Photography by: ©2014 Toni Avery

It seems that a good majority of automakers offer a manual transmission with the smaller, less powerful engine option. Is it from lack of confidence in the standard consumer? Or maybe it’s based on what they think more people will buy. Either way, those of us that like to row our own gears get stuck in a less powerful version of a car that 90-something percent of the American people would never even consider buying.

That’s where Mazda steps in. That 90-something percent of car buyers can have their automatics, more powerful or not. I’ll take the manual version. Not only does Mazda have a reputation for smooth, precise and easy-to-use manual transmissions, but now those who want one in the Mazda3 can have one with the larger of the two engines offered.


The heart of this Mazda is a SKYACTIV-G 2.5 L DOHC 4-cylinder engine with Variable Valve Timing Direct injection pushing out 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque driven by a six-speed manual transmission. This engine is offered in both the S Grand Touring and S Touring models while the Sport, Touring and Grand Touring comes standard with the SKYACTIV-G 2.0L DOHC 4-cylinder with Variable Valve Timing Direct Injection producing 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque also offered with an optional six-speed manual.

The S Grand Touring isn’t the quickest off the line, but once it gets going, this 3 sure sprints through slower traffic with ease. Take it through a mountain road and you wouldn’t know you were driving a front-wheel drive car. Steering input needed is minimal, thanks to power steering and the corresponding ease of the throttle pedal makes spirited drives a treat. To slow the car down from a canyon drive, 4-wheel disc brakes offer plenty of stopping power.

The Mazda3s manual transmission is so effortless it sometimes only needs two fingers to shift from gear to gear. While I didn’t break any records at the local race track, I did take it for a quick run through parts of Mulholland Highway and thanks to the P215/45R18 all-season tires, the car stuck to the road without chirping or squeaking in protest.

While noise level from the engine and exhaust is manageable and even quiet in some cases, I would suggest an upgrade to a Magnaflow or comparable exhaust for some added crackles and pops.

Exterior Appearance and Features:

The optional appearance package includes the front air dam, mirror caps, rear hatch spoiler, in addition to a rear bumper skirt, side sill extension, a cargo mat, rear bumper guard and scuff plates that are separate options.

The Mazda3, finished in Blue Reflex Mica, looks especially sporty with the appearance package and added features. Looking at the car from its profile an optional black wheel would really tie in the sleek black trim pieces around the car. Making my choice of optional black wheels even more cool would be to offer them as 19”, further adding to the sporty look filling in more of the wheel well.

In terms of overall appearance, the 3 is a nice looking car especially considering its large interior and trunk capacity. Two additional options I think would enhance the cars overall appearance would be optional blacked out logos (Mazda3, Mazda logo etc. ) and even offering the sporty appearance package with a lowering kit. But these are things that can easily be done after market, while I do believe offering them as options would attract a younger, more sporty buyer.

Interior Appearance and Features:

The interior of the Mazda3 was one of my favorite parts. The color is called Almond and brings a high-end feel to the car further adding to its low-cost appeal. The seats are finished in a two-toned light tan and black with perforated leather and red stitching (wish my Miata had these seats!). Even the shifter and parking brake, boots included, are finished in attractive leather with red stitching and even the dash shows off some modern metal touches. Another envy of Miata owners is the perfect cup holder placement, especially for manual opters.

The navigation system is standard on the S Grand Touring and looks much higher end that you might expect for a car in this price bracket. My only issue with the navigation system is that it isn’t as easy to operate as it could be. When making a left or right selection to exit a window while inputting an address, simply pushing left or right with the dial doesn’t get you out of the menu, rather you have to then click the arrow to go back. This occurred in various menus but caused a bit of frustration in the navigation portion of the system. This may be more about personal preference after using so many systems, but I’m also going based off the normal person who may not be super tech savvy.

The head up display comes standard on the S Grand Touring and offers the driver useful information including current speed, turn-by-turn directions and what the cruise control is set to if in use. I’m unfortunately not as tall as my pediatrician predicted I’d be, so I had to adjust the height of the text displayed within the small screen down to my eye level.

Even more importantly was the hands-free Bluetooth system that made hanging up and answering calls with the steering wheel controls easy and safe. The standard Bose speakers also made listening to Christmas music on Sirius XM especially festive after adjusting the sound quality.

Final Thoughts:

My week in the Mazda3 left me with a question I keep asking myself: How is it that I spent more on my Miata than this fully loaded Mazda3? The Mazda3 is an all-around great car with tons of features and creature comforts that I kept wishing were in my Miata. But that’s where less is more comes in. The Miata is built for the true sports car enthusiast that wants a canyon carver, weekend racer and daily driver all in one tiny, fun and iconic package. That’s not who the Mazda3 is geared towards.

If I were car shopping for something under $30,000 with nice styling, ample trunk and rear seat room, 5-doors, a navigation system, hands-free phone, accident warning systems and a manual transmission offered with the larger or two engines, the Mazda3 would be really hard to pass up.

As it sits, the Mazda3 I tested has a total MSRP of $28,385 far less than I spent on my Miata. Really, what more can you ask for in an economy car?

GirlsDriveFastToo gives the 2015 Mazda3 S Grand Touring 5-Door an overall rating of (out of 5 total):

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