By Marc Lachapelle
The newest version of the original sport compact – a.k.a. ‘hot hatch’ – was introduced at this year’s New York auto show and so was the latest iteration of its closest and fiercest rival. The sixth-generation Volkswagen GTI and second-generation Mazdaspeed3 will soon be dueling for the top spot on the wish lists and shopping lists of pocket rocket enthusiasts.
The two cars have much in common. Both are powered by transverse-mounted, turbocharged four-cylinder engines with direct injection driving their front wheels. Both engines were carried over from the previous model. On paper, the Mazda wins the horsepower battle. Its slightly larger 2.3-litre heart pumps out 263 hp at 5,500 rpm and 280 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. The GTI’s 2.0-litre engine delivers 200 hp from 5,100 to 6,000 and 207 lb-ft of torque from a low 1,800 rpm to 5,300 rpm.
The Mazda has more grunt than the GTI but the German hatch has an exceptional torque spread and is a master at using it all on a twisty road. More so if VW Canada finally decides to include XDS, a newly-developed extension of the electronic stability program (ESP) that acts as a virtual limited-slip differential by keeping the inside wheel from slipping in corners and transferring torque to the outside wheel in the process. The Mazda also comes standard with torque-sensing (torsen) limited-slip differential.
Both cars come with a standard 6-speed manual gearbox. The new Mazdaspeed3’s has revised and ‘slightly taller’ ratios from 2nd to 5th gear to make better use of the engine’s generous torque. The GTI, on the other hand, can be equipped with a 6-speed sequential manual gearbox with dual automated clutches. The DSG gearbox unerringly rattles off lightning-quick upshifts and downshifts with perfect, computer-controlled throttle blips when you pick your gears with the steering-mounted paddles or the stubby lever on the center console. You can also let it do its thing with a smooth auto mode.
Engineers have revised and fine-tuned the Mazdaspeed3’s suspension, steering and brakes and their counterparts at Volkswagen have worked on the GTI’s overall refinement and quietness. The Mazda has new, wider 225/40R18 performance tires mounted on alloy wheels with the same design as seen first on the new RX-8 R3. The GTI’s has standard 225/45 R17 ‘all-season’ tires but you can also get it with 225/40 R18 all-season or performance tires on a polished version of the GTI’s signature alloy wheels.
Both cars get their own version of their respective families’ redesigned interior, with new gauges and controls. The GTI’s standard cloth sport seats have a tartan-style chequered fabric called either ‘Interlagos’ or ‘Jacky’, depending on your source, a nod to the original GTI that was launched in Europe back in 1976 (the GTI made it to North America only in 1983). The two rivals carry a spoiler mounted high atop their rear hatch but the Mazdaspeed3 gets a new functional hood scoop to better feed cool air to its engine.
It will be a thrilling slugfest between the new GTI and Mazdaspeed3. And things might get even more interesting if and when Volkswagen confirms production of the Golf R20 that has been spied while testing on the Nürburgring. This one though, equipped with a version of the 265-hp TSI engine seen in the Audi TTS and all-wheel drive, would also be gunning for the WRX and Evo X.