2019 Mazda MAZDA3 Review

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2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Senior Editor
May 10, 2019

Buying tip

Just want a basic Mazda 3 manual sedan, or a base-level hatchback with a stick? With the manual moved only to upper-trim hatchbacks for 2019,

The 2019 Mazda 3 keeps the zoom, but all-wheel-drive practicality and a vastly upgraded interior make it much more than that.

For many years the Mazda 3 has been the compact-car go-to for drivers who can’t afford to leave practicality and frugality by the wayside. With the new 2019 Mazda 3, the automaker isn’t completely abandoning that philosophy, but it is carving out the space for an entirely new kind of zoom-zoom: the mass market.

The very attractive styling of the sedan, well-rounded performance, and top-notch cabin comfort all factor into this model’s 7.0 rating on our overall scale—in a number that could change soon as safety ratings are in. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Some of the choices Mazda has made—both in going a different direction with infotainment, and producing a different hatchback design—don’t entirely smack of a move into the mass market. But with the small-car market shrinking, changing, and moving in the rugged-crossover direction, one of Mazda’s decisions makes great sense: all-wheel drive is now widely offered in all but the base 2019 Mazda 3 sedan.

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The 2019 Mazda 3 lineup consists of a sedan and a hatchback, and they can appear to be different vehicles at some angles. That’s Mazda’s intent: It designed the sedan to be sporty and formal, while the hatchback is more free-spirited with a very thick rear pillar that, at positive moments, we see as Saab-like. With no body creases on the hatchback, it’s a model that looks different wherever and whenever. The new 3’s interior serves as a counterpoint to both designs, its formal, warm, and premium.

All 2019 Mazda 3s are powered by a 2.5-liter inline-4 with a 6-speed automatic transmission or, only at the top of the lineup, a 6-speed manual. The all-wheel drive system offered on all but the base sedan is a version of what’s been used in Mazda’s other vehicles—good for slippery road surfaces as it can proactively send torque to the wheels that can grip.

Mazda points out that the new 3 is the first vehicle they’ve developed that is centered around the driver and passengers. The sedan and hatchback both are five-passenger compact cars, in roughly the same size and form as the Honda Civic family, with rear seats that flip forward for more cargo space and access. Hatchbacks are nearly 8 inches shorter, and while they officially have quite a bit more cargo space, the difference isn’t as pronounced in real-world usability.

Touchscreens have been banished, as Mazda says that they brought eyes away from the road for precious fractions of a second. Instead, the dash is topped with an 8.8-inch high-contrast screen—not a touchscreen—navigated via a Command Controller on the center console.

The 2019 Mazda 3 starts at less than $22,000, and you don’t push the price much higher to get some of the advanced-technology and active-safety items that are relegated to top-trim versions of some other compact car lines.

Sedans come in base, Select, Preferred, and Premium versions, with each corresponding to a “package” of equipment, while hatchbacks start at what’s effectively the Select level. Across most of the lineup, Mazda’s infotainment is compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, so you can bring remote operation of your own ecosystem into the mix—just not with those pesky touchscreens.

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2019 Mazda MAZDA3

Styling

The 2019 Mazda 3 impresses as two completely different small cars on the outside, while the driver-focused interior is warmer and better-detailed than other affordable alternatives.

The 2019 Mazda 3 lineup consists looks like two completely different cars—a smartly proportioned sedan and a hatchback that is controversial in its exterior styling. Inside, there’s much less to distinguish these two body styles from one another, from a styling standpoint.

We give the 2019 Mazda 3 a rating of 8 out of 10 for its excellent interior, which feels warm, upscale, and consistent in its overarching design to its fine details, and for the above-average exterior styling of the sedan, which is the heart of the market for the U.S. (Read more about how we rate cars.) If rated separately, we’d be tempted to dock a point—or two—from the hatchback’s score, but we’re giving its boldly different styling a pass for now.

The sedan follows a theme that’s described by the design team as being “dignity with an individualistic streak,” which really undersells the look. It’s a classic three-box sedan, built into a size template that seldom makes good; and somehow, the Mazda 3 is beautiful. A beltline accents a crease that continues from the hoodline all the way back to the trunklid, which looks sharply detailed and formal. The sheet metal between is softly contoured, and the roofline extends back longer than in other small cars, which gives it the sense of proportion from some bigger sedans.

