By Arison Knapp
The automobiles we’re comparing in this piece appeal to drivers who are looking for an athletic, $20K fuel-efficient sedan and need extra space. We are exploring a trio of front drive wagons; the 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 i Grand Touring 5-door, Mitsubishi Lancer GT Sportback and the Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen SE. Although the Mazda and Mitsubishi are designed as 5-door hatchbacks and the Volkswagen a wagon; they are close in size, shape and value.
It is these cars’ inspiring drive feel that led me to their grouping. Each of these chassis’ is raced daily by professionals. Mazda and VW’s work in the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) racing circuits and Mitsubishi’s long history in the World Rally Championship (WRC). These companies have had time to develop and apply driving characteristics to their consumer cars. These wagons pack a punch and ready for packing.
Wrapping your eyes around the Mazda3 hatchback’s surface is quite soothing. Staring at the smooth lines of the Nagare styling my eyes are focused on the 3’s nose. It has the appearance of being tight yet extends down into a large grille; giving the 3’s frontend a stealthy muscular profile. It’s a wild design. As my eyes keep flowing down the body, over the arched fender and across the mid-section; they fly off the hatchback tail. I love how aerodynamically contoured the 3 looks. I am a big fan of wind-swept lines.
The 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer isn’t as streamlined but the right angles are still as fresh as the day it was launched. The Lancer is sharkesqe. Starting with its cutting headlamp shape and large trapezoid chrome lined grille, this wild water animal is ready for activity. Mitsubishi does a good job sculpting the cabin lines into the hatchback d-pillar. It’s a beautiful European curve-to-cut design that Ford, Citroen and others use overseas.
The soft curvature and wide-eyed headlamps of the Jetta Sportwagen give this vehicle a friendly, fun to drive energy. It’s an inch shorter than the longest vehicle in the trio, Lancer Sportback, however it gives the feel of a bigger stance using more rounded edges. The Mazda is the most modern looking; the Jetta is welcoming like a home cooked meal but in my boy racer heart the Mitsubishi steals the show. When cars resemble animals, my instinct is to ride that bad boy with delight. Winner: Mitsubishi Lancer.
Both 5-door hatchbacks from Mazda and Mitsubishi offer two naturally aspirated inline 4-cylinder gas engine variants and VW offers a naturally aspirated inline 5-cylinder or a turbocharged inline 4-cylinder diesel engine. Mazda offers a choice between a 167 HP 2.5L Inline-4 or what our test car was a 155 hp 2.0L inline-4 SKYACTIV engine. The more recently designed, 2.0L engine is an amazing value utilizing tons of new engineering from a symphony of features called SKYACTIV. SKYACTIV focuses on performance, efficiency and safety. Applying these marquees has lead to many parts of the vehicle being dynamically enhanced. The new engine upgrades of direct injection, high compression ratio and intricate operating tricks for more efficient fuel burning makes the Mazda3 impressive alone or next to a competitor. At an impressive almost 40 mpg highway with gas engine it was the best of three. The 3 is quite quick off the line unlike a traditional Mazda launch and once at speed the engine even feels more empowering to pull away.
On www.MitsubishiCars.com you can build their Lancer hatchback with choices of two 4-cylinder engines; the ES model with 2.0L 148hp or the GT model with 2.4L 168hp. Our model came equipped as a GT with their 2.4L 4B12 engine which is brilliantly quick revving. The MIVEC engine mapping mated to a CVT makes for a feel of awesome balanced power; the paddle shifters have trigger like responsiveness. The Lancer model had the worst fuel economy of the bunch with the 2.4L but opting for an economical 2.0L you can achieve similar fuel efficiency as the competitors coming in at 24c/32h.
VW comes away with offering the most power in this class with 170hp. They do it by selling a 5-cylinder in a class of 4-cylinders and VW also offers a meaty 4-cylinder diesel turbo. When this 5-cylinder came out in the late 2000’s, VW informed us the inline-5-cylinder engine block come from using one half of the Lamborghini Gallardo’s V10. This 5-cylinder is fitted with economical parts not from Lamborghini but this fiver still kicks up to speed. Imagine a 6-cylinder feel with 4-cylinder weight. After examining the feeling of power to fuel economy the Mazda 2.0L 4-cylinder SKYACTIV is an unbeatable bang for buck. Winner: Mazda3.
We are getting to the point with technology where a car’s interior can be too busy for practical everyday driving. Starting again with the Mazda3, the interior with or without the navigation system is too busy for me. I’m not a fan of the Mazda3’s double canon closed off recessed speedometer and tachometer but driving the car I forgot all about my dislikes. Driving visibility was great in-motion. Our 3 GT had the least amount of cargo space with 42.8 cubic feet and it came in second for total interior volume, 111.6 cu. ft., right under the largest in the group 2013 VW Jetta with 124.5 cu. ft. Enhancements of higher tensile steel integration into the frame, from adopting SKYACTIV, has helped decrease noise, vibration and harshness to the 3’s ride.
Mitsubishi has the second largest amount of cargo space in the group weighing in with 52.7 cu. ft. and the lowest in interior space at 108.3 cu. ft. Even though there was less space than the Mazda and VW I felt just as comfortable. The Lancer has a unique feature where the rear floor of the trunk space lowers three inches to get the full 52.7 cu. ft. I find their white lit dashboard design much more soothing to read and helpful at speed.
