We recently put the 2015 Mazda3 Grand Touring 2.5 up against a more expensive Audi A3 and explained why we found them to be very comparable cars. We don’t pick winners and losers in our comparos, but rather we try to bring to light the cars’ personalities and strong points so buyers might decide which would work better for them personally. In a twist on this, we are going to add some emphasis to these two cars’ bad weather capability and we give the Mazda3 a decided advantage, so we want to make that clear right from the start. Let’s see which of these two excellent small sedans might suit you.
2015 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Limited (automatic)
The Subaru Impreza sure has grown up. I owned a 1999 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT that was pretty much this car’s exact dimensions and capabilities. My first moments in the Subie came when my media vehicle delivery was performed in the middle of a snow-covered street. I left a Lexus sedan for the fleet driver and hopped into the Impreza. Other drivers were patiently waiting for us to get out of the way, so I buckled up, put the Subie into drive, and toed the gas. The little Impreza immediately fishtailed sideways and leaped forward as if the ghost of Colin McRae had occupied my body. Holy smokes! This little 2.0-liter 4-banger (non-turbo) with a CVT transmission has a crazy sensitive throttle. It took me a full day to adjust.
Temperatures were in the teens and roads were entirely snow covered. This AWD Subie had no trouble going straight ahead, but its all-season (new) tires did it no favors at all. The car was squirrelly, and turns were a case study in either slow understeer or wild power-on rally-style oversteer. I mostly chose the former. I take safe driving seriously.
The Impreza feels spacious inside. The only thing I missed was a power driver’s seat. That said, this $25K car had a great infotainment system with Pandora and Nav, leather, heated seats, a moonroof, and keyless entry and push button start. What shocked me most about this car was its power. This car’s specifications sheet is like an apology. 148 horsepower and a gearless CVT. However, Subaru has some strong drivetrain magic. Just like my recent time in a Subaru Outback, I loved this engine and transmission. They are noisy, but not in a way I disliked. I don’t know how Subaru does it, but this drivetrain was a plus, not a minus to the car. Only when merging onto the highway was lack of power noticeable.
My tester also had the innovative EyeSight safety system with Forward Collision Prevention (FCP) and other driver aids. This Impreza is a Top Safety Pick Plus since it aces every single crash test. My mileage was low, about 29 MPG. However, my conditions were extreme. I trust that the EPA’s estimated 28 MPG city/ 37 highway/ 31 combined are what all drivers will find over time.
2015 Mazda3 Grand Touring 2.5 (manual)
OK, here is the part where we cheat. My test Mazda3 2.5 manual came from the media fleet with Blizzak winter tires. If you have been dying to read a winter review of two almost identical cars, one front wheel drive (Mazda3) and one all-wheel drive – Subaru Impreza – you have found it. My feeling is it that the snows on the FWD car equalize this matchup. The Mazda3 on snow tires was much better at turning and stopping than the Subaru on all-season tires. Once underway, the snow tires are much more important than AWD. However, the truth is, there were times this week when nothing but AWD would have moved me forward. Even with the all-season tires, AWD is dramatically better at getting a car from zero to 10 MPH.
Back to the vehicle matchup, the Mazda3 feels more intimate (smaller). It also feels much more refined. So much so that the Mazda is the walk-away winner if what you want is a sense of luxury, quality, and refinement. However, the Subaru feels more airy, and its AWD system is not to be ignored. I was all set to say that the Mazda3 was sportier than the Subie, but I can’t. The Subaru simply defies logic and its specifications and delivers a fun to drive experience. In a road race in dry conditions, the Mazda3 2.5 would win. However, I’m not comparing race cars, but rather compact sedans meant for younger buyers and small families.
Like the Subie, the Mazda3 is a Top Safety Pick plus if you get the FCP system. It also aces every crash test. I love that about this matchup. In my perfect world, every car would earn the IIHS TPS+ rating. The Mazda is also a $25k car.
Both of these models are available with either a manual or automatic transmission. That is incredibly rare these days. During my tine with the Mazda3 2.5, I recorded 29 MPG. The EPA rates this vehicle at 25 mpg city/ 37 highway/ and 29 mpg combined. A smaller 2.0-liter engine is available for the Mazda3 if fuel economy is a top priority for you.
If you were hoping that your preference would crush the other in a humiliating defeat, we warned you at the start that’s not our game. Based on my time in both of these cars, it is clear that each has a distinct personality and that any owner will look forward to their daily drive or a road trip in either even if the snow is falling - hard.