2015 Mazda Mazda3 s Grand Touring 5-door review: Manual, not labor

2015 Mazda Mazda3 s Grand Touring 5-door

2015 Mazda Mazda3 s Grand Touring 5-door

It’s one thing to be able to talk the talk and yet another to walk the walk, but better yet, Mazda has been able to zoom the zoom. We said so in our reviews (here and here) of the 2014 Mazda Mazda3 i. But the Mazda3 i, by its designation, has the smaller engine of two available for the Mazda3. Now we’ve finally laid our hands on the Mazda Mazda3 s, which is powered by a 2.5-liter four rather than the 2.0-liter of the Mazda3 i.

In the second year of its third generation, the 2015 Mazda3 line is unaltered from the 2014 Mazda3, the i and the s still indicating engine size, but packaging of features being the big news. And like before, the Mazda3 is available in four trim levels—SV, Sport, Touring and Grand Touring—and changes for 2015 include, as Mazda describes it, “focusing on bringing more technology to entry-level models and fun-specific choices to upper level ones.”

2015 Mazda Mazda3 s Grand Touring 5-door

Gray inserts liven up the “almond”-colored seats of the 2015 Mazda Mazda3 s Grand Touring 5-door. (click to enlarge)

And believe it, we at CarBuzzard are all in favor of fun-specific choices. We’re not going to detail all of the upgrades and basic equipment for each trim level, but for example, a rearview camera, halogen fog lights and Mazda Connect are 2015 updates for the Mazda3 i Touring. These were Grand Touring items last year. As midlevel trim, that’s probably both “more technology” and “fun-specific choices.”

But speaking of fun, let’s get on with our primary reason for being here, that 2.5-liter engine. It’s offered only with the Touring and Grand Touring models, but new for 2015, it’s available with a six-speed manual transmission.

The 2.5-liter four shares Mazda’s Skyactiv technology with the 2.0-liter, including direct fuel injection, a unique piston with a special “volcano-like” cavity in its face designed to control combustion, and a four-into-two-into-one exhaust manifold, all combining to allow a 13.0:1 compression ratio. The result is an engine rated at a peak 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, and an EPA fuel economy estimate—with the manual transmission and the 5-door hatchback—of 26/35 mpg city/highway. Higher gas mileage can be achieved with the four-door sedan, the automatic transmission, and the automatic transmission with i-eLoop…but we’re here with the five-door hatch.

2015 Mazda Mazda3 s instrument panel

The 2015 Mazda Mazda3 s instrument panel puts the tachometer front and center, where it belongs. (click to enlarge)

We’re going to jump right to the chase. Our test 2015 Mazda Mazda3 s Grand Touring five-door—that’s a mouthful—was a hoot to drive. The horsepower number is modest, and the torque spec not overwhelming or particularly low in the rev range. But the Mazda3 s just feels fast. Well, not so much fast as quick. The engine is responsive to the gas pedal, and what the engine has to happen, happens when the pedal is pushed.

Credit partly goes to the transmission. The six-speed manual is a perfect match for the 2.5-liter four. It’s not only new for the Mazda3 for 2015, but it’s a new transmission. Mazda says it was deliberately developed to feel like that of the Mazda Miata, and indeed, our notes read “smooth and accurate.” Mazda nailed it like a journeyman carpenter…which may not be a particularly witty metaphor, but yeah, it’s right there. The shift lever even looks like it was lifted from a Miata.

The steering is sharp and there’s little if any torque steer in first gear. The Mazda3 s is agile on our narrow winding roads, and if that’s where you drive, here’s the round peg for the round hole.

Rough pavement doesn’t upset the Mazda3 s either. The ride is firm but still compliant as the MSM for you–know-who.

If the “s” in Mazda3 s stands for “sport,” Mazda did right by it inside. The steering wheel is contoured like it was molded around a driver’s hands in the nine-and-three position, and the seats are bolstered like, well, sport seats. The interior color of our test car was nominally “almond,” but with well-placed gray inserts on the seats, they look expensive, felt deep and cushioned. They were finished in leather, and with six-way driver power adjustment and variable manual lumbar settings, the front seats were will make a fanny happy.

2015 Mazda Mazda3 s Grand Touring

2015 Mazda Mazda3 s Grand Touring (click to enlarge)

The seven-inch multi-information screen sits atop the dash on an insert that, if the screen isn’t there, doesn’t leave a big blank. Our test MazDA3 s also had a heads up display, but rather than being projected on the windshield, the Mazda3 has a little plastic screen that folds up from the dash top ahead if the driver. It’s neat, but the driver has to be So Tall to see it, or the average height person—that would be this author—has to adjust the driver’s seat upwards to see it. Unfortunately there’s no adjustment to the screen. The driver has to do the adjusting. Insert unhappy face emoticon here.

The 2015 Mazda Mazda3 s Grand Touring five-door hatchback is otherwise much like the Mazda3 i we tested last year. The rear seat is snug but typical for a compact hatchback, and the rear seatbacks fold to make a flat load floor.

If you specify the 2.5-liter engine—meaning you ordered the Mazda3 s—you get an instrument panel right out of Porsche’s playbook. The tachometer replaces the Mazda3 i’s large centrally-mounted mounted speedometer of the Mazda3 i. The speedometer is reduced to a digital readout at the bottom of the big central tachometer face. Way to keep priorities in line, Mazda!

Combine all that with good pedal layout and the Mazda Mazda3 s qualifies as a sport hatch, which to our thinking is actually higher praise than “hot hatch.”

The Grand Touring trim give the auto on/off headlights, bi-xenon headlights with auto leveling, a pivoting Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS), LED combination taillights, LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, an auto- dimming rearview mirror with a new-for-2015 Homelink® integration, perforated leather-trimmed seats.

2015 Mazda Mazda3 s Grand Touring 5-door

2015 Mazda Mazda3 s Grand Touring 5-door (click to enlarge)

The optional Technology Package for the s Grand Touring includes the i-ELOOP regenerative engine braking system, active grille shutters, High Beam Control (HBC), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Mazda Radar Cruise Control (MRCC), Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW) and Smart City Brake Support (SCBS), a pre-crash avoidance safety feature. Our test car didn’t have that package, which kept the list price to $28,385, including a $1,750 appearance package—front and rear spoilers, side sill extensions and such–plus floor mats, destination charge and such. But the extra stuff is there for those who want it.

Clever marketing has given Mazda a de facto trademark on the word “zoom,” and the Mazda3 does double down on that to earn Mazda’s “zoom zoom” tagline. With our 2015 Mazda Mazda3 s Grand Touring s five-door, we think Mazda would be justified in adding one more “zoom,” just because s.