2019 Mazda3: Beautiful

Strong points
  • Stunning design
  • Great driving dynamics
  • Quality cockpit
Weak points
  • Outward visibility could be better
  • Slightly less efficient than its rivals
  • Price has gone up
Full report

The small-car segment is struggling of late, and a few models have recently left the market—like the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze—a sign that some manufacturers crunched numbers and figured out that their eventual redesign wouldn’t be as profitable as developing more crossover vehicles.

Still, Mazda believes there is a future for compact sedans and hatchbacks. Not only that, but it figures consumers are willing to spend a little more money on a Mazda3, which is trying to move upmarket and now offers all-wheel drive.

The Mazda3 used to be the brand’s best-selling vehicle in Canada, and by a wide margin, but customers aren’t lining up at the dealership for the redesigned compact car so far in 2019. Through the first eight months of the calendar year, sales are down by about 18% compared to the same period in 2018. However, the company is confident that once snow hits the ground, Canadians will embrace the new Mazda3 AWD.

Exactly why the new generation isn’t selling as well is quite frankly a mystery to us, but then again, only the Kia Forte and the Volkswagen Jetta in its segment have seen their sales numbers increase. It’s a subjective opinion, but we think the 2019 Mazda3’s design is by far the most seductive amongst compact cars, and while the five door Sport variant looks racy and athletic, the four-door sedan boasts pure elegance. Many cars that cost twice as much aren’t as stunning as this one.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

The 2019 Mazda3’s engine choices are unchanged. The base 2.0-litre four cylinder is still rated at 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, connected to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. For the majority of consumers, it does the job nicely in addition to being efficient. On the other hand, since its introduction many years ago, this Skyactiv-G engine has gone from best to worst in the segment regarding fuel consumption, as the competition have stepped up their game since.

Still, the 2.0-litre engine’s combined city/highway rating of 7.6 L/100 km is nothing to be ashamed about, and other compact sedans with automatic transmissions consume between 6.9 and 7.5 L/100 km, with the Kia Forte leading the pack. Hybrid variants notwithstanding.

Extra performance can be squeezed out of the 2.5-litre four, available in GS and GT trim levels. We tester the latter, which includes the automatic transmission, and we observed an average of 7.8 L/100 km, dead-on with its combined city/highway rating. In other words, we get 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque with only a few drops of extra fuel as a sacrifice.

Our test involved a front-wheel-drive Mazda3 GT, as we’re waiting for winter to arrive in order to get a better evaluation of the AWD system. Yet it’s virtually identical to what’s found in the brand’s crossovers such as the Mazda CX-3 and the Mazda CX-5—meaning it’ll likely be pretty capable in the white stuff.

Since we love to drive, we like the Mazda3’s handling characteristics, with perfectly weighed steering and a suspension setup that’s just as competent on a twisty country road than on potholed city streets. And this despite a torsion beam rear suspension instead of the previous independent setup. In the compact-car segment, the Mazda and the Volkswagen Golf are the most fun to drive.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

Not only is the exterior design beautiful, but the car’s cockpit is also dressed to impress. Quality materials were chosen to build this environment, the controls feel solid and the driving position is perfect.

However, we feel a little more confined than in the previous-generation car, as headroom is down front and back, the windshield pillars are wider than we’d like and although the rear side windows are slightly bigger than before, the front side ones are now smaller. The Mazda3 Sport also wears fat rear pillars that further darken the rear-seat area. Trunk space climbs from 350 to 374 litres in the sedan, which trails the Honda Civic at 428 litres and the Jetta at 399 litres.

The Mazda Connect infotainment system can count once again on an excellent interface, with a console-mounted rotary dial and a volume knob. The screen is no longer touch-sensitive, but it now measures 8.8 inches in diameter. Browsing through the various functions without taking our eyes off the road is very easy once we get the hang of it, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is now standard across the board, if we prefer using those operating systems. A 12-speaker Bose stereo is included in the GT.

Pricing for the 2019 Mazda3 ranges from $18,000 to $31,400 before freight and delivery charges. The mid-grade GS with the automatic transmission is the best all-around choice at $24,300, as it includes 16-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, a heated steering wheel, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control as well as autonomous braking and pedestrian detection.

Adding AWD jacks the price up to at least $26K. The only other model in its segment that provides all-weather traction is the Subaru Impreza, which offers it as a standard feature from $20K.

It does have it shortcomings, but right now, the 2019 Mazda3 is our favourite compact car for its design, its driving pleasure and the feeling that we’re getting a vehicle that’s worth more than what we paid for it. It’s also more affordable and roomier than the CX-3.

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