2019 Mazda Mazda3 Review

Christian Wardlaw | Jul 18, 2019

Introduction

In a world where income inequality is growing and self-driving cars are coming soon to a cityscape near you, Mazda is making two bold moves. First, it is taking its brand upscale where it will bridge the gap between mainstream and luxury marques. Second, with its “Feel Alive” advertising campaign, it is doubling down on driving pleasure.

Fortunately for Mazda, its cars and SUVs are legitimately premium and legitimately enjoyable to drive. Whether or not such traits can position Mazda for long-term success remains to be seen. However, the redesigned 2019 Mazda Mazda3 suggests that the automaker is on the right track.

Looking every inch like an entry-luxury car, and infused with the engaging dynamics for which Mazda is known, the new 2019 Mazda3 comes in 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback body styles. Standard, Select, Preferred, and Premium trim levels are available, and all-wheel drive is an option for the first time in the car’s history.

2019 Mazda Mazda3 Premium Sedan Soul Red Front Quarter LargeTo see how the new Mazda3 compares to the previous version of the car, J.D. Power evaluated a Grand Touring sedan equipped with Soul Red Crystal paint, a navigation system, and a carpeted cargo mat. The price came to $28,555, including the $920 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Mazda3, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact car, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

At 48 years old, Mazda3 owners are, on average, the same age as owners of all compact cars. Slightly more Mazda3 owners are male (57% vs. 55% for the segment), more Mazda3 owners are members of Generation X (26% vs. 20%), and Mazda3 owners enjoy a substantially higher median annual household income ($91,042 vs. $70,279).

As is true of all compact car owners, Mazda3 owners primarily identify as Price Buyers (40% vs. 39% for the segment). However, 22% of Mazda3 owners identify as Performance Buyers (vs. 9% for all compact car owners).

Further examination of J.D. Power’s compact car owner psychographic data suggests that people buy the Mazda3 specifically for its style and driving dynamics. For example, 97% of Mazda3 owners agree that they like a vehicle offering responsive handling and powerful acceleration (vs. 87% for the segment).

Furthermore, only 42% of Mazda3 owners agree that to them a vehicle is just a way to get from place to place (vs. 53%), and 71% of Mazda3 owners like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (vs. 65%).

Traditional purchase considerations in the compact car segment apply less often to Mazda3 owners. For instance, 64% of Mazda 3 owners agree that their first consideration in choosing a vehicle is fuel economy (vs. 77%), and 56% of Mazda3 owners strongly agree that their first consideration in choosing a vehicle is reliability (vs. 65%).

Owners say their favorite things about the previous Mazda3 were (in descending order) the exterior styling, engine/transmission, interior design, driving dynamics, and seats. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the previous Mazda3 were (in descending order) the visibility and safety, climate control system, infotainment system, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his perceptions about how the Mazda Mazda3 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2018 APEAL Study.

Exterior

Aside from its somewhat controversial Coke-bottle flanks, which, depending on the light and reflections, make it look like the car is wearing a belt that’s notched too tight, the new Mazda3 sedan is a beautiful small car. From every angle, it exudes class, poise, and elegance. Best of all, each trim except the base version includes the appealing 18-inch aluminum wheels that lend the Mazda3 visual balance and presence.

Interior

Artful design and thoughtful detailing characterize the Mazda3’s interior, too. Cloth seats come with the base trim, while the Select and Preferred versions offer Black or Griege simulated leather. What’s Griege? Think gray and beige combined.

Moving up to Premium trim rewards buyers with black or white leather, and with the latter, a matching color on the dashboard provides rich contrast within the cabin. Materials are high in quality, the instrumentation is a study in clarity, and the Mazda3 Premium’s interior ambiance is one of calming luxury.

Seats

Drivers will be happy behind the Mazda3 Premium’s steering wheel. The 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, combined with softly padded places wherever your arms and legs might contact interior, makes this car equally suitable for short, long, and fun drives.

Unfortunately, the front passenger’s seat lacks a height adjuster. This feature is expected in a car aiming for membership in the premium brand segment. Heated front seats are great for winter. Ventilated front seats sure would be nice for summer.

Rear passengers benefit from softly padded front seatbacks, a supportive seat cushion, and a properly angled backrest. Space for legs is snug, which is common in small cars.

Climate Control System

Easily, the least satisfying aspect of the new Mazda3 is its climate control system, which struggles to cool the cabin on even moderately warm but sunny days.

During testing, I took my family on a road trip to Yosemite National Park. Under hot late-June sunshine, the car’s cabin roasted – even with the white leather. We ran the dual-zone automatic climate control on Lo the majority of the trip, and even after hours on the highway we never turned it up more than 65 degrees to effectively combat solar heating.

Making matters sweatier, this car lacks rear air conditioning vents, and when you try to aim the front vents more toward the back of the car they increase the amount of noise inside the cabin. Needless to say, the complaining from the kids on this trip was constant.

On a positive note, the climate controls look and feel good, and the vents are deftly integrated with the interior’s design.

Infotainment System

Mazda introduces a new infotainment system in the 2019 Mazda3. Like many such systems, it features a tablet-style display. Unlike many such systems, the 8.8-inch display looks melted into the dashboard rather than glued onto it, yet another example of the attention to design detail that has gone into this car.

