The Mazda3 is more mature but still maintains its youthful qualities.
In a lot of ways, the 2019 Mazda3 is still the same old hatchback we love. It's a fun-to-drive, fresh take in a segment that fails to capture the fancy of many crossover-obsessed buyers. But a lot has changed. The new Mazda3 now wears lavish sheet metal and boasts a posh interior, making it more upscale than ever before. It's also loaded (finally) with the modern tech and safety equipment buyers have come to expect. Spirited drivers and design freaks will undoubtedly fall for this more mature Mazda3, given all that's mentioned.
But growing families probably won't be as fond of the five-door. The Mazda3's newfound emphasis on premium means its cabin is actually smaller, and its trims pricier. Once options come into play (particularly its newly available all-wheel-drive system), the Mazda3 doesn't exactly fall into the affordability category as other hatchbacks do.
The new Mazda3 is a handsome hatchback from all angles (well, almost). The oversized C-pillar, though jarring at first, doesn’t totally detract from the 3's otherwise attractive lines. The standard LED headlights dive seamlessly into the large, hexagonal grille, and the horizontal black mesh slats and smoked silver surround, which dips into the lower portion of the LEDs, give the Mazda3's fascia an aggressive look no other compact hatchback can match.
The no-cost Polymetal Grey metallic paint job and 10-spoke gunmetal gray wheels on this particular spec balance the look by accentuating some of the smoother angles. And the dual-LED taillights, sloping rear window with a subtle gloss black spoiler, and matching gloss black diffuser add upscale detailing to the rear.
The interior isn't any less attractive. The flat, vertical nature of the dash visually extends the cabin’s width. The use of red leather and soft black plastic with a touch of piano black plastic on the dash and center console adds some much-needed detail. And the seats, coated in the same red leather, look like sets you'd find on a far more premium product.
The fantastically finished leather seats (both front and back) won't disappoint your butt or back. The supportive and soft red leather units (one of two standard color options on the Premium Package) feel surprisingly upscale for a car that doesn't wear a luxury badge. But that's about where the interior accolades end.
Headroom and legroom in the Mazda3 are sub-par. Both rows of seating feel cramped. The back seat especially, with 36.5 inches of headroom and 35.1 inches of legroom, is close to catastrophic for your six-foot-tall author. This new Mazda3 actually has less space than its predecessor; the 2018 Mazda3 hatchback has 37.6 inches of rear headroom and 35.8 inches of rear legroom. The front row lacks for legroom, too – growing scarcely from 42.2 inches in 2018, to a barely noticeable increase of 42.3 inches in 2019.
The limited greenhouse also has something to do with its tight feel. The ratio of sheet metal to glass not only makes the cabin less airy but also limits visibility from the driver's perspective. Comparatively, the Mazda3 is five cubic feet down (92.7) in overall passenger volume versus the spacious Honda Civic Hatchback (97.2), and more than eight cubic feet down over its all-wheel-drive competitor, the Subaru Impreza five-door (100.9 cubic feet).
Trunk space takes a hit, too. The Mazda3's 20.1 cubic feet of space behind the second row are worse than the previous generation's (20.2), and well below competitors like the Honda Civic Hatchback (25.7). Loading up things like grocery bags isn’t an issue, but anything larger than a gym bag requires more space.
The Mazda3 comes with excellent tech. The 8.8-inch central screen, now angled more toward the driver, employs Mazda's new – and wholly improved – infotainment setup. Baked-in features are easy to locate thanks to the minimalist home screen and clean graphics, and they’re accessible via an updated rotary dial aft the gear shift lever. The lack of touch functionality hampers ease-of-use some, but the rotary dial is simple to operate, and four adjacent quick-access buttons provide shortcuts to things like navigation, music, home, and the previous screen.
Also standard is a centrally located 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster. Flanked by two analog gauges, the digital speedo displays readouts for things like navigation and music but isn't as intuitive as other more in-depth digital clusters, like those on the Impreza or Corolla Hatchback. The optional head-up display (which ditches the last-gen flip-up glass feature and projects directly on the windshield) takes on most of the heavy lifting. Things like speed limits and active safety are easier to access via the HUD.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard on all trims, but wireless charging costs $275 on the Premium model we tested. A frameless mirror with HomeLink (garage programming, etc.) is $375, and navigation is another $450 on top of that. The Mazda3’s standard tech is great, but it costs a bit extra to get the really good stuff.
All versions of the Mazda3 use the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. On our tester, power travels through a quick-shifting six-speed automatic to all four wheels (though, a six-speed manual and front-wheel drive are available). On paper, a six-speed auto and a naturally aspirated four-cylinder sounds like an outdated setup, but don't be fooled – it's a great powertrain.
The abundance of low-end twist gives the 3 energy off the line, pushing the car with some purpose to 60 miles per hour in a modest 7.0 seconds. By the manufacturer numbers, the Mazda3 is actually slower to 60 than the front-drive Civic hatch (6.8 seconds). But based on our butt test, it feels more lively from a standstill; the eager throttle tip-in probably has something to do with it.
We welcome Mazda's new all-wheel-drive system (even for an optional $1,400). Outside of the Subaru Impreza, the Mazda3 is the only hatchback that offers such a setup, and it’s available on every trim level. The newfound grip allows drivers to utilize virtually all of the Mazda3's power in dry corners. And in the wet, it's more confidence-inspiring. This car seemingly never lacks for grip.
A new torsion-beam rear axle replaces the previous-gen's more advanced multilink rear suspension, oddly. That makes this Mazda3 stiffer (laterally by 78 percent, in fact), noticeably so on bumpy roads, but still satisfying. The weight of the steering wheel is perfect, if not a bit heavy in Sport mode. And while Sport mode unleashes virtually all of the Mazda3’s low-end torque in an instant, power arrives quickly but doesn't stick around for long.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety names the 2019 Mazda 3 a Top Safety Pick (only the headlights keep it from being a Top Safety Pick Plus). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has yet to rate it, though.
In terms of standard safety equipment, the Mazda3 offers blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and high-beam assist. Adaptive cruise control with lane-keep assist, in particular, makes traffic more tolerable thanks to its advanced capabilities. There’s no ping-ponging. No harsh braking.
At face value, the Mazda3's official combined rating of 27 miles per gallon is acceptable – and that's what keeps its score just above average. But the Mazda3’s relatively old-school setup (a six-speed and non-turbocharged engine) holds it back. The hatch returns 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, which means it isn’t nearly as efficient as some of its front-wheel-drive competitors. The Honda Civic Hatchback with an automatic returns 34 combined and the Toyota Corolla Hatchback with an automatic gets 36 combined. Even against the all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza five-door with an automatic (28/36/31), the Mazda3 falls short.
If it's efficiency you're after, the front-wheel-drive Mazda3 makes more sense. With the six-speed automatic, it returns 26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, and 31 mpg combined. Still not class-leading, but better.
The most affordable Mazda 3 is a front-wheel-drive sedan with an automatic transmission, which costs $21,000. The hatchback starts at $23,600 with front-wheel drive, and the Premium package (as tested), asks $27,500 to start with a manual gearbox. But our tester is a bit pricier; the final MSRP is a hearty $31,335. Options like the cargo mat ($90), wireless charging pad ($275), frameless rearview mirror ($295), illuminated door sills ($425), navigation ($450), and, of course, all-wheel drive ($1,400), hike the price past $30,000.
All things considered, the new Mazda3 doesn't feel overpriced, but it certainly isn't cheap. Virtually all of the safety equipment comes standard, as does much of the infotainment tech. Where other automakers might nickel and dime you on equipment, Mazda's packages are fewer in number and far simpler.