2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco & 2014 Mazda3 GS Sedan. Click image to enlarge
First published October 25, 2013
Review and photos by Brendan McAleer
As someone who is physically incapable of walking past a Hot Wheels display without checking to see if there’s anything good hanging on it (it’s for my kid! I swear! I’m totally a grown-up!), you might be thinking this comparison was a bit of a foregone conclusion.
After all, most people who end up sitting in front of a keyboard, racking up the word count and waxing prosaic about an inanimate mass of glass, rubber and steel usually have at least some sliver of enthusiasm for the automobile. Pardon me for stating the spoiler right from the outset, but it’s no surprise that the Mazda3 is more fun to drive than the Corolla.
Ask a gearhead to tot up the pros and cons list on these two similarly powered, similarly efficient, similarly spacious compact sedans, and surely the one with even half a pulse is going to be the runaway winner. The Mazda goes zoom-zoom, the Toyota goes putt-putt; gold star to the M-badge, job done. But if that’s true, then why is the Toyota currently still ahead of the Mazda in the year-to-date sales race by nearly a third?
In order to level the playing field and find out whether the discrepancy in public popularity between these two is due to merit or merely traditional buying habits, I decided to shelve the understeers-at-the-limit driving style, put on the proverbial Dr. Spock pointy ears and get the notepad out. Speaking strictly logically, which one of these cars is best?
This is the big one. In the small car segment, nobody’s fiddling around with high-dollar options like those $350 colour-coded keys that showed up at the Panamera launch. Yes, the small-car buyer is a demanding one, but they’re also buying on needs more than wants. Bang for the buck is a must. Paper-racing the Corolla versus the Mazda, things start off with a large disparity.
2014 Mazda3 vs 2014 Toyota Corolla. Click image to enlarge
The base Corolla CE goes up against the Mazda3 GX, both cars starting at an identical $15,995, the Mazda’s freight charges being a slightly more expensive at $1,695 versus the $1,520 of the Toyota. Mechanically speaking, the Mazda is ahead on horsepower by 155 hp compared to Corolla’s 132 hp, as well as having one extra cog in the manual gearbox and two extra gears if you option an automatic transmission.
That’s right, Toyota will still sell you a modern car with a four-speed automatic transmission, as found in Barney Rubble’s jalopy. They’ll also bolt a set of 15-inch steelies with hubcaps on there (not so bad), and you get drum brakes out back as compared to the Mazda’s discs at all four corners. You get the same lacklustre rear binders on the LE and S trims if you don’t pay extra.
However, even Toyota knows the outlier fully loaded and super-cheap cars aren’t what the bulk of people buy. Moving our attention to the machines actually equipped with features you might want, like air conditioning, we find the Mazda3 GS ($19,695) lining up against the Corolla S or LE, at $20,200 and $19,500 respectively. As you’d have to pay an extra $1,200 to get the Mazda3 with an automatic, the Toyota creeps ahead on value.