Review and photos by Bob McHugh

Test Drive: 2005 Mazda3 Sport GT car test drives mazda
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Voted Canadian Car of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada in 2004, the Mazda3 continues to impress, even in an increasingly competitive compact market segment.

In the 2004 Car of the Year contest, the Mazda3 was a double-category victor in the preliminary round of voting where it won both the best new Economy and Sport Coupe categories. The four-door sedan edition of the Mazda3, which comes with 2.0-litre engine, was the ‘economy’ champion, but the main focus of this review is the Mazda3 Sport, a four-door hatchback that comes with a 2.3-litre engine. It won ‘Best Sport Coupe under $35,000′.

While the sedan versions of the Mazda3 come in GX, GS and GT trim levels and ’05 prices start at $16,295, the Mazda3 Sport comes in GS ($20,285) and GT ($21,485) trim levels – the ’05 prices have only increased by $100 over last year.

The Mazda3 replaced both the Protegé and the Protegé5 in the Mazda product line and is built on a completely new platform. The new chassis is nearly 50-percent stiffer and it’s shared with the Volvo S40 – both of these car companies are now owned by Ford.

Test Drive: 2005 Mazda3 Sport GT car test drives mazda
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The adventurously styled Mazda3 Sport has a sportier attitude, yet it’s also practical. That extra fifth door in the rear opens the utility side of its personality and split-folding rear seats greatly expand its cargo carrying ability.

The looks

Interestingly, the sedan and the hatchback versions of Mazda3 do not share any body panels. The styling is similar and the height and width dimensions are the same, however, the hatchback is shorter and has a slightly altered nose in addition to the more obvious rear end differences.

A long hood and sculptured fenders that accentuate the wheel openings give the Mazda3 Sport an aggressive, muscular stance.

Test Drive: 2005 Mazda3 Sport GT car test drives mazda
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The high-point on the roof rounds softly at a rear hatch door that incorporates a spoiler above the rear window. This shape also allows more rear seat head and shoulder room than in the sedan.

The ‘Sport’ designation doesn’t appear anywhere on the body, nor did the GT version I test drove have any indication of its trim level – different!


The inside

Test Drive: 2005 Mazda3 Sport GT car test drives mazda
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The Mazda3′s driving position is particularly praiseworthy: a tilt and telescopic steering column is standard on all versions and there’s room for the taller, bigger-than-average driver. The contoured bucket seats in the test car had an excellent range and array of adjustments – including height.

The audio system has an unusual arrangement of dials with a volume control knob in the middle of the stereo and lights that radiate across it when you adjust the volume.

Test Drive: 2005 Mazda3 Sport GT car test drives mazda
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The instrument panel has three deep, individually shrouded analog gauge clusters, to avoid sun glare. At night, a reddish-orange light illuminates switches and dials.

The glove box is huge and has a light. The centre console has a deep but not too big storage box and two built-in cup holders. Trunk space is good, 484-litres with rear seats up and the release latches are easy to reach from the rear (the seats drop forward with a shove). There are also some extra (although shallow) storage compartments hidden under the trunk floor.


Safety equipment

With Volvo involved in the chassis design you can bank on a good safety rating. Mazda3 achieved a ‘best pick’ rating in the small car category, following crash testing performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Test Drive: 2005 Mazda3 Sport GT car test drives mazda
Click image to enlarge

Anti-lock brakes with an emergency brake assist are both standard features on the Mazda3 Sport. The front passenger seat also has an occupant sensor system and it has three-point seat belts on all seating positions. However, I have some interference concerns about a side mounted upper anchor for the centre/rear seat belt that routes the shoulder belt around the left/rear head restraint.


The drive

The 2.3-litre engine delivers spirited performance and my test car came mated with a smooth-shifting five-speed manual transmission. It’s a sophisticated engine with variable valve timing and a variable induction system. A timing chain rather than a belt turns the cams, the exhaust manifold is stainless steel and the tachometer redlines at 6500 rpm.

Smooth and quiet on light throttle, the 2.3 gives out a nice rasping sound when pushed. It clocked a very respectable 0-100 km/hour acceleration time of 8.9-seconds (with an automatic) at the Canadian Car of the Year evaluation event. Both engines run on regular fuel, but the 2.0-litre uses a little less (8.5/6.2 L/100km) of it.

Another highlight of the Mazda3 Sport is the performance of front and rear disc brake system. It produced one of the shortest stopping distances recorded at that 04 COY event, yanking the car to halt from 100 km/hour in just 37.6 metres (123-ft) – remarkable when you remember that this is an economy car!

The optional Mazda automatic transmission is also interesting as it comes with a manual mode feature that shifts in opposite direction of everybody else. Downshifts are a forward motion and up-shifts are a back-motion on the shift lever. That may sound odd but in practice it’s more intuitive and in tune with G-forces on the driver.


Competitors

Competitors for the Mazda3 are many. They include:

  • Chevrolet Cobalt: $15,495 – $24,995

  • Dodge SX 2.0: $15,605 – $27,380
  • Ford Focus: $16,795 – $22,995
  • Honda Civic: $16,200 – $28,500
  • Kia Spectra: $15,995 – $23,208
  • Nissan Sentra: $15,598 – $21,998
  • Pontiac Pursuit: $15.925 – $20,295
  • Subaru Impreza: $22,995 – $47,995
  • Suzuki Aerio: $18,995 – $23,995
  • Toyota Matrix: $17,050 – $25,685
  • Volkswagen Golf: $18,530 – $26,350


Technical Data:

Base price $21,485
Options $2,700 (Air conditioning $1,000; leather $900; moonroof $800
Freight $1,195
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $25,480
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.3 litre 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 160 @ 6500 rpm
Torque 150 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual (opt. 4-speed automatic w/manual mode)
Tires 205/50HR-17
Curb weight 1282 kg (2826 lb.)
Wheelbase 2639 mm (103.9 in.)
Length 4486 mm (176.6 in.)
Width 1755 mm (69.1 in.)
Height 1466 mm (57.7 in.)
Cargo volume 484 litres (17.1 cu. ft.) seats up
  883 litres (31.2 cu. ft.) seats down
Fuel consumption City: 9.3 L/100 km (30 mpg) (Imperial)
  Hwy: 6.8 L/100 km (42 mpg) (Imperial)
Warranty 3 years/80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 years/100,000 km