Redesigned compact gets a healthy dose of refinement
Mazda is worried about your pelvis. Really. It spent a lot of time thinking about your pelvic region and how it interacts with your upper body when developing its new 2019 Mazda3. To Mazda, understanding how your pelvis moves in relation to the rest of your body was the key in figuring out how to give its new compact sedan and hatchback the sporty performance the brand is famous for—“Oneness,” in Mazda parlance—while also moving upmarket to challenge luxury makers.
The 2019 Mazda3 marks the point of no return for Mazda—it’s the line that separates everyman “zoom-zoom” Mazda from its ambitions to be a luxury automaker. Although many carmakers signify luxury intent with big, expensive flagships, Mazda opted instead to use the entry-level Mazda3 as the foundation for its climb. Its latest Skyactiv vehicle architecture is one piece of the puzzle; the new platform is both stiffer and lighter than before, and it uses technologies both old and new designed to help it ride and handle better than before.
One example of “old” tech in the new Mazda3’s platform is a simple, cost-effective twist-beam axle in back. Twist-beam suspension setups can be prone to undesirable ride and handling characteristics, but Mazda says it counterintuitively used a twist-beam because it’s easier to control those undesirable movements in its suspension bushings versus a comparably more complex multilink rear suspension, as found in the previous-generation Mazda3. In other words: because of pelvises.
Powertrains ought to be familiar to current Mazda3 and CX-5 owners; the latest Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter I-4 with cylinder deactivation making 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque is shoehorned into the 2019 Mazda3 sedan and hatch. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual and is available with all-wheel drive. Loaded automatic-equipped front-drive Mazda3 Premium sedans were all Mazda made available to drive.
Mazda’s impressive spark-compression-ignition Skyactiv-X engines will debut under the hood of the Mazda3 this year in Europe, followed by Japan. Mazda will slowly roll out Skyactiv-X engines globally with emission-strict markets getting priority. Smart money says Skyactiv-X doesn’t come Stateside until at least 2021—and perhaps longer if another Republican administration is in the White House in 2020.
Ignoring the carryover powertrain, the 2019 Mazda3 really feels like an evolutionary leap forward from the old model. The old Mazda3’s Achilles’ heels were always its somewhat stiff (albeit sporty) ride and cabin noise, and the night-and day-difference between the old car and the new is immediately apparent after just a few miles of driving. The time and money Mazda invested in studying the human body really appears to have paid off. Ride quality is simply exceptional. Even on the harshest potholes and bumps, occupants are completely isolated from the impacts.
Yet despite that isolation from impacts and noise, the Mazda3 remains remarkably engaging to drive. The Mazda3’s steering is direct and progressive, with a hint of lightness to it that brings the Miata to mind. That pelvic voodoo Mazda engineers did really rewards the driver in bends, too, as suspension and seat combine to make the driver feel one with the car.
The weak point in the Mazda3’s driving dynamics, if I had to pick one, is its powertrain. There’s nothing outright wrong with it—the 2.5-liter I-4 feels peppy and revs happily, and the six-speed gearbox is well tuned—but this new chassis is so good that I want more from it. A touch more torque would be nice—a new Mazdaspeed3 isn’t in the cards, but an electrical assist ought to do just nicely, especially considering the platform has been future-proofed for electrification.
If driving dynamics are one half of the luxury car puzzle, interior appointments would be the other. Although I’ve yet to sample a base-spec 2019 Mazda3, the loaded Premium model is certainly a convincing alternative to the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA. Mazda did its homework here—materials, from the leather seats to the knurled metal knobs and accents, are all top notch. Mazda’s attention to detail also shows in how those knobs and buttons feel when turned or pressed; all have a quality heft and feel to them.
The cabin’s new design is a significant improvement on the old, too. The standard 8.8-inch infotainment display is mounted higher up on the dashboard and canted toward the driver. Combined with the simplified “Commander” control knob on the center console, the amount of time a driver needs to look away from the road is minimized. In front of the driver is a configurable screen showing a speedometer, fuel economy information, or active safety info, flanked by a tachometer on the left and a fuel and temperature gauge on the right. Premium models also get a head-up display with speed and navigation data, further minimizing the amount of time a driver has to take eyes off the road.
As for those not in the driver’s seat, the front passenger seat is roomy (though it’s unpowered and doesn’t adjust as much as the driver’s seat), and the back seat is comfortable, if a bit tight for taller passengers—the Mazda3 is certainly still a compact inside, unlike, say, the Honda Civic.
The 2019 Mazda3 sedan will start at $21,895 USD when it goes on sale toward spring. The hatchback will start at $24,495 USD. The Mazda3 Premium sits at the top of the lineup, starting at $27,395 USD for the sedan and $28,395 USD for the hatchback. All-wheel drive and manual transmissions (the latter a hatchback-only option) are expected to be available at launch. Fuel economy figures are unavailable due to the government shutdown, but you can expect the new Mazda3 to score around 27/36/30 mpg (8.7/6.5/7.8 L/100 km) city/highway/combined, like the old model.
Ultimately, Mazda’s preoccupation with the pelvis seems to have been worth it. The new 2019 Mazda3 captures the fun-to-drive spirit of the Mazda we know and love while delivering on the entry-level luxury experience that might actually give Audi A3 and Mercedes CLA buyers some pause.