As for the Mazda, its newly available 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is growlier than the Accord's new turbo mill and not as smooth as either competitor engine. Its output also depends on the gas you use: 227 hp on regular gas and 250 hp with premium. Its 310 lb-ft of torque remains the same with either, however, and you're more likely to notice that any way. It suitably feels stronger than the others off the line, and it benefits from superior responses to driver inputs. The throttle is superb, reacting to delicate inputs without feeling overcaffeinated. It's also unchanged when you press the Sport button, which, unlike those of the other cars here that also fiddle with the steering and suspension, only alters the transmission.
And what an alteration it makes, as Mazda's six-speed downshifts readily and smartly. Brake going into a corner and the transmission will drop a cog for you, not unlike the sport modes of a Mercedes-AMG or Porsche. Yes, it has paddles like the others, but I didn't actually find myself needing them. That's a sign of excellence, which makes it a little more palatable that the best car to drive does not have a manual. It's only available on the non-turbo base model. Boo.