Review and photos by Mark Stevenson

When Mazda replaced the Protegé in 2003 with the first generation Mazda3, a new design language began to emerge from the Hiroshima-based automaker. Previously, the only exciting offering in the lineup was the Miata, at least to look at, and even then it was aimed toward a limited proportion of the population.

Take-rates for the Mazda3 in Canada float between half or a third of the US, a testament to how much Canadians like small, well designed cars. But, since 2008, it hasn’t cracked the 50,000-unit sales high jump.

Now in its third generation, the 2014 Mazda3 has received the typical praise from the automotive press. Gone is the “love it or hate it” smiling grille, Altezza-like rear lamps, and Dearborn’s influence. This Mazda3 is all Mazda, bottom-up.

That last point – and lack of Ford involvement – is critical. Ford divested itself of the Japanese automaker as the Blue Oval struggled for financial survival. It put Mazda in a precarious position; the Japanese automaker is among the smallest in the global market and not having a friend can be a serious hurdle. Instead, executives, engineers, and designers found a new kind of freedom; they came together to build a car that is, for all intents and purposes, more competitive than the Ford Focus (depending on who you ask, of course).

It also doesn’t hurt when you can sell your base five-door hatchback for $2,700 less than your post-partnership competitor.

2014 Mazda3 Sport GS2014 Mazda3 Sport GS2014 Mazda3 Sport GS
2014 Mazda3 Sport GS. Click image to enlarge

The Mazda3 Sport, with its liftgate rear hatch, also competes with the Volkswagen Golf, Subaru Impreza 5-Door, Hyundai Elantra GT, and (soon-to-be-discontinued) Toyota Matrix. The sedan variant gets to do cross-island battle with segment heavyweights Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic –Corolla also all-new for 2014 and Civic continuing to receive numerous updates.

Engine choices have been halved. Instead of four different powerplants on offer with the old Mazda3 (if you include the Mazdaspeed3), there are now only two SkyActiv four-cylinders – measuring in at 2.0L and 2.5L – putting power efficiently to the pavement. Also missing is a manual option on the top-trim GT model, while base GX vehicles see six-speed transmissions replacing the older five-speed automatic and manual units. It makes you wonder why Toyota seems so adamant on holding onto the four-speed automatic for the base model Corolla.

Our long-term tester, in middle-of-the-road volume-seller GS trim, is equipped with the smaller 2.0L SkyActiv-G DOHC four-cylinder and six-speed automatic gearbox. The 2.0L engine develops 155 hp at 6,000 rpm and 150 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. With the automatic, this GS Sport should return 6.8/4.9 L/100 km (city/hwy) based on the two-cycle EnerGuide test; the EPA gives it a more conservative 7.8/5.9 L/100 km rating, which is more in line with our initial results.

If you were to opt for the bigger 2.5L mill in the GT, output jumps to 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, with ratings of 7.5/5.4 (EnerGuide) and 8.7/6.4 (EPA) without adding Mazda’s new i-ELOOP fuel saving witchcraft.

Those in the market for a hatch primarily do so for looks, but secondarily for additional cargo capability and ease of loading. The Mazda3 Sport provides 572 L (20.2 cu. ft.) of cargo up to the rear seat headrest. Drop the seats and you’ll find 1,334 L of cargo carry space (up to the same level).

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