Mazda has always given consumers the best features without drying out their savings accounts, from rain-sensing wipers and leather seating to head-up displays—all without having to put premium fuel into the tank. The Mazda3 in particular epitomizes the automaker’s philosophy: a sporty car that delivers great gas mileage.

 

Far from any boring econobox special, the Mazda3 is a hoot to drive thanks to super sharp handling, a sprightly motor, and a smooth shifting 6-speed transmission. It also offers a number of features that just can’t be found on other compacts.

 

The 3 is Mazda’s bread and butter compact here in Canada, representing 50 percent of the company’s total sales in the Great White North. Entering 2017, the Mazda3 has the same end goal but now features a lower price tag for the GT model and has a jump in features and safety equipment across the whole trim lineup.

 

 

Save for the Mazda3 fanatics—I used to be one—the changes for this model year will likely go unnoticed. GT models gain a new front fascia with a stretched out grille, new LED headlights, LED fogs, and newly styled wheels.

 

Inside, a cleaner central tachometer, clearer head-up display, a new electronic parking brake, and a new steering wheel give the Mazda3 more ammunition to take on its competitors. Best of all for Canadians, a heated steering wheel is now standard on GS and GT models. The seats get better bolstering, stitching, and are extremely comfortable. Furthermore, the white leather delivers a stunning contrast and could arguably give entry-level Mercedes models a run for their money.

 

 

The biggest change for the 2017 Mazda3 however is G-Vectoring Control (GVC), a system that was also featured on the Mazda6 we recently drove. This fancy term means the engine, transmission, and suspension are optimized to give the car better driving dynamics.

 

The reasoning? Mazda says it is to “create oneness” between driver and car and “to make driving less tiresome and more fun.” In layman terms, the car is inherently less jerky and the feat of having to constantly correct the steering is ironed out.  Mazda engineers programmed the car to offer a more forgiving ride without sacrificing handling. The result is better engine timing, a smoother delivery of torque, reduced lag, and revised suspension dampening.

 

 

To address the skeptics in the room: yes, it does work. Even with numb electronic steering, the Mazda3 tracks quite well and even through twisty roads, the peppy 2.5-litre inline-four felt like it was better able to put down the power to the chassis. Steering became second nature – the car would go wherever you wanted it to, and you know exactly where the car was in the lane at all times. Through winding roads and if pushed hard enough, the back end will want to fishtail outwards, but quickly catches itself before trouble ensues.

 

The Mazda3 delivers 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft to the front wheels only. Exhaust noise is lacking and can hardly be heard when you lay on it. This made spirited driving feel less emotional and passengers who would regularly tell me to slow down never once suggested I back off.

 

 

Pegging the throttle on and off, there was a lot less fore and aft swaying that I previously found in older 3s. This made me feel more like a chauffeur than a Formula 1 driver. There’s a firmness to the ride as well, allowing the suspension to tackle rough roads, without feeling numb. It does not feel like a cheap Japanese hatchback but closer to one that’s made in Germany.

 

Safety has also been improved, and it is praiseworthy to see features like radar cruise, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and pedestrian detection in a car that starts under $25,000. Consumers will have to opt for the GT model to get all the safety features, but the GS gets many of them as standard – the rest can be added via extra packages.

 

 

The base Mazda3 starts at $15,900 and the GT sedan has been reduced from $25,350 to $24,000. The hatchback variant costs an additional $1,000 across the range. GX and GS models will charge you a penalty of $1,300 if you choose the automatic. Regardless, the six-speed manual is the one to choose. Besides making for a better connection between the car and driver, it shifts deliberately and feels incredible through all the gears, although the clutch up-take is broad which may take some getting used to.

 

In a price-sensitive area of the market, it is critical to meet or beat the competition at having the right models with the right content and at the right price point. The new Mazda3 does just that with subtle but meaningful upgrades, which significantly boost its safety and luxury appeal.

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