The sedan is a knockout in person, and the formality with dashes of attitude reminded us of wearing sneakers and perhaps some exposed ink with a fitted business suit.

The hatchback, on the other hand, is the kind of design that you can’t take your eyes off—that might be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s not universally beautiful or perfectly proportioned, but it does challenge why automakers have held so tightly to a certain set of hatchback proportions for so long.

The Mazda 3 hatchback’s “free spirit” theme goes without the sedans creasing entirely, opting for large swaths of slightly curved sheet metal and banking a lot of visual weight toward the rear pillar, which is one of the thickest of any hatchback in recent memory (we can’t avoid thinking of 1980s-era Saabs). It tends to look a bit differently whenever and wherever you see it—based on the light, how close you are, and what it’s next to.

Inside, the two versions of the 2019 Mazda 3 are very closely aligned—and somehow it all works fine that way. Dark, yet warm, color themes like charcoal and beige, combined with a beltline of soft-touch material and just the right accents of brightwork give this interior a somewhat understated but very upscale look, relative to other cabins in affordable compact cars. It combines the cockpit approach that you’d expect in a Mazda, with big, round gauges up in front ahead of the driver, with a landscape center screen atop the dash and canted toward the driver. Overall, it’s a plush, elegant look and feel that’s clearly intended to calm and comfort, not stimulate.

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2019 Mazda MAZDA3

Performance

The Mazda 3 has lost some of its edge for 2019, but it’s a conscious effort for a better-driving car—and it works.

The 2019 Mazda 3 has a very responsive powertrain plus precise steering, a firm but compliant ride, and very capable handling. Dynamically, it’s decidedly above average in every respect—very satisfying, just not a breakthrough. And on our scale that looks like a 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Mazda has steered away from the use of small-displacement turbocharged engines. All Mazda 3 models now have what sounds big for a compact car—a 2.5-liter inline-4 engine, with direct injection, rated at 186 horsepower. All sedans and most hatchbacks come with a 6-speed automatic transmission, but a 6-speed manual is offered on some versions of the hatchback.

Some of the fundamentals that underpin the Mazda 3 inch a little bit closer to standard small-car fare—now including a rear torsion-beam suspension, which will likely come as a shock to longtime Mazda loyalists. Mazda insists that suspension layout helps make the dynamic response of the car more predictable, with less secondary adjustment required in corners.

Linear, natural, and responsive is also the prevailing impression of the powertrain. The engine’s torque peak of 186 pound-feet is reached at 4,000 rpm—higher than many of the modern small turbos—but its linearity is something to celebrate; the transmission downshifts quickly, and the sense of speed comes with higher revs, without fail. It’s a sweet engine, too, with a note that becomes more strident without being too obtrusive in the cabin.

Those changes are mostly a good thing for drivability and general responsiveness—once you get to know this car’s less overt personality. There’s a flip side though, in that the latest Mazda 3 doesn’t sell itself from the driver’s seat with a short spin around the block the way that previous versions had. Gone is the bubbly, perky personality that broke Mazda above some of the small-car crowd a decade or more ago, replaced by a more mature demeanor that calls out quiet, smooth, and upscale; but making the 3 zippy now feels a bit more deliberate.

While those basics don’t seem particularly noteworthy, Mazda has put a lot of effort into driver inputs, with the right level of feedback. The Mazda 3’s steering and suspension tune let you dial in the right amount of steering in a fraction of a second and hold nearly steady through high-speed sweeping corners.

The Sport mode switch next to the shifter only affects shift behavior; steering, accelerator sensitivity and everything else remain the same—in one calibration that’s just right.

The 2019 Mazda 3 is likely a better-performing car than the previous Mazda 3 in some instances like lane-change tests and handling transitions, even though it’s hard to tell. To an automaker that has worked so hard to reduce the harshness in the cabin, that’s a mark of success.

