Test Drive: 2017 Mazda3 GS

Emerging from my igloo this morning after a night of freezing rain, I was not surprised to find the 2017 Mazda3 GS looking like an automotive ice sculpture. It is the way of our land at this time of year. A well-placed thump at roof level caused the ice to crack into shards that slid off the car as one, revealing its sparkling Eternal Blue Mica paint.

Mazda’s been on a roll for years with the Mazda3.

Poetic, I thought, but freaking cold nonetheless.

Right away the Mazda3 GS is equipped with two features that cold-weather dwellers will use all of the time: a heated steering wheel and heated front seats. Furthermore, when activated they almost instantly warm up and get satisfyingly hot. These are cloth-upholstered seats, I should mention, which I do think is the right choice if rapid heat is preferred.

The Mazda3 GS has many other attributes, but when it’s minus 20 for weeks on end, you start with your priorities!

Mazda’s been on a roll for years with the Mazda3, having won AJAC Canadian Car of the Year awards a half-dozen times. It’s a favourite of many automobile writers and is a model I recommend test driving to anyone looking for a new compact car. Our tester was a GS sedan with automatic transmission (personally, I’d go for the hatchback “Sport” but not everyone likes a hatch). It includes push-button start, colour touchscreen display, wide-angle rearview camera, the heated seats and steering wheel as mentioned, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, heated mirrors, 16-inch alloy wheels (additional 16-inch wheel styles are available at extra cost), blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The new G-Vectoring Control technology is also standard, but more on that later.

In our car, the six-speed manual transmission was upgraded to a six-speed automatic for $1,300 and a $900 moonroof was specified adding $2,200 to the $20,300 base price of the GS and bringing the as-tested price to $24,195 including $1,695 freight. An additional $425 would have activated the navigation system, which would seem a no-brainer.

2017 is a mid-cycle refresh year for the Mazda3, which means that it gets subtle exterior and interior enhancements that include a revised grille, new steering wheel, refined centre console, an electronic parking brake, much bigger door pockets, and new premium grade cloth for the seats. The electronic safety aids mentioned above are also new this year, as are chassis upgrades that produce a quieter ride. These enhancements keep the Mazda3 current and competitive.

Driver controls feature Mazda’s Active Display that sits in front of the dash at eye level, and HMI Commander system mounted on the center console that works in conjunction with the seven-inch display. Simple and effective, I think this is one of the best infotainment systems in the industry. The major gauges likewise are easy to read and identify although a temperature gauge is not supplied, being replaced by a blue light that glows until the engine reaches its operating temperature. Presumably it glows red if that’s exceeded.

Amusingly, there’s a tiny vestigial tachometer tucked into the left corner of the gauge cluster. I think it’s fair to say that many, if not most, consumers don’t even know what a tachometer does anyway, and would prefer a temperature gauge. On the other hand, I guess it’s a zoom-zoom thing.

On the road the Mazda3 GS has plenty of power from its 2.0L direct-injected 155 horsepower four-cylinder engine. Torque is 150 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm, enabling the Mazda3 to accelerate strongly from standstill. It’s a little noisy at low speeds, I thought, but turn the radio on and/or speed up and everything becomes quiet in the cabin. The transmission (not a CVT… so nice!) shifts almost imperceptibly and the steering is noticeably quick and responsive in the Mazda style. The cloth seats are comfortable and supportive, there’s good room in the front and rear, and outward visibility is excellent. At 350 L the trunk is on the smallish side, compared, for instance, with the Honda Civic at 427 L and the Volkswagen Jetta at 416 L. Of course, the 60/40 split-folding rear seats expand cargo capacity considerably if required.

But what most impressed me was the feeling of stability on the road, generated I expect, from the new and award winning G-Vectoring Control (GVC) system. Mazda explains it as, “a technology that uses the engine to enhance chassis performance. GVC adjusts engine torque in response to steering action, delivering unified control over longitudinal and latitudinal acceleration forces.”

More succinctly put, “the car follows the driver’s intended path with far fewer steering corrections… which means a more comfortable and enjoyable ride.”

In practice, it feels to me like the car has a lower centre of gravity, kind of reminiscent of Subaru vehicles with their low-mounted horizontally opposed engines. You just feel kind of hunkered down, planted on the road. The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s engineer-testers voted GVC as Best New Innovation Technology for 2017, and these are not people swayed by gimmick. I think you’ll be aware of the car’s impressive handling and stability because of it.

Fuel consumption ratings for the Mazda3 GS with automatic transmission are 8.4 / 6.4 / 7.5 L/100 km, city / highway / combined, using regular grade fuel, which is very competitive with similar models from other manufacturers. My experience was in line with expectations.

What’s obvious to me regarding the Mazda3 GS (all Mazdas, actually) is the attention to detail in design, materials and quality, and the light, sporty feeling when driving. This latter observation represented a signature feature of Mazdas decades ago, and the company has stuck with it. Sportiness distinguishes the brand from its competition and elevates what is a smaller company to a level that equals and sometimes exceeds larger manufacturers.

Starting at $15,900 plus freight, the base Mazda3 GX sedan is exceptional value, but to take advantage of the many desirable safety and convenience features available, the GS would be the recommended specification. Get the navigation, though; it’ll likely pay for itself on resale.

2017 Mazda3 GS
Engine Displacement: 2.0L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 155 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 150 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 8.4/6.4/7.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 350 L
2017 Mazda3 GS
Base Price $20,300
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,695
Price as Tested $24,295
Optional Equipment $2,200 – Automatic Transmission $1,300; Moonroof $900
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.6
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
7 Comfort
7 Practicality
8 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
8 Features
8 Value