Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony and Jeff Wilson

2015 Mazda3 Sport vs 2014 Kia Forte5 vs 2015 Volkswagen Golf

The hatch is king.

When we brought together 11 compact cars, the Mazda3 won by the slimmest of margins, helped along by its additional hatch-y practicality, which was just enough to edge the rejuvenated Toyota Corolla and large-for-a-compact Volkswagen Jetta. In our sporty compact challenge, the Volkswagen GTI’s hot hatch usefulness and refinement edged out the Subaru WRX’s raw power and dynamics.

Well, it’s time for the latest and greatest hatches to face off in a battle of the bulging cargo bays, for those that love a little back in their automotive appliance.

The Mazda3 can be considered the defending champ, withstanding the onslaught of quality compact vehicles in the big compact showdown, but how would it fare on an even footing against two other freshly launched hatchbacks? We asked for high-trim, high-content examples and Mazda sent us a fully loaded Mazda3 Sport GT with Luxury Package in signature Soul Red Mica paint with only one option missing: an automatic transmission. That was a bold move, but in character for the brand known for the catchphrase I refuse to ever utter or type. (Side note: please move on, Mazda.) That’s right, manual transmission aficionados aren’t relegated to the lower trims or denied any of the options or engines (the 2.5L SkyActiv in this case) that shiftless shoppers can opt for. Bravo.

But if ever there was a car for Mazda to fear, it is Volkswagen and its Golf franchise. For 40 years, Volkswagen has been plying their compact hatchback under the Golf and occasionally Rabbit (really VW, make up your mind) nameplate and garnered a loyal audience and brand recognition that make it the hatchback. Volkswagen made available a Golf 1.8TSI Highline with its so-sweet 1.8L turbo-four that we raved about in the Jetta, and now attached to VW’s latest MQB chassis architecture that underpins this, the GTI, the Audi A3 and even Audi TT. Promising.

The Kia Forte5 is fresh off a redesign for the 2014 model year, and we all pretty much fell over when we saw how good it looked in white with sharply contrasting black trim. The Forte Sedan didn’t even make the podium in our big comparison, but with looks like these, a turbocharged engine making over 200 hp and a reputation for feature sheets that embarrass the luxury makes, the Forte hatch brings a lot to the table.

2014 Kia Forte5 vs 2015 Mazda3 vs 2015 Volkswagen Golf2014 Kia Forte5 vs 2015 Mazda3 vs 2015 Volkswagen Golf
2014 Kia Forte5 vs 2015 Mazda3 Sport vs 2015 Volkswagen Golf. Click image to enlarge

What about the missing suspects?

The Hyundai Elantra GT and Ford Focus had their shot in the Compact Car mega comparison, and both just barely made the top 10 (out of 11). The Impreza, in sedan trim, fared a little better, but failed to impress enough on the refinement and quality front to earn the hatch an invite to contest this title. Apparently Mitsubishi still sells a Lancer Sportback and Toyota the Matrix, but they were tied up in a game of lawn bowling, which we did not want to intrude on. One could make a case for the Fiat 500L, but that thing is just weird. We wanted to stick with the fresh, mainstream metal in the segment.

The key factors in this comparison were practicality, class-appropriate refinement and driving quality. Other prime considerations were the features and value, ease of use (both driving and technology) and fuel consumption, of course.

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