One final performance note here is the availability of all-wheel drive. The Mazda 3 is one of a few vehicles in its class—outside of VW and Subaru—to offer AWD; Mazda’s predictive all-wheel-drive system is particularly suited to snowy street driving, as it can make changes to the torque distribution predictively, sometimes to avoid wheelspin entirely.

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2019 Mazda MAZDA3

Comfort & Quality

Comfortable seats, a great driving position, and a superior cabin ambience make the 2019 Mazda 3 one of the best small cars for keeping everyone at ease.

The 2019 Mazda 3 has a great driving position and reasonably good front seats, plus exceptionally good fit and finish in its tight, quiet cabin. That earns this serene compact-car family a score of 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The 2019 Mazda 3 has been completely redesigned, with the driver’s position at the center of it. There are plenty of “hip” jokes to be made; Mazda says they focused on the hips and pelvis as the place where unnecessary motions are carried up to the shoulders and neck, which causes ride motions (and handling maneuvers) to feel more turbulent than they are.

Redesigned, more supportive seats are just the start. The Mazda 3’s dash and control layout requires less reaching and neck movements, all the switches have the same tactile feel, the font used throughout the cabin and controls is the same, and the interior is well-lit—all priorities that you might expect in a luxury car, but unusual in an affordable compact like the Mazda 3.

The control layout of the new Mazda 3 minimizes distractions, with a wide center display, straightforward round gauges and, in some versions, a head-up display that projects a few critical readouts on the windshield, to a focal point 7.5 feet ahead of the driver.

One thing shoppers will have to come to terms with is that the 8.8-inch center screen is not a touchscreen. Mazda claims that a Command Controller down on the center console, just behind the shift lever, avoids awkward hand-eye coordination and longer glances away from the road ahead. With only a couple of hours logged with the system so far, and an unfamiliar menu system, it’s too early to say whether we’ve found that to be true.

Mazda also has redesigned the center console and placed cupholders at the back of it, behind the Command Controller, and redesigned its padded armrests and large center-console box.

The Mazda 3’s front seats should be comfortable for a wide range of drivers, especially those who will relish that the 3 feels unabashedly car-like in its cabin and driving position.

The 2019 Mazda 3 has a wheelbase that’s about an inch longer than the 2018 model—107.3 inches—but it doesn’t feel like much, if any, new space has been awarded to back-seat riders. The interior doesn’t feel quite as space-efficient as some other models in this class like the Honda Civic or Hyundai Elantra, which may be the result of aiming high for ergonomics. Head room is at a premium in the back of the Mazda 3, although it’s easy to splay legs and tuck feet under the front seats. Getting into the Mazda 3is perhaps a little easier than in other small cars, thanks to generous door cuts.

Mazda has lowered the trunk floor, a happy consequence of the new rear torsion-beam suspension layout, and seats fold nearly flat.

While the sedan is 7.9 inches longer than the hatchback (they’re only different behind the rear seats), there’s just 13.2 cubic feet in the sedan’s trunk and 20.1 cubic feet in the hatchback. In real-world use, without piling cargo up to interfere with visibility, the sedan is going to feel just as useful.

Ride quality for the new Mazda 3 is improved over the previous car—soft enough for rough city streets but damped in a way that soaks up freeway heaves and bumps (and quick steering adjustments) without secondary motions. We’ve only briefly driven the new cars, but will update this space if our opinions change.

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2019 Mazda MAZDA3

Safety

The 2019 Mazda 3 includes the full suite of advanced active-safety features in most of its lineup—no hefty surcharge required.

All versions of the 2019 Mazda 3 come with a robust set of safety items, including the expected set of airbags—plus knee bags in front, and they've earned good marks from the IIHS.

We rate the new Mazda 3 at 7 out of 10, at least for now. Once the NHTSA crashes one, that score may climb. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The IIHS rated the Mazda 3 a Top Safety Pick. The only thing holding it back from Top Safety Pick+ status was its headlights, which rate "Acceptable" regardless of trim level. The IIHS requires headlights to be rated "Good" for a Top Safety Pick+ award. 

All hatchbacks and all but base-level sedans come with a camera-based driver attention alert system that monitors eyelids, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitors (with rear cross-traffic alert), and active lane control, as well as full-range adaptive cruise control. On base sedans those features are extra-cost options.

