Lacey Elliott: Mazda3 is signalling the dawn of a new era. The brand is gaining customers’ trust and becoming an essential part of owners’ lives by refining its already distinctive driving experience. The Mazda Premium campaign aims to amaze and delight customers all over the world with the new 2019 Mazda3.
Honda Civic, VW Jetta, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, and Ford Focus are just a few of the many great cars in this competitive segment. With a new body, new interior, new suspension, and now with all-wheel drive (AWD). I have high expectations of this hot little hatch from Mazda.
Dan Heyman: I’ve always liked the Mazda3. Liked how it was kind of the energetic small kid that had to stand apart from the big boys – Lacey mentions most of them – by maybe being a little more stylish, a little more fun and a little more of a wild card; the various Mazdaspeed3 models – slightly different, all manic — that have graced the automotive landscape over the years are kind of the best expression of that need to stand apart.
Well, the Mazdaspeed3 isn’t here for now, but I feel like my AWD-equipped tester is kind of the next best thing; after all, just like the ‘Speed stood apart from the Civic Si thanks to turbocharging, this latest model does so – from the Civic and pretty much everything else this side of a Subaru Impreza – with AWD. Rock on.
LE: The new Mazda3 embodies two very distinct characteristics in the sedan and the hatch. As a free spirit and someone who is determined to follow my own convictions, I am the target demographic for this Mazda3 Sport hot hatch. The sedan version, on the other hand, is styled for the person with a strong independent streak, who adheres to formality and traditional styles. I wonder where Dan fits with these two personalities?
Because of these two separate personas, the sedan and hatchback only have two exterior panels in common: the rockers and the hood. Despite the similarities, they look like two completely different cars.
The C-pillar on this hatch is massive. This vertical structure behind the rear door contains a lot of sheet metal. The rear window is also much smaller than on the sedan.
This new car flows from the grille to the rear roofline without a single straight edge to be found. Mazda embraces the Kodo ‘Soul of Motion’ design concept that is inspired by the effects of wind and the flow of water. During the design phase, hand-crafted clay models are used to sculpt the form of this car. In fact, Mazda uses more clay than any other automaker. The designers use their hands instead of a computer program to style their vehicles.
The end result really is beautiful beyond words.
Standard on the GT are 18” alloy wheels with a dark grey high-lustre metallic finish, adding an extra touch of class to differentiate this trim from its siblings.
Mazda has taken the interior to the next level. The execution is flawless. The cabin is simple and uncluttered with an incredible mix of top-notch fabrics. By keeping the driver in mind, Mazda still provides round knobs and real buttons instead of touch screen devices. There is no need to take your eyes off the road while you adjust the controls.
The human-centric philosophy was a clear driver in developing the interior space. The telescopic steering wheel adds 10 mm of movement over the previous the model, giving the driver more control to find the perfect position .
I have never been a fan of red cars, but this Soul Red Crystal Metallic looks incredible. I’m not sure if it is worth the additional $450; however, the no-charge colours like Titanium Flash and Sonic Silver Metallic look bland by comparison.
None of the current competition delivers a product that looks as refined as this car does.
DH: My tester wasn’t finished in either of the colours that Lacey mentions, but it was finished in something equally cool: it’s called “Polymetal Grey Metallic” and while I have no idea what the heck a “polymetal” is, I do know that it looks unreal. Steely-blue in some lights and matte grey in others, it’s a colour that you wouldn’t expect to see on a compact hatch like this. But then, as we’ve said before: the 3 isn’t your typical compact hatch, and especially for this new, lithe, more athletic and upscale model, that colour is just about right and it only costs $200 to get. My advice? Get it.
You’ll also want to look in to getting the black 18” alloys my tester has, as they help ground the already-squat Mazda3 even more and add a nice taste of aftermarket flare.
Of course, all that would really just be window dressing (or should I say “body dressing”?) if it weren’t for the fact that as Lacey says: Mazda has hit a homerun with its Kodo styling language and the latest 3. The proportions are right on – it looks almost GT-like with its long hood and cab-rearward stance. It’s a hatchback, but one that has serious shooting brake overtones. Nothing in the compact hatch segment touches it on the exterior styling front. Nothing.
Inside, it’s a little more subdued but like Lacey, I appreciate the high-quality materials and the new infotainment system. The scroll wheel has been redesigned to feel more high-class, and the menus no longer form an arc on-screen; it’s a list view now, and while it looks a little more plain than previous, it’s easier to navigate as a result.
ON THE ROAD
LE: Before I get into the road manners of this new Mazda, what truly blows me away is the quiet interior. Two-wall construction of the floor panel allowed fibrous material between to increase sound insulation. Additional seals were added to reduce outside noise from getting into this comfortable cabin. A sound-absorbing headliner was added and the door panels that house the speakers have been redesigned. The quietness of this interior is on par, if not better than, some of the luxury vehicles on the road.
Of course, the other thing that strikes me as impressive is the way this car drives. My Mazda 3 Sport GT has a fabulous engine that driving enthusiasts will love. The Skyactiv-G 2.5L DOHC 4-cylinder has 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. It’s matched to a 6-speed manual transmission that facilitates short easy shifts with a perfectly balanced clutch.
This same engine is offered on the Mazda3 GT Sedan, but can only be enjoyed with the Skyactiv-Drive 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission. To make the most of this set up drivers can use the Drive Selection mode and paddle shifters.
The base engine for both the sedan and the hatch is the current 2L 4-cylinder with 155 hp and 150 lb-ft torque. No complaints here with these engine specs, but the upgraded 2.5L really put a huge smile on my face.
Anyone who enjoys driving will appreciate the fun of a manual front wheel drive car. However, in 2019 I-active AWD is now available on either the GS or GT trim. AWD is only paired to the automatic. I can’t wait to hear what Dan thinks of it.
