Comparing two popular compacts from Japan
A couple compacts broke through the expected barrage of crossover reveals at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, debuting before doing battle in showrooms across the U.S. Toyota has unveiled the 12th generation of its venerable Corolla compact sedan while Mazda brought out the 2019 Mazda3, a car that heralds the arrival of a new breed of vehicles from the Hiroshima-based automaker.
Comparison tests will have to wait until we get to drive both cars early next year. For now, we’re taking a closer look at the 2020 Corolla and 2019 Mazda3 under the bright lights of the 2018 Los Angeles auto show.
The 2019 Mazda3 and 2020 Toyota Corolla are nearly polar opposites when it comes to their exteriors. The Toyota features wider windows, a large greenhouse, and a more upright side profile compared to the Mazda. Like the sedan, the Corolla hatchback has a tall greenhouse, but its short length gives it stubbier proportions. Up front, the headlights are essentially the same as those on the 2019 Corolla hatchback, but the 2020 sedan offers a thinner nostril, a Toyota badge positioned on top of the front bumper instead of being embedded in the grille, and a slightly different grille that connects with the lower front fascia. The 2020 Corolla’s rear is super conservative despite the mesh pattern in the lower part on some trims and the dual exhaust tips on SE and XSE grades, making it feel like a different car than what’s up front. By comparison, the Corolla hatchback’s rear has thinner taillights mimicking the front, giving it a sense of cohesion.
Moving on to the 2019 Mazda3, the first detail you’ll notice is its more cab-rearward layout. Unlike the 2020 Corolla, the 2019 Mazda3 is swoopy and dramatic; it catches your eye with cool details like the deconstructed front grille, circular corona patterns in the taillight clusters, and thin headlights. There’s more visual eye candy regardless of the variant, and the greenhouse appears narrower due to the lower roof, which elongates the car’s side profile. The hatch has a sporty vibe and will likely grab more attention than the more mature sedan.
Minimalism defines the interiors of the 2019 Mazda3 and 2020 Toyota Corolla. A large touchscreen is the centerpiece on the 2020 Corolla, flanked by a row of buttons and a knob on each side. The center stack and console are separated, making the touchscreen look like it’s floating. In a bid to make the user interface easy to learn, the Corolla’s climate controls are placed under the center air vents, adding to its clean, simple look. In higher trims, the traditional gauge cluster is replaced by a 7.0-inch reconfigurable display, adding a techy feel to the Corolla’s cabin.
Mazda’s interiors tend to veer more toward the premium end, and the 2019 Mazda3 continues that trend. With an 8.8-inch touchscreen and a dash that only contains climate controls, the loaded trim of the Mazda3 looks understated and premium. The center console retains the knob and button controls for the infotainment system, mimicking what you usually find in more expensive luxury cars. Opting for a two-tone interior also gives it more stylistic flair, especially in burgundy. To give the Mazda3’s interior an even more upscale feel, the speaker grilles that come on models equipped with the 12-speaker Bose audio system are finished in metal.
Under the Hood
Powertrain choices are where the 2019 Mazda3 and 2020 Toyota Corolla distinguish themselves. Toyota offers two engine options, including a carryover 1.8-liter I-4 for the L, LE, and XLE sedans or a new 2.0-liter I-4 on the SE and XSE regardless of the body style. For those in search of exceptional fuel economy, the Toyota Corolla will be available as a hybrid for the first time. Thanks to a new four-wheel independent suspension setup, the 2020 Corolla promises better handling without sacrificing ride comfort. In its quest to widen the Corolla’s appeal, a six-speed manual with auto rev matching is offered on the SE and XSE grades. Most Corollas will be equipped with a CVT.
Two powertrain options are offered on the 2019 Mazda3, a conventional Skyactiv-G engine and Mazda’s new Skyactiv-X 2.0-liter I-4, an advanced new engine that uses compression and a spark plug to ignite an air/fuel mixture simultaneously. Both engines are expected to offer more power than the outgoing options, and the Skyactiv-X 2.0-liter will be the first to come with Mazda’s new mild hybrid system. Like its predecessor, the fourth-generation Mazda3 comes with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. Although front-wheel drive is standard, the Mazda3 will be available with all-wheel drive for the first time, giving it wider appeal and four-season capability.
We’ve yet to drive the 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan, but if it’s anything like the 2019 Corolla hatchback we recently tested, it should offer improved handling thanks to its stiffer, wider TNGA platform. Despite the switch to a torsion-beam rear suspension, the 2019 Mazda3 may be the sportier one of the two, however. We’ll just have to wait and see how the two cars stack up in the real world.
Both the 2019 Mazda3 and 2020 Toyota Corolla will go on sale in early 2019.