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2018 Mazda3 GT Premium & Tech

We have the unique opportunity with this week's article to feature two very different spectrums of the 2018 Mazda3. We took a drive to ur local dealership in St-Hyacinthe, QC at Mazda du Boulevard to check out the 2018 Mazda3 GT with Technology and Premium Packages, and the 2018 Mazda3 Sport GX. We've essentially got a fully loaded sedan and the base model for the hatchback, which allows us to show all the different features and trim options available, as well as try out the 2.0L SKYACTIV-G engine versus the 2.5L.

The last Mazda3 I drove was back in 2011 in Calgary. Mazda has always offered this vehicle as a sedan or hatchback, and the hatchback has become the go-to body style for enthusiasts who want a fun, sporty, practical car. We'll start off with the Sport GX, which is the hatchback version of this car, and retails for about $1,000 more than the sedan.

The 2018 Mazda3 Sport GX includes the Comfort and Convenience Packages found on the sedan version, which adds manual air conditioning, a trip computer, tachometer, and steering wheel mounted audio controls along with bluetooth audio, the 7" Mazda Connect screen, Smart City Brake Support, exterior temperature display, 2 additional speakers for a total of 6, and a tachometer. Truthfully the base model Sport is more than enough to get most people going and with an MSRP of $21,100.00 with the automatic transmission, this trim is very affordable as a daily commuter.

The hatchback design is in our opinion the way to go. You get a vehicle with the same length, width, and wheelbase, but a larger rear trunk space for hauling items. You might not always need the hatchback space, but the fact that a rear privacy cover comes included means you don't have to worry about strangers peeking into the rear to see what you're carrying. The $1,000 price difference is certainly in line with the competition.

Let's jump up to the GT trim and talk about the best possible version of the 2018 Mazda3, especially with the Technology and Premium packages found on this car. Luxuries like heated front seats and steering wheel are included, along with navigation, XM Radio, a 9-speaker Bose audio system, leather seating and trim, LED front and rear lighting, a heads-up display, and the full suite of Mazda's i-ACTIVESENSE saftey package is also included, which provides tech like active lane-keep assist, smart brake support, distance recognition, radar cruise control, and other options found on the other trims like blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Mazda has been following the industry's standard of creating a similar interior and exterior design language throughout their model lineup. The interior of the Mazda6 is similar to the CX-3 and Mazda6 models, which is great for existing customers looking to purchase a new or second vehicle. Everything was located where we expected to find it, and the leather trimmed dashboard, door cards, and centre console were a great touch to help make this car feel more luxurious than it's price tag would suggest. The dual-zone climate control system is the same found on other models, and works well to keep both front occupants at their ideal comfortable temperature. We had no issue warming up on the cold day we filmed this by using the climate control system, heated seats and heated steering wheel.

The biggest surprise for us on the GT Tech + Premium was the flappy paddle 6 speed automatic transmission. We had tonnes of fun driving through the back roads with this car, and using the paddles to shift up and down through the gears for maximum performance and enjoyment. Mazda still offers a manual transmission for the Mazda3 (along with the CX-3, CX-5, Mazda6, and MX-5), but if an automatic is a must-have, then you can be rest assured the flappy paddles can be used to truly enhance your driving experience.

The rest of the driving experience for the Mazda3 was quite good. We enjoyed the ride, handling, and overall comfort of this car both on the twisting side roads and highway driving. The 2.5L SKYACTIV-G engine found on the GT model definitely helps to get you up to speed quickly, but the smaller engine found on the GX and GS are still plenty quick to get you going. The other recent vehicle we've driven in the compact segment was the Chevrolet Cruze, which we drove in both the sedan and hatchback versions. There's no doubt in our mind that the Mazda3 is the superior vehicle in every way.

But with every great car comes some misses, even if they're small. We're still waiting for Mazda to introduce Android Auto and Apple CarPlay into their Infotainment systems. While it's a small enough feature, and one we reviewed earlier and found still requires work, both are starting to show up on competing vehicles. We'd also love to see the return of the Mazdaspeed brand to North America. While the GT Tech + Premium is a great car for sporting around, there's something exiting about the thought of a Speed model with it's performance-oriented design and persona. While there are no plans (that we know of) for a Mazdaspeed model to return to North America, it is one of our requests for this car.

Whether you go with the Sport hatchback or sedan model, we think you'll be pleasantly surprised and impressed with the Mazda3. The direct competition against the Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring and Toyota Corolla SE CVT XSE prove to be a hotly competitive market. The Civic's top-end model is slightly more expensive and features a couple smaller gadgets like wireless phone charging and rear heated seats. The Toyota Corolla is the most competitively priced but lacks in the audio and sport department, with the CVT and smaller less-powerful engine.

We certainly recommend going all-out with the GT trim and opting for the $1,000 hatchback (Sport) model. The safety technology has worked very well on the Mazda3 and other Mazda models we've driven, so we know things like radar cruise control and smart brake support work when needed. The Tech package could be added if you really want those extra few features like XM radio and Homelink. We didn't have a chance to drive the Mazda3 for an extended period of time to truly see if the regenerative braking and active air shutters made a difference to fuel economy, but the technology is interesting to find on a car at this price point.

You can watch our full episode of TestDrive Spotlight on the 2018 Mazda3 Sport GX and Sedan GT here:

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