Practicality Vs Style: What drives you?

The Mazda 3 and the VW Golf face off. It’s the battle of the small manuals.

You like driving. You like being in control. Your car speaks to you and tells you when it is the right time to shift, and you’re not going to let some computer decide that for you. After all, you take sitting in the driving seat seriously. But you’re on a bit of a budget. We understand. But a budget doesn’t have to mean you compromise on the joy of driving. So, we’ve got two affordable manuals facing off to make the choice easy for you.

The Contenders

We’ve picked two market leaders, the Mazda 3 and the VW Golf, two affordable hatchbacks for this comparison test. Both come with six-speed manual transmissions. But these two points are where the similarities end. As a manual, the Mazda is only available in its top trim, and while not expensive, it doesn’t leave you with too many options to choose from. Meanwhile, the VW Golf, one of the most popular hatchbacks in the world, is available in base S trim and the more premium SE trim which, if it matters to you, comes packed with an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and keyless access.

The Drive

On the road, both cars are rather refined. Although, the Mazda is much quieter when pushed to its redline. The sound the naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine does make, however, isn’t something motoring enthusiasts would find inspiring. On the other hand, when revved hard, the Golf makes an enjoyably rough noise that you want to hear more often. There’s a catch. The Golf must always be in the right rev range, in the right gear to perform. The turbo engine packs a strong mid-range boost but can feel sluggish if you’re not ready to downshift quickly. In terms of outright performance, the Mazda is incrementally quicker than the VW from 0 to 60mph and significantly faster than the VW from 60mph to 110mph.

The Interiors

The Golf is eight inches shorter than the 3, but it makes excellent use of the interior space. It has the same luggage capacity and offers adult-sized rear seat space as compared to the 3 which fares poorly in the rear legroom department. Compare interior design and material quality though, and you’ll find the Mazda leaps and bounds ahead of the VW. Sorely missed, however, is touch capability on the bright, high-resolution center screen. VW’s interiors feel robust and built to last. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from VW, and anything less would be unacceptable.

The Verdict

Both cars have their strengths. The Golf has the conservative, recognisable VW family design that we’ve been seeing for a while now. It’s competent in every single way, practical and is priced well too. But the Mazda 3 wins this battle. It’s stylish, luxurious and outperforms the VW in every way. While it is the pricier option here, it makes its case with a long list of features that the VW does not offer. But it’s not sporty. And that’s where the VW has an ace – the venerable GTI.