This new Mazda Connect infotainment system loses its touchscreen, leaving you to operate it using the knobs and buttons on the center console, the steering wheel controls, or the voice recognition system. No doubt, for people new to Mazda Connect, this infotainment system has a steep learning curve. However, once you’ve mastered it, it mostly becomes second nature.

Standard highlights include Bluetooth, text-messaging support, Pandora integration, and a 911 emergency notification system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all but the base trim, while Preferred and Premium trim include a decent 12-speaker Bose premium sound system with classy metal speaker grilles and SiriusXM satellite radio. A navigation system is optional for all trim levels.

A wireless smartphone charger is optional for the Mazda3, but the automaker locates it in the bottom of the center console storage bin, where it will be buried under a bunch of stuff.

Storage and Space

According to the people who owned them, storage and space were problems in the previous-generation Mazda3. Mazda has taken steps to solve this in the new Mazda3.

From the large center console storage bin and the sizable glovebox to the useful door panel pockets and smartphone tray forward of the transmission shifter, the Mazda3 provides plenty of places in which to stash your stuff. That’s what we discovered during our road trip to Yosemite.

The 13.2 cubic-foot trunk doesn’t sound big, but the floor is long which helps you to make the best use of the space. It had more than enough room for our long-weekend trip, and when we got home I was curious to see how much of our luggage could fit. The answer: Two full-size suitcases, three roll-aboards, a couple of medium-size duffel bags, and several backpacks.

Visibility and Safety

Thin windshield pillars, oversized side mirrors, and lots of visibility-enhancing technology ensure easy sightlines and maneuverability. The test car also had a head-up display providing a wealth of information, and proved legible even when the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses.

To obtain a full suite of driver assistance and collision avoidance systems, you must get Select, Preferred, or Premium trim. All three of these versions of the car include adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high-beam headlights.

Furthermore, starting with Select trim the Mazda3 features rain-sensing wipers and a driver monitoring system, while the Premium trim adds effective adaptive headlights that help you to see around corners.

During our road trip, with all driving aids programmed to their medium settings, some lacked refinement and predictability. For example, with the adaptive cruise control engaged, the car frequently slowed when it didn’t need to. The lane-keeping assist also reacted too aggressively on occasion. As a result, I preferred driving the Mazda3 with these systems turned off.

As far as crash protection is concerned, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calls the new Mazda3 a “Top Safety Pick” for its impressive performance in all assessments.

Engine/Transmission

Mazda equips every 2019 Mazda3 with a 186-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. A 6-speed automatic transmission with a Sport mode transfers the power to the front wheels, or all four if you opt for the all-wheel-drive system. Premium trim includes paddle shifters for greater driving enjoyment.

This powertrain gives the Mazda3 a zippy, responsive driving character, which is expected in any vehicle wearing the Mazda emblem. With my family aboard and a half-full trunk, I only wished for more power when trying to pass slower vehicles in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

After the trip, while running the car on my standard testing loop closer to sea level, it’s clear that this is an agreeable engine. And the traditional automatic is a genuine blessing given that many competitors use less satisfying continuously variable or dual-clutch transmissions.

If you’re a member of the ‘Save the Manuals’ tribe, don’t worry. You can still get one in a Mazda3. You just need to choose the 5-door hatchback in Premium trim.

Fuel Economy

The latest version of Mazda’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine includes cylinder deactivation, which allows it to operate on fewer cylinders in a bid to maximize fuel economy. As a result, official EPA fuel economy ratings are 26 mpg in the city, 35 mpg on the highway, and 30 mpg in combined driving.

During my family road trip, the car averaged 32.9 mpg with the air conditioning blasting the entire time. Later, on my usual testing loop, the Mazda3 returned 30.9 mpg.

Driving Dynamics

With this redesign, Mazda swapped the previous Mazda3’s independent multi-link rear suspension for a torsion beam rear axle setup. This is a more affordable way to build a car and helped Mazda to add cargo space. But there is a negative impact on ride quality.

Most people won’t notice, equating the new Mazda3’s busy back end for stiffness that is entirely in keeping with a brand focused on driving enjoyment. Enthusiast drivers, however, will notice. And it will be a source of irritation. Especially since Mazda is trying to move its brand upmarket rather than in the other direction.

Aside from this, the new Mazda3’s driving dynamics will put a smile on your face. From the sharp, accurate, and perfectly weighted steering to the stout, fade-resistant brakes, this little car is a delight to drive. On the freeway, it is rock-solid at 80 mph (though rather loud inside). In traffic, the automatic hold function eases your fatigue. And on the long way home, the car’s accuracy and grip make for a rousing way to end a day.

Final Impressions

There are many reasons to love the new 2019 Mazda3. At the same time, based on my extensive testing experience, there are also a handful of reasons to consider alternative forms of transportation.

Overall, though, this car represents an excellent argument against spending more for arguably less in a luxury-brand small car. And its stylish and well equipped enough to credibly command a premium over other mainstream compact cars – especially when decked out in Premium trim.

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