By Eve Pickman and edited by Christina Selter.
Is it possible to combine a fun driving experience with great fuel economy? That’s the big question every compact car manufacturer tries to answer. Can Mazda, the home of Zoom-Zoom-Zoom and Mitsubishi, creator of the highly successful Evo rally car marry their motorsports experience to mainstream compact sedans, the 2013 Mazda3 i Sport 4-Door and the 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer SE Sedan? And they able to do so without trading off performance and handling for gismos and gadgets?
The 2013 Mazda3 i Sport with a 6-speed manual transmission has a base MSRP of $18,375. The available 6-speed automatic transmission bumps the MSRP to $19,225. But price is only one consideration. The big story at Mazda is their SKYACTIV technology. Forget all the details, what SKYACTIV technology means, is all the zoom, zoom, zoom plus stellar fuel economy and great chassis dynamics. Limited body roll and flex, crispy suspension, dead on handling. The 155-hp SKYACTIV-G 2.0L 4-cylinder engine generates 148 lb-ft of torque when paired with your choice of the SKYACTIV-MT 6-speed manual or SKYACTIV-Drive 6-speed Sport automatic transmissions. The 2.0L i Sport delivers 27-mpg city and 39-mpg highway with the manual transmission and 28 mpg city and a mind blowing 40-mpg highway with the automatic. That’s right; the automatic delivers bigger fuel economy numbers than the stick!
Fun and safe go hand in hand. The Mazda3 i Sport has you covered, with advanced front air bags, front side-impact air bags and side-impact air curtains. Active front headrests Active Headrests adjust upwards and forwards in the event of impact to help support the front occupants head and neck. Front seat-belt pretensioners with force limiters keep the driver and front row passenger safe and secure; 4-wheel Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and Traction Control System (TCS) are standard.
But a compact sport sedan needs to be more than horsepower and miles per gallon. Outside, the 103.9-inch long Mazda3 i Sport has 16-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers, and halogen headlights with optional fog lamps. No moonroof is available, something many sports car enthusiast prefer. Inside, the i Sport features a 4-speaker sound system with a USB port and auxiliary-audio input jack; SiriusXM is available with a paid subscription. Oddly enough, the ubiquitous Bluetooth hand-free capability and navigation are not offered. 60/40 split-folding rear seats, 36.2-inches of rear seat legroom and 11.8 cubic feet enhance the practicality of the Mazda3.
The 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer SE takes a different spin to the compact sport sedan. Unlike its front wheel drive competitors, the Lancer SE is only offered with All-Wheel Control (AWC), an electronically controlled 4WD system with multi-mode electronic center coupler. All-Wheel Control sends power to the wheels with the most traction, for superior handling regardless of road conditions. It’s sure to appeal to both snow belt dwellers and rally drivers alike. With a base MSRP of $20,695 (inc. destination and handling), Mitsubishi Lancer SE is certainly deserving of another look. It boast numerous standard features not offered in the Mazda3 i Sport, including 16-alloy wheels, heated front seats, Bluetooth, SiriusXM® Satellite Radio with three months pre-paid service and an available power sunroof.
Under the hood, the 168-hp, 2.4-liter MIVEC engine is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission or Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Neither is as technologically advanced as Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology and the proof is in the 22-city/29-highway mpg fuel economy. Granted, All-Wheel Control adds a bit of weight to the Lancer SE.
The Mitsubishi Lancer offers safety equipment not found on the 2013 Mazda3 i Sport, including a driver’s knee airbag and rearview camera system. It also has 7 standard airbags, Active Stability Control and Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD).
Lancer has a standard 140-watt CD/MP3/HD Radio® audio system with 4 speakers and a 6.1-inch touch screen audio display; the Premium Package adds an upscale 710-watt Rockford Fosgate® premium sound system with 9 speakers. The sunroof and 16-alloy wheels are part of the same $1,550 Premium Package, a $2,295 Navigation Package and $350 Rear Park Assist Sensors are also available.
The interior of the Lancer looks and feels more spacious than the Mazda3 with 36.1 inches of rear legroom and 12.3 cubic feet of storage. Leather seating surfaces are a $950 option; black cloth is your only interior choice on the Mazda3.
The bottom line? If your main focus is fuel economy and how your car handles, the Mazda3 i Sport might be the car for you. If you are looking for all-wheel drive, the best factory sound system, legroom and cargo space and the ability to option your vehicle to suit your specific taste, the Mitsubishi Lancer SE may prove the better choice.