Ask AutoGuide No. 31 – Mazda 3 vs. Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen vs. Subaru Impreza

Ask AutoGuide No. 31 – Mazda 3 vs. Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen vs. Subaru Impreza

It’s a new week and that means it’s time for another installment of Ask AutoGuide. As the Motor-Vehicle Problem Solvers we never stop working for you, our loyal audience… as long as we’re punched in and Samantha down in HR has approved the overtime. In any event, small cars are becoming the automotive industry’s next big thing as people trade in their first-generation Toyota Sequoias for more efficient transportation, and that’s precisely the theme of this week’s episode.

Genevieve is looking for an efficient hatchback and has about $22,000 to spend. Space is a priority as she’s an art monger and frequently transports bulky items, either to galleries or the dumpster behind her local Costco. Shhhhh, don’t tell anyone she’s illegally disposing of stuff! It’s a “tax write-off!” Ever the faithful servant, her 2005 Toyota Matrix is getting a bit old at this point and the shininess of a new car has caught her eye.

Garbage-DumpsterOf course fuel economy is important, but in this situation it’s not live or die. Pretty much anything compact is going to deliver good mileage. However, what’s non-negotiable is the transmission; Genevieve demands a manual and will settle for no self-shifting nonsense. Perhaps she’s an artsy automotive enthusiast, a control freak or just has good taste. Aside from a spacious cargo hold and a stick-shift she also prefers cloth seats. Might we recommend Tattersall?

Given her need for space we’re going to focus on C-Segment hatchbacks; there are some interesting sub-compact cars on the market today but they’re probably a little too small for Ms. Jenny’s needs. Without further adieu, here are our recommendations.

Suggestion #1 – 2014 Mazda3 i Touring Five Door

Information Card -- Mazda3Mah-tsu-da, it’s, like, Japanese for Zoom-Zoom or something. Whatever it means – the translation was lost to history when Julius Caesar let his war elephants eat the Library of Alexandria – all you need to know is that this scrappy little firm builds some of the most entertaining vehicles on the road today. And the all-new Mazda3 hatchback is no exception.

In fact this 2014 model drove away with AutoGuide’s annual Car of the Year award. That’s got to count for something, right?

Given Genevieve’s budget she can afford a Mazda3 i Touring Five Door, which is the middle trim level above the stripped down Sport model and the pricey Grand Touring version. Despite its fiscal responsibility the car still offers a number of appealing features. It’s got standard alloy wheels (16-inchers no less), heated and folding body-colored side mirrors, keyless entry and blind-spot monitoring.

In addition to these items it’s got “premium” cloth-covered seats, leather on the steering wheel, shift knob and parking-brake handle plus a rear-seat armrest. What more do you need?

In the propulsion department this version of the Mazda3 features a 2.0-liter Skyactiv four-cylinder engine that offers up 155 hp with 150 lb-ft of torque. It’s matched to a smooth and engaging six-speed manual transmission. A more muscular 2.5-liter banger is also available on other versions of the car if more giddy-up is required. Then again, that version currently only comes with an automatic.

When it comes to thrift the 3 is a winner. According to Uncle Sam’s Environmental Protection Agency it stickers at 29 miles per gallon in city situations and 40 on the interstate. Driven like a sane person it ought to return a combined score of 33 MPG.

With the back seats locked, cocked and ready for passengers the Mazda3 Five Door offers more than 20 cubic feet of luggage space. Fold those chairs down and the cargo hold more than doubles in capacity topping 47 cubes.

Slathered in non-premium paint, which saves you up to $300, this car stickers for $20,890, a figure that includes $795 in destination fees. Why do automakers insist on charging for delivery? This sum of course leaves Jenny with about a grand to squander on options should she choose so to do. She could splurge on a number of items including fog lights, rear parking sensors and all-weather floor mats. How exotic!

Suggestion #2 – 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen S

Information Card -- Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen SWas ist das?! The Jetta SportWagen is not a hatchback! Well, technically it does have a large opening connected to its storage space but we digress. What’s going on here?

Initially we were going to recommend the brand’s Golf hatchback, which fits all of Genevieve’s criteria… almost. It turns out you can’t buy one with a manual transmission any more, well, not one that fits her budget. It’s close, but a diesel-powered TDI model with a six-speed stick is just too pricey.

