Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX. Click image to enlarge
Competitors
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Dodge Caliber
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Kia Spectra5
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Honda Fit
Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Pontiac Vibe

See full list at end of article

Manufacturer’s web site
Mazda Canada

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX

North Vancouver, British Columbia – Since the Mazda3′s introduction in 2004, it has been available in two bodystyles: four-door sedan and four-door hatchback. But from Day One, the hatchback (known as the Sport) was available only with the bigger 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, a higher level of standard equipment, and starting price over $20,000. Effectively, this put the Mazda3 Sport out of reach of entry-level buyers looking for a sub $20,000 hatchback, perhaps sending them to competing models like the Toyota Matrix, Suzuki Aerio, Honda Fit, Kia Spectra5, Volkswagen City Golf, or Pontiac Vibe.

For 2008-and-a-half, Mazda has finally seen the light and introduced a lower-priced, entry-level Mazda3 Sport GX hatchback model especially for the price-conscious Canadian market. Instead of the 156-horsepower 2.3-litre four cylinder engine, the GX is equipped with the same 148-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine found in the entry-level Mazda3 GX sedan. With a standard five-speed manual transmission, the base price of the 2008.5 GX Sport is $17,895 plus a $1,275 Freight charge, putting it well under $20,000. With popular options, air conditioning ($1,000) and four-speed automatic transmission ($1,000), the total price with Freight and A/C tax comes to $21,270.

Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX. Click image to enlarge

Standard equipment in the 2008.5 Mazda3 GX Sport includes 195/65R15-inch all-season tires and steel wheels, front fog lamps, body-coloured grille, body-coloured bumpers with sporty black GFX front and rear bumper treatments, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, front side airbags and side curtain airbags, an AM/FM CD player with MP3 capability and four speakers, auxiliary input jack, 12-volt power outlet, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, two front cupholders, outside temperature display, intermittent rear wiper and washer, and driver and passenger vanity mirrors.

New for 2008.5, an optional Comfort Package ($1,295) adds 15-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, rear roof spoiler, power windows (with driver’s one-touch down and illuminated driver’s switch), power door locks, remote door unlocking/locking including rear hatch, power heated outside mirrors, and audio controls on the steering wheel.

My test car, equipped with the standard manual transmission, optional air conditioning, and the optional Comfort Package came to $20,190 exclusive of Freight and A/C tax.

The 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GS ($22,195) and GT ($23,495) models also get mid-year upgrades but continue to offer the larger 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, optional five-speed automatic transmission, and more standard features. The turbocharged Mazdaspeed3 ($31,095) also gets some changes, but for this review, I’ll focus exclusively on the more affordable GX model.

Interior impressions

Even after almost five years on the market, the interior of the Mazda3 looks impressive when compared to some of its competitors. The quality of the plastic and vinyl materials on the dashboard and doors, the precision fit of the panels, the durable, attractive cloth seating material, and the overall aesthetics look like they belong in a more expensive car. My only criticism is the small, hard-to-read letters on the centre control buttons for the stereo and heater – and the rather harsh red backlighting for the controls at night.

Even the basic GX model has handsome two-tone black and grey patterned front and rear seats, cloth door inserts, tasteful “piano black” dash trim, large round gauges including a tachometer, a tilt/telescoping three-spoke steering wheel with audio controls, a thick rim with textured hand grips; a textured hand brake lever, two front cupholders with a folding cover, straightforward heater and audio controls in the centre stack with the characteristic central volume dial, and a horizontal LCD display with useful information such as time, outside temperature, and media choice. A 12-volt power outlet and auxiliary jack for music players are also included.

The only thing missing is a height adjustable driver’s seat, but with the standard tilt/telescopic steering wheel, I had no problem finding a driving position where I could see the gauges and reach the pedals while having a good view of the road too.

Front and rear headroom and legroom is surprisingly roomy for a compact car – the front seats are raised to provide more legroom for the rear passengers. However, the centre rear seating position is uncomfortable and there is no centre rear head restraint. There is also no centre rear folding armrest in the GX model. Fortunately, for parents with young children, there are washable plastic cup and bottleholders in the rear door pockets.