The technology in this AWD system is super-efficient. This means you will not have to trade off fuel efficiency if you choose to go this route. It’s rated at just 9.8 L / 100 km in the city and 7.4 L / 100 km on the highway. This system is also intelligent. It knows exactly when and how to use the rear torque to maximize the handling and stability of this car.
The switch from a multi-link rear suspension to a simple torsion beam does not affect the vehicle’s dynamics at all. There is no noticeable reduction in ride comfort and the handling is very crisp. This FWD manual stick is an absolute blast to drive.
Earlier I mentioned that this hatch has a smaller rear window, and though it looks great, the result is poor visibility out the back.
DH: Yes; that shooting brake styling does have its costs as Lacey mentions; the view out back and over either shoulder remained a challenge for me for the duration of my test, and more so than it’s ever been for the Mazda3, and I’ve driven the past three versions of it.
Of course, the hope is that the more time you spend in the car – and by “more”, I mean more than a week, as I did – you’ll get used to that, learn to better use your mirrors and pay attention to the blind spot monitoring system. I’m not making an excuse for the car; I wouldn’t want to let a few visibility issues – issues that have plagued sports cars for eons, and continue to do so – prevent me from experiencing what is otherwise a fantastic drive.
So my tester was the AWD version, meaning no manual transmission for me. That’s too bad, I guess, but the 3’s auto is fine at working with the driver to help get the most out of the powertrain, and it comes equipped with a pair of paddles to at least return some of the joy associated with a manual transmission. Needless to say, I used these whenever the road became a little more open and windy, as they do a fine job of adding just a little more driver engagement.
While the AWD version gets no more power than does lacey FWD model, the addition of four powered wheels obviously changes the way the power is relayed. It can divide torque between the front and rear axles, depending on the situation; in the middle of a corner, for example, more power is sent to the rear and combines with Mazda’s proprietary G-Vectoring Control (GVC) to help rotate the car through the turn, while keeping it stable at the same time. Turn in is immediate, but thanks to all that tech, the chassis is rarely overwhelmed and is able to cope in any number of situations, including more slippery ones.
In the more practical sense, what this all means is the car can zip out of corners much faster than it could previously, and the understeer we’ve always associated with front drivers is greatly reduced. You’re not going to get RWD-style drifts going, of course, but you will be able to streak through your favorite road in a much quicker – and more confidence-inspiring – way than you ever could before. In all seriousness, this little hatch is Audi Quattro-like in its attitude, and that is a massive win for Mazda.
LE: Where safety is concerned, Mazda includes elements such as emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with steering assist, intelligent cruise control, forward collision warning assistance, automatic high beam assist, and road sign assist.
Also available on the new Mazda3 is Mazda’s most recently developed Driver Monitoring System. It uses an infrared camera and infrared LED to monitor how wide the driver’s eyelids are at any given time, and how many times you blink to determine drowsiness. If it judges that the situation could be dangerous, it sounds an alert to make the driver aware.
Mazda as a brand is committed to advancing its safety technologies. The development team worked to improve confidence for all occupants. Even basic safety technologies, such as visibility, pedal layout, and driving position are greatly evolved in this model. It is small things like this that can make a major difference in safety-critical situations.
Android Auto and Apple Car Play are now standard on all models.
The new Mazda3 Sport starts at $21,720 for the GX and gets as high as $31,400 for a fully loaded GT with the Premium Package, automatic transmission and i-ACTIVE AWD. My handsome hatch this week with FWD and a 6-speed manual and the same Premium Package is $28,400. Tough choice – but I would forgo the AWD and pick this Mazda3 Sport with the manual shifter. The competitors offer some great vehicles, but I don’t think any of them deliver this much driving pleasure.
DH: Not only is the latest Mazda infotainment interface more intuitive, the hardware is a step up, too. Used to be the main screen rose high off the dash and looked quite tacked on; now, while it still isn’t’ completely integrated to the dash, it’s much less obvious than it was previously. Looking something like a cross between what BMW and Lexus offer, it’s a slick overall design that does well to mimic the graphics it displays.
For me, driver monitoring systems like that which is found on the 3 are a take it or leave it thing; I don’t’ tend to listen to them all that often as I find that in most cars that have them, they’re a little over-sensitive and become less of a necessity because of that. For its part, I found Mazda’s offering to be less intrusive than typical, only activating after numerous miles spent weaving over lines (I wasn’t tired; I was testing). That’s probably how it should be, so it’s good that Mazda’s been able to find a bit of a sweet spot here.
LE: The concept of Mazda Premium on this new car is noticeable in every detail, from design aesthetics to drivetrain. This new 2019 Mazda3 has a luxurious interior, gorgeous new styling, engines that delight, and now with available AWD. No matter what personality you are; I am confident that this new Mazda3 is going to be the benchmark for this segment.
DH: Yes; a manual transmission option for the AWD car would be a nice add, but because the rest of the package – from the styling, to the interior offerings, to the overall drive – is honed to the point where it’s rare that I find it this easy to just forget about the lack of a clutch pedal, and just let this humdinger of a hatch do its thing. Now, we spoke of the Mazdaspeed3 earlier; while we’ve seen no official announcement yet, this finally seems like the perfect opportunity to give a bit of a re-birth to that model – remember that Mazda is also expanding the use of the turbocharged four-cylinder ‘plant first seen in the CX-9 and now in the CX-5 and Mazda6; imagine what it could do with a lighter, tauter platform like the 3. Make Mazdaspeed happen and you can forget about Hyundai Elantra GTs and VW Golfs; what we’ll then be talking about are Honda Civic Type Rs and Mercedes-AMG A45s.