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2015 Mazda3 s 2.5 manual Grand Touring exceeds expectations

The Mazda3 with its larger engine and manual transmission is better than you hoped.


For the past couple of years the Mazda3 was available with a great manual transmission, or a great 2.5-liter, 184 horsepower engine, but not both together. For 2015 that changes, and you can have it all. Mazda calls this the 2015 Mazda3 s Grand Touring or s Touring depending on equipment. My tester was the up-scale s Grand Touring and it came with every option one would expect and much more for its asking price of just $26,140.

The Drive – 2015 Mazda3 s Grand Touring 2.5 Manual
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of reviewing the Mazda3 manual with the smaller, 155 hp engine. That car was the same as this one except for the engine size. That car’s price of $24,635 seemed fair at the time. However, this new model with its larger engine is a dramatically better value in my opinion.

The drivability of the smaller, 2.0-liter engine with the stick shift is questionable. It does not have the torque one needs to pull the car out of a rolling corner from a near stop. One needs to shift down to first, which is annoying. Anyone who drives stick knows what I am talking about. The 2.5-liter engine and its 185 ft-lb of torque can absolutely pull this car around at a slow roll. From a dead stop, using first the car can burnout easily if you apply too much throttle. TheMazda3 with the 2.5 will also spin the wheels if you hold first to redline and then speed shift to second. This Mazda3 with the 2.5-liter engine has as much power as the car can put down up to about 50 MPH. The 2.0-liter is a much more serene car to put it nicely.

The gearing is very “tall” in the Mazda3 s. By that I mean that first is a gear you can use for more than just a few feet. Second is so tall you can use it comfortably up to about 40 MPH before shifting up to third, or jumping over to 4rth, as I usually did. The Mazda SkyActiv engine is so smooth and so quiet that the car never objects if you like to hold a gear well past 4,000 RPMs around town.

Although the gearing is very tall, the engine is so “torquey” and the car so light at just 2947 pounds, you can use 6th around town a lot to maximize fuel economy. On secondary roads with a 45 MPH speed limit you can drive the car in 6th all day long. The shifter is slick, has great locating feel for each gear and the clutch is linear and perfect on the uptake. If you like to drive a stick, you will love this one.

The 2015 Mazda3 s Grand Touring also handles like a sporty car should. My 4-door sedan felt compact, but had that solid feel one expects form a premium make. The suspension with the larger 18” rims and tires is firm, but bumps won’t loosen your fillings. On a stretch of highway near me this weekend (Christmas Day actually) a large expansion joint had opened up and created a sort of huge pothole. I hit that with the Mazda3 and was sure I would be changing a tire, but there was no damage. At least a dozen cars were pulled over along the side of the highway for the next mile changing blow-outs. Luck, or a properly suspension design? Maybe both.

Steering is sharp and braking firm with good pedal feel. There is not really any situation in normal driving where the Mazda3 s is not completely comfortable. Is this the equal of a now discontinued MazdaSpeed3? No, but not because of its capabilities. It is more because of its mature feel and new style and mission. This Mazda3 has as much power as you need, the MazdaSpeed3 had so much more it seems to beg the question, will it ever return? The Mazda3 s is not a MazdaSpeed3, but that’s OK. In some ways it is more car, and it is definitely more car for the dollar.

2015 Mazda3 s Grand Touring Equipment
My test car had leather front seats with power and heat, a wonderful navigation and infotainment system, moon-roof, and the most amazing adaptive headlights in a car at this price point I have ever experienced. They move from side to side as you turn the car at night and are the coolest option the car has. The center dash is all tachometer. Very sporty. There is a heads-up display that does a sweet little movement when you start the car up rising up off the dash. That is your speedometer. Nothing in this class has more panache.

If you like Pandora (as I do) you will love the full integration with album art, station listing and thumbs up and down. The MMI style controller and small radio knob on the center console are as good as anything in the business and work exactly the same way Audi’s does. For $26K this car is so well equipped it makes a lot of competitors look a little silly. The last premium German car this size I tested did not have a back-up camera or Nav, like this Mazda3 does, and cost $10K more.

Fuel Economy and Cost Per Mile of the 2015 Mazda3 2.5 S
My Mazda3 s Grand Touring is one of the first media fleet vehicles in North America. Over its 2,200 mile life the car has recorded 29.3 MPG. In my 250 miles of mixed highway and suburban driving I recorded 29.0 MPG. I think this is excellent mileage. The Mazda3 with the 2.5 engine has a lower cost per mile of fuel than a VW Golf TDI diesel. That is pretty solid fuel economy. The fact that the Mazda3 uses regular unleaded is key to this. The EPA says the Mazda3 s 2.5 with the manual transmission will return about 25 mpg city/ 37 highway/ and 29 mpg combined (exactly what I saw). The only reason this mileage is not cause for celebration is that the smaller 2.0-liter Mazda engine in this car does about 20% better.

2015 Mazda3 Safety
Unlike the Honda Civic, the Mazda3 is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ when equipped with its optional advanced forward collision prevention system. My car did not have this option, thus it was a Top Safety Pick.

The 2015 Mazda3 s Grand Touring is an amazing value, and is perhaps the most fun to drive small sedan at its price point. Frankly, it may be the most fun to drive sedan under $35K, which is well past its price point. Like all Mazda3 vehicles the 2.5 s version delivers excellent value, low cost of ownership, and a very low cost per mile for fuel. If you know of a small sedan with a stick shift in the North American market that is this fun, this safe, and this economical at this price point please make your case below.

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Borg (not verified)    April 19, 2015 - 11:12PM

I have been driving the Mazda3 GT Manual with 2.5lt engine for 7 months now here in Australia. At first I was in the market for an Audi/Golf of similar size but test drove this as a wildcard, as it was getting excellent reviews everywhere. The car has been amazing so far, so responsive and powerful, sticks to the road like a go-kart, quality fittings and spacious in the rear. It turned out to be everything I wanted, for substantially less. Mazda is onto another winner with this vehicle. The resale value here in Australia also beats most others by a country mile. Smiles all round, and my bank balance is happiest of all.

Frank DeSalvo (not verified)    July 20, 2015 - 6:20PM

Having to switch into 3rd at 40 MPH isn't indicative of tall gearing in the least. This car should be able to hit 60 in second (one would hope).

Jay (not verified)    March 7, 2016 - 12:37PM

Actually. It does hit 60+ miles per hour in second gear. Check out the C&D road test and test sheet....
Impressive numbers.