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2017 Mazda3/Mazda3 Sport First Drive

by: Dhyan Sooch and Jag Dhatt

ESTEREL, QUEBEC: When the Mazda3 first hit the North American market 12 years ago, it made quite the impact. The Protégé was already a good selling car, but the new 3 was just that much better. Now in its third generation, this car has won an accolade of awards and for good reasons; it’s got great looks, a beautiful interior and of course, SKYACTIV technology. Last week, we were invited to beautiful Esterel, Quebec to drive the 2017 Mazda3 and Mazda3 Sport and see how much further one of the best-selling hatchbacks has improved. It was time for some Zoom Zoom.

Esterel, at this time of year, is absolutely beautiful. Although modern in many places, there are still hints of historic Quebec in the region. The surroundings provided great drive routes to experience the 4-door Mazda3 and the more versatile 5-door Sport hatchback.

2017_Mazda3_Sport_%283%29The Mazda3, one of the most popular compacts on the market, has been updated for the 2017 year. It gets a slight facelift, making the front end on par with some of its siblings. There is a redesigned fascia and the chrome surrounds around the grill align directly with the headlight clusters. The front bumper has also been revamped, resembling most notably the CX-3 and CX-9. We here at www.rackandopinion.ca really like the new direction of styling the brand is taking, which carries across the range of vehicles.

Step inside the vehicle and some of you may wonder if you’re sitting in a Mazda or an entry level European luxury brand. What I love the most about the Mazda3 is that everything is simple and functional, yet elegant and contemporary. The interior boasts a new steering wheel, a driver instrumentation panel that is clearer with a colour TFT-LCD display, revised seatback pockets and roomier front-door pockets. Thus, everything you liked about the 2016 model is just better. The GS trim now includes a heated steering wheel as well as the Smart City Brake Support system lifted from the GT’s Technology Package.

Today’s society spends a precious amount of time inside a vehicle and for that reason, I strongly believe that multi-media interfaces should be good. Who wants a system that isn’t user friendly? Mazda has built a great infotainment system, which is powered by their HMI Commander. Unlike the one in Honda, this one is easy to use; it’s also quite popular with journalists. In the same breath, the infotainment screen does look like an after-market add-on, just like what BMW has done in the 3-series. A more integrated design would better match the elegance of the overall interior of the car.

Autodesk VRED Design 2016 SR1-SP4Let’s face it – buyers in this segment want more bang for their buck. Things like Bluetooth, rear-view camera, heated seats are just some of the “luxuries” people come to expect when buying a car. The 2017 Mazda3 will offer a lower price on the top-of-the-line model, with a jump in features and safety equipment across the three-model ranges – that’s pretty impressive.

On the road, the Mazda3 behaves exactly like you would expect. Improvements have been made to the noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), giving occupants a quiet, comfortable ride. Our drive routes through Quebec had the usual straight roads, but there were ample twisting, winding and hilly roads as well. Our 2.5 liter SKYACTIV equipped vehicles had enough power to tackle everything we threw at it. This inline-four-cylinder engine produces 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. The G, GX and GS models offer the base 2.0-liter engine that produces 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. Either engine can be had with the six-speed manual or the six-speed automatic. The automatic gearbox does come with a Sport button, which varies the shifting for a more enthusiastic drive. Now don’t expect the same experience as in the old MazdaSpeed3, which we are hoping will make a comeback in the near future.

2017_Mazda3_Sport_%2854%29One of the most notable changes for the 2017 model is G-Vectoring Control (GVC) and it’s such a noticeable change. Rather than being tossed around during curvy, windy roads, the new GVC uses a variety of controls in the engine, suspension, steering and throttle to deliver a better drive that is more controlled. While I was a passenger during the drive, I could really feel the difference in the cabin as there was much less body roll compared to previous generations. According to Mazda Canada, their GVC should offer a less tiring drive for both the driver and passenger and if our few hours with the car was any indication, this claim sounds valid.

Although we didn’t get to drive the car in the dark, buyers will be happy to know that all models now feature LED daytime running lights and HID headlights. If you opt for the top-of-the-line GT, you’ll see clearly with LED headlights. The fog lamps have also been placed in a more attractive housing.

The Mazda3 was already a beautiful car that has been popular with the North American market for many years. The subtle, but noticeable, changes for the 2017 year make it just that much better, and a serious player in this highly competitive segment.

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