How the Refreshed 2017 Mazda3 Compares with the 2016 Model [Review]

2017 Mazda3 vs 2016 Mazda3 comparison review


  • Revised front design and rear bumper revised on five-door models
  • Upgraded interior redesigned with new look and feel that features enhanced storage space and elevated materials
  • All-new G-Vectoring Control technology is standard across all trim levels
  • Automatic transmission refined for smoother, more linear response
  • The optional camera system is improved for better at detection of pedestrians and able to see further down the road
  • Optional blind spot monitoring system and lane keeping system
  • Available head-up display is now in full color

The Mazda3 is a relatively rare specimen in our increasingly technologized automotive landscape. A true driver’s car that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, the Mazda3 can still be had with a manual transmission — in all trim levels — and makes do without any turbos or other fancy tricks. With exceptional steering, a balanced chassis, and a gutsy 4-cylinder engine, the Mazda3 is a refreshingly simple analog counterpoint to this often overwhelmingly digital world.

Now in its third generation, the Mazda 3 received a mid-cycle refresh for 2017. This largely consists of a few small exterior and interior styling changes, as well a few other subtle upgrades, such as Mazda’s new G-Vectoring Control technology. We recently had a chance to drive a new 2017 Mazda3 hatchback in the top of the line Grand Touring trim level, and to our pleasant surprise, it even came with the six-speed manual transmission.

Full disclosure: Alex personally owns and drives a 2016 Mazda3 Grand Touring sedan with a manual, which does make this review a bit biased, perhaps, as he obviously likes the car enough to own it. But it also provides an interesting comparison opportunity: is the refreshed 2017 model noticeably better than the 2016 MY?

Before we settle that question, let’s start with some observations of the car’s interior, which has experienced a few changes. The same upscale materials and high level of fit and finish luckily haven’t changed; anyone who thinks a sub-$30k car can’t have a nice interior should spend some time in a Mazda3, as it honestly shames some cars that cost $20k more.

Although we wouldn’t have really noticed if last year’s car wasn’t readily available for a side-by-side comparison, the steering wheel has been redesigned and the leather seating is a lighter parchment color. The manual parking brake has also been replaced with an electronic unit, saving console space, and the CD player is also gone, which likely won’t disappoint any young Millennials, but as a Gen Xer with several thousand discs, we’re a bit sad to see it go.

The exterior design changes are also quite subtle, with small changes to the front and rear of the car. When parked next to each other you can spot the differences, but otherwise, it’s hardly noticeable. Behind the wheel, the 2017 Mazda3 is also instantly familiar, with the communicative steering, nimble handling, and a superb shifter that any driving enthusiast would appreciate.

The 2.5L engine that comes standard in Grand Touring trim still makes a healthy 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft torque and provides enough thrust to help make things interesting, while also returning decent fuel efficiency. Perhaps the only downside of this powertrain: it can seem a bit boring, as the linear torque curve means you can upshift quickly and without any drama.

The big change for 2017 is the incorporation of G Vectoring Control, which honestly sounds much more complex than it is. Here’s Dave Coleman, development engineer at Mazda, to help explain:

“Conceptually, it’s really simple. Every time you make a steering wheel input, it reduces the engine torque a ridiculously small amount. Enough to shift a little bit of extra load on the front tires and that extra weight on the front tires sharpens the response, gives better steering feedback, and a more natural cornering posture.”

2017 Mazda3 2.5L 4-cylinder engine
2017 Mazda3 2.5L 4-cylinder engine

The reduction in torque must really be small, as we honestly had a hard time noticing the effect, even after driving it back to back with the non-G Vectoring 2016 model. The good news is it doesn’t detract in any way and the 2017 Mazda3 still offers one of the best driving experiences for the money.

Which brings back the question, is Alex sad that he owns the now slightly out of date 2016 model? To be honest, not really, as the few changes to the 2017 model don’t really affect what makes the car so good. If anything, he kinda likes that the car doesn’t automatically reduce engine torque and prefers to pull a lever rather than push a button to activate the parking brake. And he definitely likes being able to spin all those nineties CDs while enjoying a cruise down the scenic backroads.

In this episode of “TFL Leaderboard Hot or Not?” it’s the 2017 BMW i3 in a drag race against the 2017 Mazda3.