Just to state the obvious, neither of these vehicles is large. They both have limited space for people and things compared to most other vehicles in showrooms. But all things being relative, there is a comparison to be made.
The Hyundai wins in this department, with a more roomy and comfortable rear seat, allowing passengers more comfort than the Mazda3 would offer (technically, both vehicles can fit 2 up front and three in back; though it’s a tight squeeze with a packed house, especially in the Mazda).
The Elantra GT Sport also featured sharp red trimming throughout the interior, and a sunroof was offered (though I didn’t use it due to the lovely April snow showers we were having).
Seats are comfy in the Elantra, but the battle for best overall interior design goes to the Mazda3. Mazda outdoes itself consistently in the interior design department, including many upscale touches and superbly comfortable front seats you would expect on more pricey vehicles.
Exterior design is close to a draw, with both having attractive setups that make them stand out, and If I had to pick a winner I’d give it to the Mazda3. Really though, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
HOW’S THE RIDE
This is what it’s all about; when you’re talking about cars with letters GT in them, it’s about how grand the tour is, right?
There’s good news on both fronts here.
The Elantra GT Sport can be fast when you need it to move, and using Sport mode helps. The vehicle turns very well, and while it’s not overly fast in a straight line it’s no slowpoke either.
On the downside it does have a somewhat whiny engine, plus a bumpy ride at times.
Automatic and manual transmissions are offered. Manual mode on the shifter can improve the drive on the auto.
My test Elantra featured a 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbo engine with 201 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque.
The Mazda3 Grand Touring featured a 2.5-liter four cylinder engine, with 184 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque. Its engine was also a bit whiny (similar to the Hyundai), but not to the point where it got annoying. You can choose from a 6-speed manual or 6-speed auto trans with paddle shifters.
While it’s a tight battle, I’ll give the advantage on overall driving fun to the Mazda3, which was just an awesome experience. You can feel the instant reaction from the vehicle, especially when you’re lucky enough to find an open road and some twists and turns. It almost makes you want to drive just for the sake of driving, with no destination in particular.
The only major downside of the Mazda3 driving experience is it wasn’t great at keeping out exterior noise.
Both vehicles come only in front-wheel drive.
Comparing the Infotainment system inside the vehicles, I’m going to give this nod to the Elantra. Its controls proved to be simple to use via touch and voice, even for beginners. It features USB ports, AUX connection, wireless phone charging, plus some safety feature options (auto emergency braking, etc.)
Mazda’s infotainment setup looks nicer than Hyundai’s, but is more of a pain to operate, and also doesn’t work as a touchscreen (it’s all controlled via a dial in the center console. The dial works fine, but there are too many steps to do what you want to do. The system is due for an overhaul.
Mazda does offer a package featuring a 9-speaker Bose system, four months of satellite radio and a moonroof. And for a small car they offer a lot more safety features than the Hyundai and most of the rest of its competitors -- including Lane Departure Warning System, Lane Keep Assist, Radar Cruise Control, Smart Brake Support and traffic sign recognition. Standard safety features are forward collision warning and low-speed auto emergency braking, and the safety ratings are very high on the Mazda3.
Slight win the for the Mazda here. I averaged 28.3 mpg in the Elantra GT Sport, and 30 mpg in the Mazda3 Grand Touring.
The Mazda3 GT model starts at $24,195, and with options my tester went up to $27,070. Base prices on lower-level Mazda3 vehicles include the Touring model at $21K and the Sport model at $18K.
The Elantra GT Sport is in similar territory, starting at $23,250 with manual transmission, $24,350 with automatic; my decked-out tester topped $29K with added features. Going to a lower trim level, the Elantra GT starts at $19,350 ($20,350 with auto), but you lose some power. Hyundai is also very aggressive with their incentives so in the end the Elantra will likely end up more affordable than the Mazda3.
Both the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport and the 2018 Mazda Grand Touring are fun, nimble sedans that prove little cars still have a place in the automotive world, as it would be a shame if consumers didn’t have this option.
Those seeking the most complete driving experience and a more upscale interior should opt for the Mazda3 GT, but if you’re more concerned with having a bit more room in the back seat and more user-friendly tech experience, the Elantra GT Sport may win you over -- as the dropoff in drive quality from the Mazda is not large.
EIther way, you’ll have lots of fun on the open road.
Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.