The Jetta is a really built to haul. This puppy sits in-between these other two cats in length comparison but towers over them in interior volume. This is where we find out the difference in design behind the nomenclatures of a hatchback and wagon. This wagon is dedicated to space with larger proportions. This Jetta wagon ranks in with a maximum cargo space of 66.9 cu. ft. and has the largest overall interior space of the group with 124.5 cu. ft. From a driver’s point-of-view the Volkswagen’s wide open blue gauged dashboard was the easiest to see at night. Winner: VW Jetta Sportwagen.
Equipment and Technology
The most recently designed vehicle in the lineup, the 2013 Mazda3, also has the most technologically advanced standard features and options available out the bunch. The most attractive standard features on the 2013 Mazda3 i Grand Touring are the push button engine start, tire pressure monitoring, stability and traction control, Bluetooth, USB audio input and a class leading standard of Mazda’s blind spot monitoring system. Mazda offers an option-able 10-speaker BOSE stereo system, HD Radio, navigation system and an Adaptive HID headlight system that noticeably turns with you into corners. The other vehicles in this comparison don’t have this option available and it’s smooth like butter in transitions into corners. I like this system more than other ones.
The razor sharp looking Lancer has a solid package of standard features such as stability and traction control with optional technology such as Bi-Xenon headlights, a blasting 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate infotainment system, sunroof, heated leather seating, Navigation system with 40 GB hard-drive and finally the coolest of the tech, the rearview camera system that displays in the navigation screen. This is an industry standard for luxury vehicles but offering this on a 5-door hatchback under $20K is great news for all metropolitan drivers. These little tools become remarkably helpful in busy traffic when you need to jump into a spot. Even though this camera is standard on every Audi and Infiniti it is such a pleasure to have the convenience in our Mitsubishi.
The Jetta SE but it does comes standard with a nice array of features such as stability and traction control, Bluetooth music streaming, heated front seats and mirrors, Intelligent Crash Response System, Media Device Interface with iPod cable and an audio system with a touch screen ready for HD or SirusXM Radio. Optional equipment for the Jetta wagon ranges from a Sunroof and Navigation system to a roof spoiler and a first-aid kit. People who are buying these vehicles aren’t buying them for the super high tech gadgets inside; they’re looking to buy a mid-level priced cargo vehicle that will perform like an enjoyable sedan. Winner: Mazda3.
All three are truly fun to drive. Each has their own road character and has built a large following in the everyday driving community, weekend enthusiasts and racing professionals.
Mazda only races the 3 as a hatchback. That’s why you’ll find the Mazdaspeed3 as a 5-door on the track and not a 4-door; but today I want to focus on the Mazda 3 GT SKYACTIV. Last year I was on a race track with Mazda’s champion racecar driver Michael Cooper and he explained while entering a corner at 100 mph, “This steering in this SKYACTIV 3 feels better than my 2011 BMW M3 coupe over there. I love the feel and accuracy of this 3. I bet they’ll add SKYACTIV to the Mazdaspeed3 soon.” This chassis is the most athletic in the comparison to our group; furthermore you’ll find it to be the best handling but not so comfortable over imperfections in the road. The Mazda is very responsive to inputs and you can really feel the difference in power delivery with the direct injection and high compression ratio from SKYACTIV.
The Mitsubishi is also raced on the regular by professionals in lower WRC classes. Mitsubishi pulled out of WRC a couple years ago along with Subaru for economic reasons but this car still has the rally bred design. The FWD Lancer GT is more economical and still has inspiring features like its get-up-and-go chassis. The 4B12 engine with the MIVEC mapping and CVT gearbox gives this car a feeling of flow getting up to speed, so elastic. There is a different feel to a CVT than a traditional gearbox and it has a sound and a feeling of a little jet winding up. The Mitsubishi sits in the middle of these two for comfort and sport. The Mazda sits on the sport side and the VW sits on the comfort side, it is the Mitsubishi that harness’ a unique middle ground of smooth and sporty.
Volkswagen built this Jetta Sportwagen to take imperfections on the road with comfort while still capturing that sporty responsiveness. The Jetta is louder over rough road but the ride was much softer. It gave that traditional fun VW steering feel and confident road handling, and VW says even under the heaviest loads the Jetta should still perform with gusto. Out of these three I would take this Jetta out for the long hauls, road trips or commutes over 45 minutes but anything closer than that I would sacrifice comfort and buy a Mazda3 for the sportier more fuel efficient drive. Winner: Mazda3.
To wrap up the rodeo it has been a tough decision examining the highs and lows of this 5-door comparison. Between the sporty technologically advanced Mazda, the balanced Mitsubishi doing a great job of keeping a mature road feel with athletic characteristics and the Volkswagen Jetta abilities to give you a $30k of comfort and cargo room in a $20k package it all comes down to who you are. In the life of a metropolitan man I would have to choose the Mazda3 because fuel economy, entertaining driving character and the option of those fun Adaptive HID headlights.
|SPECIFICATION||2013 Mazda 3i GT||2013 Mitsubishi Lancer GT||2013 VW Jetta SportWagen|
|Engine||2.0L I-4||2.4L I-4||2.5L I-5|
|HP / TQ||155/148||168/167||170/177|
|Max Cargo||42.8 cu.ft.||52.7 cu.ft.||66.9 cu.ft.|
|Fav Color E./I.||Red/Blk||Wht/Blk||Toffee/Beige|