Our American friends have a choice of six Mazda3 trim levels, while Canadians have only three…

During a recent short stay in Los Angeles, I drove a Mazda3i Grand Touring.

It’s a trim level that’s not available in Canada, even though Mazda3 is more popular (comparatively) in Canada than in the U.S. And price, well, that also turned out to be a surprisingly interesting comparison.

It’s easy to understand why so many Canadians already love Mazda3. The 2014 edition is an improved all-new generation car that’s already been voted Canada’s Best New Small Car, by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

Softer, more flowing body styling lines cover a new SkyActiv structure that’s lighter yet, according to Mazda, offers a 30 per cent improvement in torsional rigidity. The 3’s wheelbase has also been stretched by 6 cm, yet it’s a tad shorter in overall length. Inside the cabin there’s more room, especially leg and head room for the rear passengers.

Mazda3i GT Sedan: A top-line GT (Grand Touring) edition of Mazda3 is available in Canada, but only with a larger 2.5-litre SkyActiv engine and an automatic transmission. The 3i GT that I drove in L.A. came with the smaller 2.0-litre SkyActiv engine and a 6-speed manual transmission. An automatic is an option in the US and there’s also a 3s GT edition with the 2.5-litre engine (manual and automatic).

The 2.0-litre engine was available last year in Mazda3, but the new body allows a larger exhaust manifold and this improves its mid-range torque output. It’s definitely better, but still not great. That said, overall I really like this engine and crisp-shifting manual transmission combination and the fuel economy was outstanding.

There was 312 miles (502 km) on the trip meter when I pulled into a gas station, for the first time, at the end of my stay. It took less than 9 gallons ($35) to fill the tank. That’s 34.8 mpg (US), or 41.8 mpg (Imp gal) or 6.9 L/100 km, if you prefer metric and brilliant by any measure. My driving was a mix of city/highway and usual traffic hold-ups that are commonplace in the L.A. area. The EPA official combined fuel economy rating for this vehicle is 33 mpg.

Canada vs America: Small cars are number one in Canada and we bought over 40,000 Mazda3 models last year, making it the fourth most popular small car. Mid-size cars traditionally out-sell small cars in the U.S., and Mazda3 was only the tenth best seller in the small car segment, however, that’s still 100,000 plus sales.

A no-frills, stripped base model is also the norm in the U.S., but not in Canada (got to have those seat heaters). In fact, our American friends have a choice of six Mazda3 trim levels, while Canadians have only three.

“We have a less complicated trim level strategy,” countered Sandra Lemaitre (National Manager, Public Relations at Mazda Canada). “One, to make it less complicated for consumers and two, to allow our dealers carry inventory that consumers want. We also offer more option packages that allow consumers to add on, rather than making them commit to a specific trim”

Pricing: You’ve probably read (on the inter-web) or heard of people saving thousands of dollars by buying a vehicle in the U.S. That may be true for some high-end luxury or specialty products, but not so in the price-competitive lower end of the market.

Dollar for dollar a Canadian pays about the same, or less, than a U.S. buyer, for a similar new Mazda3. So, you will definitely save money by buying a new Mazda3 in Canada, when you also factor in the current 10 to 12 per cent difference in currency exchange rates and importation costs.

The base Mazda3 GX, with a start price of $15,995 in Canada, is a real bargain. That’s $950 below the lowest priced Mazda3 sold in the US, the SV (stripped edition), at $16,945. At the top end, a Mazda3 Sky GT is $25,855 in Canada. The equivalent U.S. model is a Mazda3s GT (automatic) at $25,995.

“When we price our vehicles in Canada we look primarily at the competition and then at exchange rates with Japan. Our top priority is making it competitively priced within our market,” added Lemaitre.

Looking ahead: The bad news is that there won’t be a direct equivalent to the Mada3i GT (2.0-litre) in Canada next year (for the 2015 model year). However, I did learn that a manual transmission will be available with the GT (2.5-litre) sold in Canada, in 2015. It’s anybody’s guess where prices will be next year, but one thing is for sure, the Mazda3 is great little car and a great value in Canada right now.

Contact: bob [dot] mchugh [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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