2013 Mazda3 Sport GS-Sky
2013 Mazda3 Sport GS-Sky
2013 Mazda3 Sport GS-Sky. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Simon Hill

The Mazda3 has always been a car that punches above its weight. In the ultra-competitive compact segment it has stood out as the driver’s choice thanks to its crisp handling and dynamic driving experience – traits that have helped it achieve healthy sales numbers for a relatively small player such as Mazda. Indeed, with 123,361 Mazda3s sold in the U.S. in 2012 it accounted for just under half of all Mazda’s U.S. sales that year. In Canada its sales total of 39,295 units accounted for a little over half of all corporate sales in 2012. Year-to-date sales for 2013 follow the same trend.

The current, second-generation Mazda3 was introduced for the 2010 model year and is due for replacement for the 2014 model year. With a little sleuthing on the Internet you can get a pretty good idea of how the third-generation car might look, but in the meantime you can get a pretty good idea of how it might drive by heading down to your Mazda dealer and checking out a 2013 Mazda3 with the Skyactiv engine.

Skyactiv is Mazda’s holistic approach to fuel efficiency, a concerted engineering effort to help its cars achieve improved fuel economy even as they continue to deliver a driver-oriented motoring experience.

The Mazda3 Sport GS-Sky is the hatchback version of the Skyactiv Mazda3. Under the hood it is distinguished by a high-compression Skyactiv 2.0L four-cylinder engine, with a bright “sky blue” painted valve cover shroud. At 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque this engine produces seven more horsepower than the standard-issue 2.0L in the GX and only 12 horsepower less than the 2.5L in the GT, but beats them both soundly at the pump.

2013 Mazda3 Sport GS-Sky2013 Mazda3 Sport GS-Sky2013 Mazda3 Sport GS-Sky2013 Mazda3 Sport GS-Sky
2013 Mazda3 Sport GS-Sky. Click image to enlarge

Rated fuel consumption for the Skyactiv 2.0L with the standard-equipment six-speed manual transmission is 7.6/5.1 L/100 km (city/hwy). Compare this to the 8.2/6.0 L/100 km achieved by the less-powerful GX (albeit with one less forward gear) and 10.2/7.0 achieved by the potent GT, and it becomes clear that Skyactiv is more than just an odd-sounding marketing concept.

Mazda’s Skyactiv engine manages its neat combination of more power and better economy thanks to careful attention to an astonishing array of small details. The 2.0L four-cylinder engine is lighter than the standard-issue 2.0L engine in the GX, and Mazda optimized pretty much every subsystem within the engine for maximum efficiency. By refining the coolant flow to reduce the load on the water pump, reducing valve train friction, decreasing the oil pump drag and so on, Mazda engineers ensured a minimum of parasitic power loss. The Skyactiv engine in the Mazda3 also gets an impressively high 12:1 compression ratio to help get the most power out of every drop of regular unleaded fuel (in other applications the Skyactiv engine uses an even higher 13:1 compression ration, with a specially tuned 4-2-1 exhaust system to help fight the engine knock that can otherwise be the Achilles heel of high-compression designs — but this exhaust system couldn’t be retrofitted into the current-generation Mazda3, so the engine was sightly detuned for this early introduction).

On the road the Mazda3 Sport GS-Sky is easy-driving, with a responsive, lively feel. You need to keep the revs up to really get the most out of the engine, but there’s no hardship there because the engine spins willingly and smoothly, and the manual transmission is one of the slickest-shifting I’ve encountered (a six-speed automatic is optional in the GS-Sky, while the GX and GT have an optional five-speed automatic). Wind the engine out and you’ll zip from 0 to 100 km/h in about 9.5 seconds. Trundle around at low revs and it still pulls decently enough, while merely sipping fuel. My own fuel economy wasn’t quite as good as the rated consumption, but at 8.5 L/100 km in mixed driving it was significantly better than in comparable hatchbacks I’ve driven recently.

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