Rather than running away from VW we thought we’d take a stab at the extra-versatile Jetta SportWagen, a car that serves up an extra helping of storage space.

Optioned to fit her needs, the “S” trim model costs $20,795, including $820 for you know what. At that price you get body-colored, heated and electrically adjustable side mirrors, air conditioning, heated front seats and fabric coverings all around. Additionally, you get foot-well lighting, an eight-speaker sound system and cruise control.

What gurgles, growls and consumes more than it should? Not just a starving tiger locked in a kindergarten classroom, but this Jetta’s engine. The car is powered by Volkswagen’s much-maligned 2.5-liter five-cylinder unit. It’s unrefined, thirsty and not very powerful. Geeze, does it do anything right? Well, yes, but barely.

It puts out 170 HP with 177 LB-FT of twist and a big ol’ serving of vibration. Adding insult to injury with the standard five-speed manual gearbox it stickers at 23 miles per gallon city and just 33 highway. Its average score is an unimpressive 26 MPG. Thankfully it’s not the only powerplant available; VW also offers a sublime 2.0-liter turbo as well as a torque-laden diesel, but this is the only engine that fits Jenny’s price requirement.

Why the Hell did we even bring this car up if all we’re going to do is bitch about it? Fortunately the SportWagen has one major trump card aside from its value pricing: a sphincter-load of cargo space. In fact with the back bench folded there are nearly 67 cubic feet available. With those seats in their locked and upright position the Jetta still offers nearly 33 cubes. That’s a lot more than the Mazda can muster.

Suggestion #3 – 2014 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium

Information Card -- Subaru ImprezaAnd finally we come to the Subaru Impreza, the quirkiest vehicle in this trio for a number of reasons. For Genevieve we’re recommending the 2.0i Premium model, which is a step up from the most basic flavor. Think of it as a hot-fudge sundae with sprinkles.

Separating this Fuji Heavy Industries’ product from the Mazda and Volkswagen are two features. First, it’s powered by a 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine. The 3 and Jetta both feature inline powerplants. Second, the Impreza comes with standard all-wheel drive, which is a major advantage when the weather outside is frightful.

The Impreza’s 2.0-liter horizontally opposed engine puts out 148 HP and 145 LB-FT of torque. It’s matched to a five-speed manual transmission; a six-shooter would be nice but this gearbox gets the job done. A CVT automatic is also on the menu but we won’t go there for her sake.

These numbers aren’t that impressive but Subaru’s drivetrain works pretty well. According to the EPA, the Impreza stickers at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on the highway. Combined it clocks in at 28 MPG, two better than the Jetta… AND it’s got all-wheel drive!

When it comes to money, this car clears our budget hurdle with a price tag of $21,590, including $795 in ancillary fees. For that outlay you get power windows and locks, eclectically adjusted side-view mirrors and a backup camera. You also get a tilt and telescopic tiller, Bluetooth technology for hands-free telephony and a lockable glove box.

But what about cargo space? This homely little hatchback serves up 22.5 cubic feet of storage volume with the rear seats up. Drop the bench down and you are rewarded with 52.4 cubic feet of maximum room. That’s more than the Mazda offers but less than the SportWagen.

As always, good luck in your quest for a new family vehicle, Genevieve, and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.

If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.

  • alvino

    Boo poopy chevy car.

  • therizza

    You guys took a Spark into a skate park? I think I played that one on Tony Hawk!

  • Peter Farnsworth

    Please elaborate. What makes it “poopy?”

  • ChevyGirl

    These little cars are amazing- we get requests for them all day long. I wish they would expand the market to AZ

  • Knarf

    It has a motor not an engine.

  • Raymond Ramírez

    He ate his poopy!

  • Jamal

    That’s the problem with compliance cars. Chevrolet, Fiat, Honda etc all build these things just to get around CARB rules. I wouldn’t expect much of a NA-wide rollout until a few years down the line at the very least.


  • W L Simpson

    double the range — sell a million

  • Robert Pollock

    Chevy Girl: Do you want one? I’m in Palm Springs and currently embroiled with Chevrolet at the BBB over leasing my Spark EV. They lied, I’m winning, the issue is the DC fast charge option. They promised it and the car doesn’t have it, so I’m looking for someone to take over the lease, so I can get one with DC fast charge. It will allow me to go to LA or San Diego and return in one day. If you’re interested try