These two are variations of the hot-hatch genre.
The 2020 Mazda3 Sport starts at $21,300 while the 2020 Kia Forte5 goes for $22,245, in Canada.
Both offer added premium touches, but is that what we want in a hot-hatch?
As hatchbacks go in North America, we as lucky to have these. Actually, the Forte5 is not offered in the US so Canada is better served and this will remain true as, going forward, Volkswagen Canada will bring the regular next-generation Golf to market, along with the GTI and Golf R. The US will be limited to only the sporty Golfs. So, if you live in Canada, should you consider the Mazda3 Sport, or the Kia Forte5?
Hatchbacks, and wagons for that matter, are still all the rage in Europe. Although SUVs are gaining traction, cooler heads often prevail where buying a right-sized vehicle wins out over the imaginary need for more.
The Mazda3 hit North American shores for the 2004 model year and in some areas, did extremely well. Despite its heavily European-inspired everything, it probably should have been a bigger success story that it was. At the time, the Mazda3 Sport faced limited competition, a situation that still applies today. And, likewise, the Mazda3 Sport (and sedan) should be cleaning up, but it is not. And this is not the car’s fault. Blame SUVs.
As for the Forte5, the story is a similar one however the Kia never received the praise the Mazda did early one. The Spectra5, the Forte’s predecessor, lived in the Elantra’s long shadow and still does to this day. Even so, the new Forte, and Forte5, are the best ever compact car offerings from Kia.
So what are car manufacturers with these small cars to do if they want their products to stand out? Go premium, and/or load them with content. That’s exactly what these two lukewarm hatchbacks are about.
So, the $30,000 hatchback question is: Kia or Mazda? Or a Volkswagen Golf GTI?
Powertrains And Driving
Let’s start with the member of this duo closest to being a hot-hatch. The tested 2020 Kia Forte5 GT is powered by the Hyundai group’s well-known turbocharged 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine. It produces 201 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 195 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,500 and 4,500 rpm. Although I consider it a flaw, the GT is not offered with a manual gearbox, but only a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The highlight is the engine. Its impressive is seemingly always on, always ready to pull the Forte5 out of traffic. Under normal driving circumstances, the DCT operates almost flawlessly. Throttle response is lag-laden; a situation that can be improved in Sport driving mode. However, even when in Sport and the transmission is in manual mode using the paddles, revs build up too slowly on a downshift. Brake-pedal feel is dismal and response times to input are far too delayed. Steering could be perfected also.
As for the 2020 Mazda3 Sport, it is powered by Mazda’s equally well-known naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine. With 186 horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm, the 3 Sport is typically zippy however the tested car was equipped with Mazda’s extremely competent i-Activ AWD which adds about 130 lbs to the vehicle’s overall weight. And although it’s not much, it can be felt in the driveline. The standard with AWD 6-speed automatic transmission is quite efficient in most respects but it would be better served by an extra gear or two. Contrary to the Kia, the Mazda’s steering, brakes, and overall drive is superior and more refined.
The Mazda3 Sport drives nearly like a premium or luxury car but with sharp reflexes, sporty handling, and a lovely ride quality. By contrast, Kia engineers seem to have removed refinement from the GT’s chassis and replaced it with a grainy harshness which is completely unnecessary. Fortunately, the Kia is loads of fun to toss around.
Design And Life Onboard
Here, Kia invested heavily in both design and content. The Forte5’s styling is attractive, if a bit busy, but very much in line with what most would expect. The hatch’s shape is cut, almost flat, and good-looking. The only unfortunate visual elements are the wheels which do not fit the car’s personality.
Inside, the Forte5 bedazzles with plenty of hard buttons for a series of features and amenities that should not be found in a $29,995 car. The tested GT Limited included items like cooled seats, synthetic leather, heated rear seats, navigation, and UVO connected car services that are appealing but ultimately not really useful. The real value comes from the “plain” GT at $27,395 which still gets the sport front seats, drive modes, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 8-inch screen, paddle shifters, satellite radio, and more.
Mazda went all-out for the current Mazda3. Stepping out of the Kia and into the $31,500 Mazda3 Sport GT is like going from a Kia Forte5 and sliding into a Jaguar Land Rover product. The quality, the textures, and design if the 3’s interior puts all of its competitors to shame. Mazda’s done away with buttons and other visual distractions, and has possibly alienated many potential buyers in doing so. Even so, and no matter what, the Mazda3’s cabin is sumptuous, and a little cramped compared to the Forte. Equipment-wise, it’s not as feature-heavy as the Kia, but close.
Side-by-side pictures of the two cars reveals how “clean” and visually soothing the Mazda3 is. There’s nothing but smooth plastic and sheet metal surfaces, flowing lines that blend into each other and acres of Soul Red sunlight reflections. Here too, the selected wheels and colour underwhelm.
Our Thoughts On The 2020 Mazda3 Sport GT AWD vs. 2020 Kia Forte5 GT Limited
The real question to answer is: What do you want from your $30,000 hatchback? We would want utility, performance, styling, and the ability to row our own gears. This final element explains in large why neither of these cars are true hot-hatches.
Although the Kia provides more features, and value, and that the Mazda3 is more premium than any compact should be, we’d spend the money on a 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI. But, to answer which of the two elaborated upon here, we would opt for the Kia. And, the GT non-Limited version and take the $2,600 savings and get some nice wheels.
The Mazda3 Sport’s main flaws are is small trunk, cramped rear bench, and limited outward visibility from the rear. Unlike most hatchbacks, the Mazda3 Sport seems designed for a pair to enjoy as opposed to a group of four or even a small family. The Kia Forte5 is very spacious and airy by comparison.
So is the Volkswagen Golf GTI which does not remotely come close to offering what the Forte5 has but for the performance, style, and let’s be honest, street-cred, the original hot-hatch is still the best one.
Note: We know the 2021 Mazda3 GT 2.5 Turbo will be here in a few short months and it might make us change our minds on the definition of what a hot-hatch is.