Pssst! Hey you! Yes, you – people of the rest of Canada. Did you know that British Columbia has some spectacular views and sensational driving roads?
Even when climbing up the mountain passes, the little hatchback had enough horsepower (184, to be exact) to be properly frisky.
Okay, you probably did know that; and maybe you also know that the good folks on the western edge of our vast nation are generous enough to let the rest of us use those great byways, and bask in their sensational scenery.
It’s a heck of a spot for a road trip, and if you ask me, there’s no better way to see a place like this than by touring around in your own machine, stopping when and where you want, and generally just enjoying whatever the adventure presents.
That’s exactly what I did. Touring north from Vancouver, then heading east through the mountains, absorbing as much of the clean mountain air as my lungs could manage. Those BC’ers might take it for granted, but coming into Southern Ontario’s Smog Warning Season, means I wanted as much of it as I could pack into my lungs.
Picking the right machine for a journey like this is no small feat. For this trip, I wanted something with the space and comfort to keep me and my travel companions content, but I also wanted something to make the most of those circuitous mountain roads.
Sure, there are high-powered, semi-exotic muscle machines from Europe that could fit that bill, but I also wanted something I could navigate easily through Vancouver’s congested streets, and park it places without drawing any negative attention.
Plus, BC seems to be having something of a fuel crisis, in that the cost of premium-grade gasoline there is roughly 20 cents per litre more than the already-obscene amount we’re paying down in Southern Ontario right now. So, having a fuel-efficient machine to help rack up a thousand or so kilometres has considerable merit.
The 2018 Mazda3 Sport achieves all of that, plus throws in the bonus of being reliable and downright stylish, to boot.
The Soul Red Metallic paint was absolutely radiant in the BC sunlight, and the linen-coloured leather interior added a decadent visual flair.
They’re great seats from a functional standpoint too. The fronts are heated (as is the steering wheel), and they’re plenty supportive for both long-distance travel, and brisk cornering. Even the rear seat offers decent space for a compact car, though I did notice one of my travelling companions, who towers well over six feet tall, struggled to fold himself in and out of the Mazda. Average-sized humans should have much less difficulty and kids should fit just fine.
Despite being around for a few years (and having become very familiar on Canadian roads), both the exterior and interior designs have aged very well. Part of what’s helped the Mazda3’s interior face the test of time is the sensibility behind its design. Ergonomically it is well thought out, with a sporty central tachometer dominating the gauge binnacle, flanked by a pair of easy-to-read digital displays.
The centre console also makes good sense with dual-zone climate controls being operated by practical buttons and knobs. No menu hunting or silly haptic touchpads here, just good old-fashioned function.
The infotainment system is the one area that Mazda could do with spending some resources to update. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are nowhere to be found here, and Mazda’s own navigation system proved to be a little cantankerous at times. The control knob feels trickier to deal with than a simple touchscreen; however, at least it prevents greasy, smudgy fingerprints from mucking up the display.
The Bose-tuned stereo system sounds pretty good, and in this top trim, also comes with SiriusXM satellite radio. The latter proved to be of limited use in the mountains where the tall peaks frequently blocked the signal.
This being a GT model, Mazda fits it with their impressive 2.5L SkyActiv four-cylinder engine. That meant that even when climbing up the mountain passes, the little hatchback had enough horsepower (184, to be exact) to be properly frisky. Even around town with four adults and luggage on board, the Mazda3 Sport motored along just fine.
One of the benefits of the high-compression SkyActiv engines is the torque they dispense. Here that figure is 185 lb-ft, which is very decent for this class of machine. That said, it takes over 3,000 rpm of revving before the Mazda generates that kind of twist, whereas the Honda Civic (arguably the 3 Sport’s closest competitor), has an engine that’s a full litre smaller, but thanks to its turbo, cranks out its maximum torque at only 1,900 rpm, making it feel more robust around town.
SkyActiv pays dividends in fuel efficiency as well, with a rating of 6.6 L/100 km on the highway, and 8.7 L/100 km in the city. Those are actually slightly better than the standard GT because my test machine was spec’ed with the i-ELOOP regenerative braking option that helps reduce the draw on the engine from electrical componentry.
Again though, the little turbo Honda trumps the Mazda in the fuel efficiency game with a 6.2 highway and 8.2 L/100 km city rating.
While I’d have preferred the more engaging drive a stick-shift-equipped Mazda3 Sport provides, the six-speed automatic is a decent alternative. Its shifts are sufficiently crisp for sporty motoring, but most of the time it just goes about its business smoothly and without drawing attention to its tasks – just as an automatic should.
Handling is where Mazda has really made a name for itself over the past several years, and it’s because of the time spent tuning the chassis on machines like this sporty hatchback. Grip from the 215/45R18 all-season Dunlop SP Sport 5000 tires is decent, and the suspension does an excellent job balancing its poised handling with a controlled but supple ride. It feels very European, and it provides the driver with great confidence during cornering.
The steering feel is light, but quite communicative in this age of numb electric steering.
The Mazda3 Sport checks off all the boxes to make for a really decent road trip companion. It’s spacious and efficient; reliable and affordable. But beyond that, it’s legitimately fun to drive, which adds to the enjoyment of any road trip adventure tremendously.
Best of all, even if you don’t have BC’s mountains, all the attributes that make the Mazda3 Sport GT so enjoyable on a road trip also add up to make it a great car to live with every day.
|Peak Horsepower||184 hp|
|Peak Torque||185 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||8.7/6.6/7.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||572 / 1,334 L seats down|
|Model Tested||2018 Mazda3 Sport GT|
|Price as Tested||$31,445|
$4,550 – Premium Package $2,900; Technology Package $1,350; Soul Red Paint $300