Premium-trimmed cars include adaptive front lighting and a head-up display that projects onto the windshield, at a farther-away focal point that should be more natural for most drivers.

Some might also consider the availability of all-wheel drive to be a safety asset, and Mazda’s all-wheel drive system acts in a proactive way, sometimes channeling torque to the wheels that can better use it before wheelspin actually occurs. Although those in snowy climates should understand that although all-wheel drive improves forward traction, the additional traction and safety net afforded by proper winter tires could be an even more important investment.

Rear three-quarter vision in the hatchback may be compromised, but we haven’t spent enough time in those cars for ourselves. We’ll report back once we do.

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2019 Mazda MAZDA3

Features

AWD is affordable and widely available, and active-safety features are included at most levels, adding up to a great value for the 2019 Mazda 3. The jury’s still out on its revamped infotainment, though.

The 2019 Mazda 3 provides a strong set of features in even its most affordable trim levels that start at less than $22,000 for a base sedan. Advanced-technology items that you’re not likely to find in other affordable compact cars—like a head-up display—appear in top trims and all-wheel drive is widely available in the lineup.

Altogether on our scale that adds up to a score of 7 out of 10 points. (Read more about how we rate cars.) But we should note that this may change: We haven’t had enough time with Mazda’s updated infotainment system yet.

Mazda has gone a different way with that system, which forgoes touchscreens entirely in favor of a wide 8.8-inch display on every trim level, an expanded set of steering-wheel and voice controls, and the Command Controller, a tactile dial at the center console that can be rotated, pressed or tipped/tilted to access various functions. That system provides Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility (at the Select level or higher), and Mazda has reworked its menus versus its previous infotainment system to make functions easier to find quickly.

Sedans come in base, Select, Preferred, and Premium versions, with each corresponding to a “package” of equipment, while hatchbacks start at what’s effectively the Select level. All models except the base sedan can be equipped with all-wheel drive, its cost varies depending on the trim level.

Select models offer Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility—a noteworthy omission on base sedans, which have smaller 16-inch wheels—plus dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, keyless ignition, and 18-inch wheels, as well as the nearly full suite of active-safety features described in the previous section. Select hatchbacks specifically have a synthetic upholstery instead of cloth.

Preferred models add 12-speaker Bose audio, heated front seats, and a power driver’s seat with memory settings.

Top Premium hatchbacks are the only way to get the six-speed manual gearbox. Regardless of transmission, Premium versions all step up to adaptive front lighting, LED headlamps, a power moonroof, full leather upholstery, and the head-up display, which is one of the clearest ones we’ve experienced, thanks to its focal point many feet ahead of the driver.

To us, it’s the Select sedan that appears to be the strongest value, and the trim level we’re most likely to recommend, starting just $1,600 more than the base sedan.

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2019 Mazda MAZDA3

Fuel Economy

The 2019 Mazda 3 has no hybrid version in the lineup, but some versions have cylinder deactivation that can add 1 mpg or more.

The new 2019 Mazda 3 lineup is powered exclusively by a 2.5-liter inline-4 that provides EPA estimates that are competitive with rivals.

Based on EPA fuel economy ratings released for the 2019 Mazda 3, we give it a score of 5 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

With the 6-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive that’s expected to be the most popular in the lineup, the 2019 Mazda 3 earns EPA ratings of 26 mpg city, 35 highway, 30 combined in the sedan or hatchback. Manual transmission models rate 25/35/29 mpg in hatchback form.

Mazda offers cylinder-deactivation technology on some Mazda 3 versions that shuts down two cylinders at very light loads—when cruising at lower speeds, for instance. It’s included in front-wheel-drive Mazda 3s with the Premium Package; those models earn 27/36/30 mpg ratings.

Cylinder deactivation is standard with all-wheel drive, too, and those models have a 12.7-gallon fuel tank versus 13.2 gallons in other versions. All-wheel-drive Mazda 3 sedans rate 25/33/28 mpg and hatchbacks rate 24/32/27 mpg. 

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6.8
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 7
Features 7
Fuel Economy 5
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