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Comparative Review: Mazda 3 vs. Toyota Corolla - Equiraptor's Journal
Comparative Review: Mazda 3 vs. Toyota Corolla
A while back, I had a Mazda 3 as a loaner vehicle from the dealer as my MX-5 was in for some repairs. This time, the dealer ran out of Mazda loaner vehicles and I ended up in a rental from Hertz. The rental is a 2007 Toyota Corolla with about 20,000 miles on it. This is about an order of magnitude more miles than the Mazda 3 had on it, but for a Toyota, that's still effectively infancy. However, life as a rental car is a difficult life.

At first sit-down, the Corolla feels very much like the 3. I can tell, immediately, that they're intended for the same basic market segment, just from different makers. Seating position is similar, steering wheel's similar, dash is similar, with just the different Toyota rather than Mazda styling. When I went to shift the car to reverse to back out of the parking spot, I saw my first major difference. The shifter in the Corolla looks like something out of the '87 Camry I used to own. The movement is straight forward and back, and there's a little button to push to allow the lever to move. Typical boring automatic stuff. The shifter in the Mazda is a different shape - it's more round like a typical manual transmission shifter, rather than long and narrow. It doesn't have a button on the side, and instead easily slides through an offset pattern to the different positions. This makes it easy to slip the shifter into manual mode or neutral while driving, and greatly helps with the "sporty" feel of the car. The lack of this smooth, button-less movement, combined with the lack of manual mode, leave the experience less sporty in the Corolla.

That said, the experience when I stomp on the throttle in the Corolla is far superior to that of the 3. The Corolla goes. I'm not sure which engine this Corolla has, but it's definitely a better match of engine and transmission than the 2.0 with the 4 speed in the 3. That said, I've spent some time in a Mazda 6 with the 2.3L engine available in the 3. The 2.3L has a lot more grunt - it would fix my displeasures with the acceleration of the 3. Still, in the cars I actually drove, I have to give this one to the Corolla. It accelerated and the transmission downshifted well when asked to.

However, the good driving experiences in the Corolla end there. The steering provides little feedback, has more play than the 3, and is flat out mushy and soft, even when you make it out of the dead zone. While one could argue this is due to the miles and the difficult life as a rental, this is consistent with Toyota vehicles. The car's sustained sweeper speed is lower than the Mazda 3's (or even the larger 6's). Communication is less, and the ability to correct understeer is significantly more limited. I asked the car to take a sweeper at high speed and discovered massive understeer. When I went to correct, I discovered triggering slight oversteer - just a bit of slip - was very difficult in this car.

As far as which vehicles with which options I've had, I'm guessing, to an extent. I'm also looking at the websites, new vehicles, for pricing, so this is different year models than I actually drove. Still, it'll give an idea.

The Mazda 3 would be $16,645, it seems. This is the lowest model with the only option as air conditioning. No ABS.
The Corolla would be $16,825. This is the lowest model with no options (includes air conditioning). No ABS, rear drum brakes.
Changing the Mazda 3 to the 2.3L with the 5-speed automatic (which come together - can't get one or the other) increases the price to $19,355 (this has no options - air conditioning and ABS are included in this).

I'm left with the feeling that the Corolla is the car for the idiot American who thinks the car should GO if they never step on the gas pedal, but never does step on a gas pedal, and wouldn't know how to turn a corner even after getting instruction from the best drivers around. The 3 is the car for someone who wants to actually play with the vehicle, feel what it's doing, enjoy the drive. Unfortunately, this is the sort of person who'd want the better match of engine and transmission of the 2.3L / 5AT, which pushes the prices further apart. Mazda really needs to correct that mis-match with the lowest end 3. I'm not asking for great acceleration, just not feeling like the car bogs down every time it shifts.

Driving this Corolla around has further impressed on me Mazda's skill at what they do - building cars that are fun to drive, no mater their actual role.
12 comments | Leave a comment
davebs14 From: davebs14 Date: July 30th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I enjoy my 2.3L Mazda 3, but I still prefer the Protege chassis over the 3's. The 3 feels bigger and more lathargic, but its more comfortable. And the torque is nice. It still gets 26-30mpg easily and I got it for right at 17k TT&L.

can't beat that.

I would have gotten an XRS corolla if it wasn't made for short people (under 5'8").

sfida From: sfida Date: July 30th, 2008 11:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Really, what's up with that? To get my legs comfortable, I have to sit bolt upright and hold my arms out as far as they go to reach the steering wheel.

Tires make a huge difference with any car, and the 3 is no exception. I also have a 2.3 L, and the Bridgestones I put on it have made it much more skittish than it had been on the OEM tires.
xulong From: xulong Date: July 30th, 2008 08:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
I drove a chevy aveo a few weeks ago. there's cheap and scary as shit cheap. that was the second korea car I've ever driven and I guess korea makes cars which make you feel miserable.
sfida From: sfida Date: July 30th, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Haven't driven a 2.0 3, but your assessment of the Corolla is spot on, given my experience with it. In essence, it's a car for people who don't like cars, and who think of a car as an appliance no different from, say, a vacuum cleaner: it has a function to serve, and should be otherwise unobtrusive.

I will say, though, that I too was surprised at just how quick it felt, given the 1.8 L engine in a car of its size. I would put it down to short gearing, but it gets too good mileage for it to be simply that.

Did you see the Miata thing I posted last week? I thought that of all people, you would have had something to say.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: July 31st, 2008 02:12 am (UTC) (Link)
The problem with treating the Corolla like that, to me, is the car is less safe, in that it's less able to avoid a collision. Then again, given the people who would buy such a car, perhaps it's good that it understeers horridly. Being able to correct understeer by lifting the gas pedal would probably just terrify them and cause them to crash when they otherwise wouldn't.

I missed it! With the recent problems with my car, I've been somewhat heads-down. I've been missing a lot of livejournal posts. Gotta pay more attention. *reads* *starts typing comment*
sfida From: sfida Date: August 1st, 2008 12:57 am (UTC) (Link)
I meant not that that was the right attitude to have, but that that's the attitude that most owners take. Definitely not clear that I meant that, though.

My mother was telling me about a woman she works with who bought a Camry so that she could be as isolated from the road as possible. She's terrified of driving, and avoids it at all costs.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 2nd, 2008 08:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hi, I own a Toyota and love it very much. It is a 4 cyl and old like me. We have had several toyotas and find they are very much enjoyable to drive. My husband has a 5 speed Mazda sitting in the drive-way not driven for 2 years! Mind over matter on which car is better? It all goes to show how vain one can be whether they want to have a car that does what it is design to do or a car that is to flatter one!
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: August 2nd, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
What on earth are you talking about?
decibel45 From: decibel45 Date: August 4th, 2008 03:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sounds almost like spam... I have to wonder if there was even a person behind that.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: February 15th, 2012 10:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

As is so typical, Jeremy Clarkson has managed to sum up my displeasure with the Corolla more effectively than I could.
decibel45 From: decibel45 Date: August 4th, 2008 03:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
So, did the Camry have like a .5 second lag between mashing the gas and anything happening, like most rentals I've had?

And holy cow yes, corollas understeer horribly, at least rentals (of course, making any kind of judgment on a rental experience is pretty silly...) I don't think I've ever been in a rental where the handling impressed me, but they seem a lot worse than most other stuff.
From: hallpearl Date: January 15th, 2011 03:27 am (UTC) (Link)
i will choose mazda 3 because it's city driving can reach 28km and 35kms on highway. I think toyota cannot beat than in my opinion. But i still love my nissan sentra. Unmatched airconditioning. When in times of repairs oem nissan parts are easy to find.
12 comments | Leave a comment