Head to Head: Mazdaspeed3 vs. VW GTI 4-Door
This is the third head-to-head post we’ve done featuring two of the cars we got an early look at last week. We’ve been criticized heavily for not comparing more exact models and trim levels, but we were working with what we had and hopefully explained our reasoning the entire way. BUT, now we match two vehicles that couldn’t be more alike in every way. We recently reviewed the Mazdaspeed3 in full and also featured the two-door GTI in a Cheap Speed Faceoff. But last week we were able to look at the all-new four-door GTI — offered in the U.S. for the first time — and it naturally fell into place next to the Mazdaspeed3. Again, David Thomas and Mike Hanley took their turns in the two. Read on to see if they could agree on a winner.
DT: There’s no denying the Mazdaspeed3 is fast. Crazy fast. Way faster than the GTI. Way faster than anything else on the market at this price. The 263-hp turbo four-cylinder is a blast, and after a short learning period shifting becomes second nature. I loved throwing this red baby around corners, even if the understeer took over more than any car normally should. This is a sports car, folks. Hold on and enjoy it.
MH: Even though it's a four-door hatchback, the Mazdaspeed3's aggressive looks attract attention, especially when it's painted bright red. Even painted a more pedestrian blue or black, the Mazdaspeed3's loud, droning exhaust note is likely to turn heads (Dave compared it to an idling lawn mower in his full review). The turbocharged four-cylinder is smooth, strong and rev-happy. The driver's seat's aggressive bolsters kept me in place during fast cornering, and there's a sizeable cargo area behind the second-row seats for quick (literally) runs to the grocery store.
DT: The GTI four-door was the first time I tested a GTI with a six-speed manual shifter rather than VW’s superb DSG. It was OK, but my foot-hand coordination was not as precise as the DSG’s paddle shifting. Don’t get me wrong, the six-speed is a fine shifter and probably compares to the Mazda’s or is slightly better, but it wouldn’t win me over. It does keep the price down, though, versus the DSG option.
What the GTI does best is offer a planted feeling that the Mazda cannot because of all that power going to the 3’s front wheels. You feel more in control of the GTI, and usually that’s a huge plus. But for experienced drivers who want a rush, it doesn’t deliver like the Mazda. Not even close.
MH: Though the GTI's turbocharged four-cylinder doesn't have the level of urgency of the Mazdaspeed3's, it bests the car in a few other areas. The GTI's interior has an upscale, luxurious look and feel to it, while the Mazdaspeed3's cabin is fitted with a variety of black plastic pieces that don't equal the GTI's trim in terms of quality. I also had more room in the backseat of the GTI, and liked its slick six-speed manual more than the Mazdaspeed3's manual. Considering the GTI's performance orientation, however, I found its light steering out of place; a little more driver involvement would be much appreciated.
DT: Overall I think looks and interior go slightly to the GTI, but they’re also subjective. I found the Mazdaspeed3 not outrageously pandering to the boy-racer crowd, and even the huge spoiler seemed almost subtle. Sure, the GTI’s interior is nicer, but the Mazda isn’t junk. Compared to other Japanese compacts it’s right up there, and the seats are extremely supportive. If only the Mazda didn’t have that droning exhaust it would be perfect. Even with it I don’t think a sporting man can turn it down. What do you say to that Mike? You a sporting man or not?
MH: Besides its admirable engine, the fact that the Mazdaspeed3 has such a pervasive exhaust note will likely make it an even more compelling performance-car buy for a certain set of enthusiasts. I just don't find myself in this camp. The GTI has a better manual transmission, and its interior is way better than the Mazdaspeed3's. Maybe my vote has been tainted somewhat by my daily slogs on Chicago's potholed-riddled roads and gridlocked highways, but if you're buying one of these for your everyday car — as I suspect most buyers are — the GTI is easier to live with. It does give up some performance to the Mazdaspeed3, but pure performance isn't what these cars are all about. They're hatchbacks, after all.