Quality is subjective. Don’t believe me? Look at the smartphone market. Actually, scratch that – this is a car site. Look at the automotive market. For some, quality is solely about sporty driving experience. Does it turn in fast? Is it quick? Does it reward you with playful performance when you want it? For others, it’s about tomb-like cabin serenity with exquisite materials and a smooth ride.

Of course it’s more complex than that, but you get my point. The 2015 Mazda3 Sport GT epitomizes that dichotomy. Whether for you quality is an intangible concept embedded in the very core of a car, deep down where you can’t see it but where the initiated know how to feel for it, or instead something immediately evident to the senses will determine how you feel about the Mazda3.

For what it’s worth, I love the thing. And I didn’t always. The new shape for me looks a little bit like a clown shoe, with the exaggerated curves on the wheel arches giving the long hood a funny swollen bit on the end that I just couldn’t get behind. It’s grown on me though, getting less offensive and more interesting every time I see one in the flesh. Perhaps that’s an indication of good design. Perhaps it’s indicative of my fickle nature. Perhaps it’s an indication of good design.

The things I did love were adored by the starry-eyed journalist community, too, with the Mazda3 picking up a host of awards and gongs right from the outset.

It drives superbly. Beautifully. It’s a playful, fun and thoroughly enjoyable hatch with poised steering response, great feedback through all three key touch points (hands, feet and bum).

The art of tuning a chassis and suspension is extremely subtle. When you look at the spec sheet, nothing really sets this Mazda3 apart from other cars in its class. Many of them have similar basic configurations: independent, MacPherson strut type coil spring and stabilizer bar up front, independent, multi-link type coil spring and stabilizer bar in the rear.

And yet, Mazda has managed to massage real life into this car. When you skip it through a construction zone the 1,361 kg car dances underneath you like an excited toddler, hustle it round an off-ramp and the tires squeal with anthropomorphic delight. Realize you’re cornering faster than the highway traffic is moving and you brake with a solid, short pedal that gives instant response and reassuring feedback. “Hey buddy, yep, I gotcha, slowing up now. Hey! See that gap? Let’s go in there.”

Conversely, if you’re cornering too slowly a little poke of the accelerator and the 184 hp/185 lb-ft 2.5L four hustles forward. I found this engine a little harsh and I kept wanting more power from it, but that had less to do with what was on hand and more to do with what I thought the car would take.

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