The Mazda3 hatchback provides significantly more cargo room and versatility than the Mazda3 sedan: behind the rear seats is 484 litres (17.1 cu. ft.) of cargo space compared to the sedan’s 325 litre (11.4 cu. ft.) trunk. With the hatchback’s 60/40 folding seatbacks folded down (unfortunately, not quite flat), the cargo area expands to 1240 litres (43.7 cu. ft.) and under the cargo floor are additional hidden storage areas – but it’s too bad the right front passenger seatback doesn’t fold flat as well.

Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX. Click image to enlarge

I liked the fact that a cargo privacy cover is standard equipment and the cargo floors, walls and rear seatbacks are covered in a non-scratchable carpet liner. The rear hatch has a separate, hidden latch handle and is very easy to lift up, and the cargo floor’s loading height is also low.

Even though this is a base model, it comes with standard side airbags in the front seats and curtain airbags for both rows of passengers. It also has five three-point seatbelts, four height-adjustable head restraints, rear child door locks, and rear child seat anchors. The only thing missing is a centre rear head restraint.

For a car priced under $20,000, the Mazda3 Sport GX is certainly above average when it comes to interior quality.

Driving impressions

Though the standard 148-hp 2.0-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine doesn’t have quite as much power and torque as the 156-hp 2.3-litre four, it’s certainly not underpowered. Mazda’s base engine still has more horsepower than any other vehicle in its class, with the exception of the Chrysler PT Cruiser which has 150 horsepower and the Dodge Caliber with 148 horsepower. In a week of urban and freeway driving, I found off-the-line acceleration and passing performance entirely adequate, if not exciting; and there’s a small gain in fuel economy over the 2.3-litre engine too: GX models attain L/100 km figures of 8.4/6.1 City/Hwy while GS and GT models offer 9.2/6.7 City/Hwy. I averaged a very reasonable 8.1 L/100 km (35 mpg Imperial) in combined driving. (All figures with manual transmission).

The 2.0-litre engine seems to be quieter than the 2.3: at a steady 100 km/h in top gear, engine sound is muted as it turns over a fairly relaxed 2,800 r.p.m. However, I did notice some tire noise on dry pavement from the standard Toyo Proxes A18 radials.

Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
Test Drive: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX car test drives mazda
2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX. Click image to enlarge

The five-speed manual shifter has a light shift action and the clutch pedal effort is easy too. The power assisted electro-hydraulic rack and pinion steering provides low effort when parking and a tight turning circle of of 10.4 metres (34 ft.) while also providing good cornering response and stable high-speed tracking. Standard four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock and electronic brake-force differential are more than adequate for this 1281 kg car.

I didn’t have the opportunity to test the optional four-speed automatic transmission but Mazda’s official fuel economy numbers with the automatic are 9.1/6.4 City/Hwy, a little better than the 2.3-litre with the five-speed automatic with 9.5/6.9 City/Hwy. Still, the Mazda3′s fuel economy can’t match the leaders in this field, the Toyota Matrix with 7.8/6.2 City/Hwy, or the smaller Honda Fit with 7.1/5.7 City/Hwy.

In general, I found the GX a very easy car to drive. Driver visibility is very good, and I was happy to see an intermittent rear wiper as standard. The Mazda3′s fully independent suspension (front struts/rear multi-links) provides sporty handling and a surprisingly comfortable ride – my guess is that the GX’s higher-profile 195/65R15-inch tires help absorb bumps better than the GS’s 205/55R-16-inch and the GT’s 205/50R17-inch tires. However, the 15-inch Toyo tires don’t offer the same level of high-speed grip when cornering.

While the Mazda3 Sport GS and GT could be described as “hot hatchbacks”, the new GX is more of an “affordable hatchback”. Combine that with the Japanese-built Mazda3′s reputation for reliability and above-average resale value, and the 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX looks like a very good value indeed.

Pricing: 2008.5 Mazda3 Sport GX

Base price: $17,895
Options: $2,295 (air conditioning $1,000; Comfort Package $1,295)

A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,275
Price as tested: $21,565
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Mazda3

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    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Mazda Canada

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)



  • About Greg Wilson

    Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and contributor to Autos.ca. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).