2 litres/100 km city and 6.6 litres/100 km highway, with regular gas
Some alternatives: Hyundai Veloster, Toyota Corolla Hatchback, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen GTI, Mini Cooper, Hyundai GT, Kia Forte 5.
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).