It’s been almost three years since the Mazda3 was redesigned and while it’s still one of Autos.ca’s favourite compact cars, the Mazda3 (sedan and hatchback) is now competing with recently redesigned competitors like the Honda Civic sedan, Hyundai Elantra sedan, Chevrolet Cruze sedan, Scion iM hatchback (soon to be Toyota Corolla iM), Kia Forte sedan and Kia Forte5 hatchback, and VW Golf hatchback.

Don’t get me wrong: the Mazda3 sedan and Sport (hatchback) are still great cars. In past test drives, we’ve complimented the Mazda3’s driving dynamics and the way it feels behind the wheel, its nicely designed interior and its easy-to-use infotainment system, its three- and five-year warranties with unlimited mileage and its reasonable price.

But there are some aspects of the 2016 Mazda3 that are starting to feel a bit dated. While we love the graphics and functionality of the Mazda3’s iPad-like screen on top of the dash and the rotary HMI controller on the console, the small LCD screens on either side of the central tachometer are starting to look cheap when compared to the bright, backlit, multi-coloured displays of the Elantra, Civic and others.

And while all but the base trim level comes with a dash-mounted 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth telephone and audio, auxiliary audio connection, two USB ports and 12-volt outlet, Mazda doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto smartphone integration in any Mazda3 trim level.

Cabin noise is another issue. While competitors like the Elantra, VW Jetta and Chevrolet Cruze have done a good job of keeping out engine and road noise, the Mazda3’s cabin seems less insulated. The 2.5L four-cylinder engine in our Mazda3 GT test car emitted a rather coarse engine sound when idling and accelerating, particularly when cold. And while engine noise is subdued at highway speeds, wind and tire noise in the cabin is noticeable.

Naturally aspirated vs turbocharged

The GT’s naturally aspirated SkyActiv 2.5L four-cylinder engine (with optional i-ELOOP energy regeneration system in our test car) is still one of the most powerful engines in its class and is reasonably fuel-efficient, but frankly, its days are numbered. Many competitors’ top-trim models have switched to smaller, turbocharged engines of 2.0L displacement or less in order to get the best combination of performance and fuel economy.

Mazda doesn’t quote 0–100 km/h times for the Mazda3 GT, but when AJAC tested the current-generation 184 hp Mazda3 Sport (hatchback), its time was 8.1 seconds. For comparison, the new 174 hp Honda Civic 1.5L turbo/CVT has a 0–100 km/h time of 7.7 seconds. And as is typical of small turbocharged powerplants, the Civic turbo has better low-speed throttle response because it develops maximum torque below 2,000 rpm compared to the naturally aspirated Mazda3 GT which makes maximum torque at 3,250 rpm.

In terms of fuel economy, the 2016 Mazda3 GT’s NRCan fuel consumption rating of 8.4 / 6.1 / 7.4 (L/100 km city / highway / combined) is decent, but not as good as the Honda Civic EX-T (1.5L turbo/CVT) with 7.6 / 5.5 / 6.7 and the Chevrolet Cruze Premier (1.4L turbo/six-speed auto) with 7.8 / 5.9 / 6.9.

But based on our past test drives, the Mazda3 GT’s s real-world fuel economy is not always as good as NRCan numbers would indicate. I averaged over 9 L/100 km in a week of mostly urban/suburban driving, Editor Jacob Black averaged 9.1 L/100 km in a 2015 Mazda3 Sport GT with manual transmission, Paul Williams averaged 7.9 L/100 km in mostly highway driving in another 2015 Mazda3 Sport GT with manual transmission, Brendan McAleer averaged 7.3 L/100 km in a 2014 Mazda3 GT sedan with automatic transmission, and James Bergeron averaged 7.6 L/100 km in a 2014 Mazda3 Sport GT with automatic transmission.

A Turbo in the cards? Mazda CX-9’s Skyactiv Technology

Mazda’s SkyActiv technology – which employs weight-saving engine/transmission and suspension designs to help improve the Mazda3’s performance, efficiency and fuel economy – has been very successful, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the next-generation Mazda3 GT switches to a smaller turbocharged engine similar to the 2.5L SkyActiv turbo from the new CX-9.

I’d be remiss in not pointing out the advantages of the GT’s relatively large normally aspirated 2.5L engine: unlike turbocharged engines which have a slight throttle lag before the turbo spools up, the Mazda3 GT’s engine has more immediate throttle response off the line and an even torque curve while accelerating.

Connect with Autos.ca