Car Reviews First Tests

2019 Mazda3 Sedan First Test: Strength in Numbers?

Looks good on paper, but how does it feel to drive?

Looks good on paper, but how does it feel to drive?

Nowadays, the CX-5 accounts for more than half of all Mazda sales, leaving the Mazda3 in a very distant second place. Although it doesn’t win the popularity contest, the 3 even better demonstrates the tenets of Mazda: low, nimble, and attainably sexy.

For the 2019 model year, the Mazda3 has made key improvements. It moves to a new architecture that boasts 30 percent high-strength steel for improved body rigidity. The 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder becomes the base engine, making 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque, and a more powerful Skyactiv-X engine is likely to come much later. A torsion-beam rear suspension replaces the multilink setup. Mazda also promises improved NVH with the help of better cabin insulation.

Never needing lots of power, the Mazda3 has made agility its hallmark. Turns out, though, the sedan is relatively quick. In our tests, the Mazda3 sedan ran from 0 to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, making it quicker than the Kia Forte EX (8.2 seconds), Volkswagen Jetta SEL (7.8 seconds), and Hyundai Elantra Limited (9.0 seconds). It fell just behind a 2019 Honda Civic Touring we recently tested, which hit the mark in 6.8 seconds.

It was much the same story in the quarter mile, with the Mazda3 forging ahead of the Kia, Volkswagen, and Hyundai, and about on par with Honda. The 3 clocked a time of 15.4 seconds at 91.2 mph (146.8 km/h), just behind the Civic’s 15.2 seconds at 92.2 mph (148.4 km/h).

Hearing the car accelerate is just as fun as actually accelerating, and this is where the Mazda3 may fall short. “The engine lacks that extra grunt that a premium car delivers,” executive editor Mark Rechtin noted of our $28,015 USD Premium package tester. “It sounds like it is struggling when you floor it.”

Mazda outperformed the competition in braking tests from 60 to 0 mph. It managed to stop within 112 feet, compared to 118 feet for the Kia, 113 feet for the Honda, 121 feet for the VW, and 125 feet for the Hyundai. Road test editor Chris Walton noted mild dive in the braking test.

If you need further proof the sedan has made handling a priority, take a look at its figure-eight performance. It outran all the aforementioned rivals, tackling the figure eight in 26.7 seconds at an average 0.66 g. That puts it about even with the Honda’s 26.6 seconds at 0.66 g and the Kia’s 26.8 seconds at 0.63 g, but ahead of the VW and Hyundai.

Despite a solid figure-eight run, the Mazda3 exhibited a few signs of weakness. Testing director Kim Reynolds noted it understeers in corners. “I was trying to get it to bite on turn-in better, but it just won’t,” he said. The Mazda3’s steering feel is heavier than usual; this isn’t necessarily a bad quality, but not everyone will like it.

We don’t expect cars in this class to exhibit a buttery ride, but the 3 can be a bit overly stiff. “There is a significant amount of tire roar coming into the cabin,” noted Rechtin. He also pointed out, “The suspension lacks that subtlety and suppleness that a premium car delivers,” lamenting the clumsy transmission shifts.

Overall, the numbers look better than we may have expected. At least on paper, the Mazda3 performs well in acceleration, handling, and braking tests, even besting the class-leading Honda Civic at times. But dig beneath the data, and you’ll encounter a few unrefined characteristics.

2019 Mazda Mazda3 (Premium)
BASE PRICE $27,420
PRICE AS TESTED $28,015
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 2.5L/186-hp/186-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,096 lb (62/38%)
WHEELBASE 107.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 183.5 x 70.7 x 56.9 in
0-60 MPH 7.0 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.4 sec @ 91.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 112 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.86 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.7 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 26.3/40.2/31.2 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 27/36/30 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 125/94 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.64 lb/mile