2013 Mazda3 Sport GS-SKY Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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For buyers seeking a compact hatchback there's certainly no shortage of choice out there, with models from different manufacturers each offering their own distinctive advantage, whether it's the big-car features of the Ford Focus Hatchback, the Euro-cool of the VW Golf, the value-for-money of the Hyundai Elantra GT, the practicality of the Toyota Matrix, and the list goes on. Not to be forgotten in this lineup is the perennial favourite Mazda3 Sport hatchback, which has always offered a notably dynamic driving experience, and which, these days, with its available Skyactiv technology, also offers some of the best fuel-efficiency around.

Under its hood, the Mazda3 Sport GS-SKY is distinguished by a high-compression Skyactiv 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine, which at 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque produces seven more horsepower than the standard-issue 2.0-litre in the GX and only 12 horsepower less than the 2.5-litre in the GT, but beats them both soundly at the pump. Rated consumption for the Skyactiv 2.0-litre with the standard-equipment 6-speed manual transmission is 7.6 / 5.1 L/100km (city/hwy), compared to 8.2 / 6.0 L/100km for the GX and 10.2 / 7.0 for the GT (it should be noted that the GX has one less forward gear, being equipped with a 5-speed).

Mazda's Skyactiv engine manages this neat combination of more power and better economy thanks to careful attention to an astonishing array of small details. The 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine is lighter than the standard-issue 2.0-litre engine in the GX, and Mazda optimized pretty much every subsystem within the engine for maximum efficiency, refining the coolant flow to reduce the load on the water pump, reducing valve train friction, decreasing the oil pump drag and so on, all to ensure a minimum of parasitic power loss. The Skyactiv engine also gets an impressively high 12:1 compression ratio (about 20 percent higher than most engines) to help get the most power out of every drop of regular unleaded fuel, while a specially-tuned 4-2-1 exhaust system helps fight engine knock that can otherwise be the Achilles heel of high-compression designs.

On the road, the Mazda3 GS-SKY is easy driving, with a responsive, lively feel. You need to keep the revs up to really get the most out of the engine, but there's no hardship there because the engine spins willingly and smoothly, and the manual transmission is one of the slickest-shifting I've encountered (a 6-speed automatic is optional in the GS-SKY, while the GX and GT have an optional 5-speed automatic). Wind the engine out and you'll zip from 0 to 100 km/h in about 9.5 seconds. Trundle around at low revs and it still pulls decently enough, while merely sipping fuel.

The suspension is tuned to the firm side of things, but it's by no means harsh, and with the GS-SKY's 16-inch alloy wheels and 205/55R16 tires it offers precise steering and good levels of grip. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes provide plenty of stopping power, while dual front, side and side curtain airbags provide occupant protection in the event of a collision. If there were anything I'd change it would be to give the steering a little more weight and feedback, but even as it is the Mazda3 is responsive enough to feel agile and reasonably sporty.

Inside, the Mazda3 Sport GS-SKY offers all the practicality expected of a hatchback, with comfortable front seats and a relatively roomy 60/40 split-folding back seat, but the interior design is relatively spartan compared to some of its competitors. That's not to say there's anything wrong with it - it uses decent-quality materials, including soft-touch on the upper dash and major touch points, and the switch gear is all up to snuff - but it's certainly more "functional" than "flair."

The interior isn't lacking for standard equipment however, and the GS-SKY gets air conditioning, heated front seats, tilt and telescopic steering, power windows, AM/FM/CD audio with Bluetooth phone connectivity and USB plug, keyless entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer and the list goes on. My test car spiced things up further thanks to its $1,400 GS-L package, which adds leather upholstery, an 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat, leather door panel trim and fog lights, plus its $895 power moonroof and $1,400 Touring Edition package, which adds intelligent key with pushbutton start, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming mirror, LED taillights and premium 10-speaker Bose audio with that revered company's Centerpoint and Audiopilot sound equalization systems.

With a base price of $22,390 including destination charges, the Mazda3 Sport GS-SKY compares well against rivals like Volkswagen's 5-door Golf, which starts at $22,840, and Ford's Focus Hatchback, which starts at $21,149 (all prices destination in). Even fully loaded my test car didn't crack the $26,000 barrier, coming in at $25,980 destination in. For those on a tight budget, Mazda offers the Mazda3 Sport GX for some $3,700 less (it starts at $18,690, destination in), but the GS-SKY delivers more power, many more features and significantly better mileage. At the other end of the scale, the Mazda3 GT offers even more power and features, but at the cost of poorer fuel economy and a hefty price bump, starting at $28,690, including destination.

For those with a practical bent, but who don't want to sacrifice driving enjoyment, the GS-SKY's blend of price, performance, efficiency and features makes it the most attractive car in the Mazda3 Sport lineup and a must-see competitor in the hatchback marketplace.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Mazda, 2013, Mazda3 SkyActiv, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

Organizations: Mazda

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