2012 Mazda3 Sport GS-SKY Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Published on May 13, 2012

Some styling tweaks smooth out Mazda3 design for 2012. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

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All Mazda3s like corners, and the new 2012 Sport GS-SKY is no exception. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on May 13, 2012

All this fun and it's good on gas too! (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

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SKYACTIV badges set this super-efficient Mazda3 apart. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

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Mazda3 interior is especially upscale with GS-Leather package. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

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Details like 5-way heated seats make the Mazda3 wonderful to live with. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

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Nice seats! (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

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Look under the hood and you won't have to question whether you're driving a SKYACTIV model, as the engine cover is blue! (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on May 13, 2012

I've driven a lot of compact Mazdas throughout the years and one theme has always been dominant, they've all been fun to drive. From an old 323 hatchback I used to own to the first Protegé press car I got my hands on as a journalist, getting behind the wheel of a little Mazda has always been something I've looked forward to.

The same goes for today's Mazda3 lineup. From the base Mazda3 GX with its better-than-average 148 horsepower to the awe-inspiring turbocharged 263 horsepower Mazdaspeed3, and the 167 horsepower Mazda3 GT in between, compact Mazdas are a force to be reckoned with. I've lived with them in the quagmire of stop-and-go city traffic, driven them hard on curving back roads and stretched their legs on fast-paced freeways. I've even flung them through the cones on autocross courses and better yet, spiraled down the corkscrew at California's famed Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, a track that you might have noticed is sponsored by this sport-oriented Japanese brand and therefore bears its name. After eight years of testing the Mazda3 I've never once been disappointed. And now comes the oddly named Mazda3 GS-SKY.

Why SKY? I understood when Mazda came out with the 2002 Protegé MP3: It was one of the first cars to boast a stereo with then-new MP3 playback technology. When I tested the 2003 Mazdaspeed Protegé its name made sense too: It was fast. Calling the hatchback a 5-Door in the U.S. and a Sport in Canada? I never think it's a smart marketing move to confuse Canadian customers with different names when they're sure to be bombarded with the huge advertising bleed from U.S. TV stations, but I've got to agree with Mazda Canada, the 5-Door is definitely sporty. But SKY makes about as much sense in shortened form as its longer SKYACTIV name does. The engine cover is blue, depicting a blue sky I suppose, as is the cool blue interior backlighting, previously red. And the engine runs cleaner which should help keep the sky blue. It gets more power than base too, which must be why they chose the ACTIV portion of the name. The lack of an "E"? Maybe the naming committee was sitting around an Ikea Effectiv conference table when lightning struck?

What SKYACTIV isn't, is the auto industry's longest acronym, thank goodness. It's also not a hybrid. Rather, it's a combination of performance and fuel-economy enhancing technologies that stay true to Mazda's core value of performance-oriented driving. Yah, who cares what they're calling it, I'm buying in. Here's a list of what makes the Mazda3 GS-SKY different from its siblings: 1) The SKYACTIV-G direct-injection 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with a high 12:1 compression ratio, precise multi-point injector technology and uniquely shaped piston cavities for a more fully controlled burn process, produces 7 additional horsepower than the base engine at 155, and 13 lb-ft of additional torque found 400 rpm lower in the rev range giving it 10- to 15-percent more low- to mid-range torque along with 15-percent less fuel consumption and emissions than Mazda's regular 2.0-litre engine; 2) SKYACTIV-MT 6-speed manual and SKYACTIV-DRIVE 6-speed automatic transmission with manual-mode instead of the 5-speed units used by other Mazda3 models (except for the 6-speed manual used by the Mazda3 GT) is as quick shifting as anything in the class and smoother than most (but paddles would be nice) while more efficient thanks to an extra tall final gear ratio; 3) SKYACTIV-BODY that incorporates more lightweight materials for an 8-percent reduction in weight equaling 100 kilos (220 lbs) less mass yet still managing 30-percent better stiffness while improving crash safety performance; 4) SKYACTIV-CHASSIS that is tweaked for better response in the corners and more stability at high speeds yet less rolling resistance; all adding up to better fuel economy than even the less powerful base Mazda3 GX at 7.1 L/100km city and 5.0 highway for the 6-speed automatic equipped 5-door Sport model I was testing. The same car in base GX guise puts out respectable numbers, but at 8.7 city and 6.0 highway they fall shy of the GS-SKY. The GS-SKY sedan does even better on the highway at 4.9! Throughout hilly Vancouver, and not driving it like a choirboy, I averaged about 7 L/100km. Yes, not as advertised, which is always the case in Canada, but still very good for the class. And a bonus: despite the high compression it runs on cheaper regular fuel! Hmmm… more gain with less pain on the pocketbook? I like the way Mazda thinks.

The GS-SKY also comes with some goodies that I think you'll like, such as a sporty leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic steering wheel with cruise and audio controls connecting through to a 6-speaker stereo with a CD and auxiliary input, plus Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing variable intermittent wipers, heated powered mirrors, heated seats, 16-inch alloy rims on 205/55R16 all-season rubber, chrome tipped exhaust, and more, plus all the usual powered equipment and safety features, of course.

My tester had a powered moonroof and the optional GS-Leather package that adds an 8-way powered driver's seat, leather upholstery, a faux-leather sliding console cover, and vinyl side door panel trim, not to mention fog lights. It really feels upscale inside, more like a compact premium model than the mainstream compact competitor its $22,990 as tested price suggests. If you don't need all the luxury, a base GS-SKY Sport starts life at $21,590, while the base sedan is priced at $20,590; all prices include destination fees.

And most, like me, find the Mazda3 Sport a pretty good looking hatchback, made more up to date this year with a subtle refresh that gives it a new front fascia with circular fog lamps and an updated grille. I like the SKY's transparent blue headlamp rings while the aforementioned blue engine cover looks like an expensive custom job. Very cool.

Practical? Of course, especially in 5-door Sport trim. Pop up the hatchback and you'll find more room than the average midsize sedan's trunk at 481 litres (16.9 cubic feet), or drop its 60/40-split rear seatbacks forward and cargo capacity grows to a wagon-like 1,213 litres (42.8 cubic feet).

What's not to like? After a week behind the wheel I really can't think of anything it needs? Well, I suppose I'd like to see Mazda add the idle-stop technology it offers in other markets, where the engine shuts down while waiting at a stoplight. And a USB slot would be nice, and smart for Mazda to include now that the world is embracing Android phones. But that's about it.

Add up all the benefits and the 2012 Mazda3 GS-SKY is probably the most well rounded compact offering today. It's fun, efficient, practical and affordable.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Mazda, 2012, Mazda3 SkyActiv, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

Organizations: Mazda

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