2019 Mazda 3 Review

2019 Mazda 3 - Clearly a cut above, the new Mazda 3 strives to be your next premium compact.


The Mazda 3 is a compact car that's offered in 4-door sedan or hatchback form. It's completely redesigned for 2019 and, for the first time, offers all-wheel drive in addition to standard front-wheel drive. Other changes for 2019 include new interior with 8.8-inch center display screen, additional safety and technology features and a slightly more-powerful engine. Competitors are many and include the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Jetta.

Riding a slightly longer wheelbase, the 2019 Mazda 3 is three inches longer and about 100 pounds lighter. Interior dimensions are unchanged, but cargo capacity grows from 12.4 to 13.2 cubic feet on the sedan. Trim levels include the base, Select, Preferred and Premium. All-wheel drive is available an all but the base. Prices start at $21,000 and climb to nearly $30,000 on the Premium.

All models come with a normally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that is tweaked for 2019 to offer 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque -- both numbers slightly higher than last year. Standard transmission on all models is a 6-speed automatic. Available only on the all-wheel-drive hatchback is a 6-speed manual.

Safety features include forward-collision warning with braking assist, blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert, lane-departure waring, adaptive cruise control and a driver attention alert system, which is designed to detect driver fatigue and decreased attentiveness. The new infotainment system supports both Android Auto and Apple Car Play and is controlled by a jog dial in the center console.

Mazda eschews the current tiny-turbo trend by offering a large-displacement normally aspirated 4-cylinder in the new 3. It's part of Mazda's SkyActive philosophy to aims to not only improve efficiency but reduce cost. By putting the Mazda 3 on a diet and developing a very efficient powerplant, Mazda can match the performance and economy of the tiny turbocharged engines competitors are offering while at the same time offering reduced complexity and lower costs.

Does it work? Yes and no. Yes, the new Mazda 3 has class average acceleration and reasonable fuel efficiency. No, it's not top-of-the-class in either performance or economy. The sole engine offering provides decent acceleration from a stop and good passing punch. The engine can feel a little sleepy initially unless it set to SPORT mode. Most peg the 0 to 60 MPH time at about 8.5 seconds -- smack in the middle for the class. The engine mates well to the new 6-speed automatic to provide a good balance of both spirited feel and smooth day-to-day operation.

With all-wheel drive and automatic, the Mazda 3's EPA numbers of 25 MPG city and 33 MPG highway are unimpressive. More so, since the other AWD offering, the Subaru Impreza nets 28/38 MPG ratings. Front-drive models are rated at a more respectable 27/36 MPG. In routine suburban commuting, expect to average close to 28 MPG, perhaps as high as 32 MPG if you throw in some gentle highway cruising. Regular-grade fuel is recommended, but the smallish 12.7-gallon fuel tank in the AWD model limits highway range.

For a generation now, Mazda has leaned toward the sporty spectrum when in comes to the ride-and-handline equation. So, it's no surprise that the new Mazda 3 sports a firm ride that's both capable and athletic. That comes at a bit of a compromise and some might find the suspension too firm on top-line trims with the 18-inch wheels.

Steering response is quick and precise if a bit light at times. Brakes provide adequate stopping power and no more. Turning circle is tidy, making the 3 very easy to drive in an urban environment. Regardless of model, the Mazda 3 remains composed and confident on the road and should be genuinely enjoyed by those that favor a twisty back road over a board-straight stretch of highway.

For the class, the Mazda 3 has a quiet cabin. There is some road and wind noise on the highway, but that's to be expected. The engine remains quiet and subdued in all but maximum acceleration. In general, this plays well with Mazda's desire to place the new 3 as a premium compact.

That premium feel immediately carries over to the interior where Mazda has gone to great lengths to disguise the fact that the new 3 is really a compact sedan with a sub-$30,000 price point. The overall design is clean and uncluttered, materials are a clear step up from competitors -- especially on Preferred and Premium models -- and the switchgear exudes a level of polish that's normally found in offerings from more expensive luxury brands.

Drivers face a traditional analog gauge cluster with a large speedometer flanked by a tachometer and fuel and temperature dials. There are a couple of programmable information screens in the instrument panel. A head-up display is offered. The infotainment screen is placed well-forward in the center of the dashtop. Due to that placement, it's controlled by a jog dial rather than being a traditional touch screen. It's an unfortunate setup that takes some getting used to and isn't entirely suited to the Android Auto or Apple Car Play interfaces. Below, there's a smattering of buttons and dials for the dual-zone climate control that provide only a modicum of functions if you don't set it to AUTO.

The front seats provide good leg, head and shoulder room. Comfort is adequate, but some might find the seats a bit firm on longer trips. Despite being longer than the previous model, the back seat might be a touch smaller.  Sedan or hatch, rear leg room tight unless the front seats are moved well forward and rear head room is compromised by the low roofline.

The seating position is a bit low compared to most competitors save the Civic, meaning it's a bit of a stoop to get in and out. In addition, the front door openings aren't very wide. Visibility to the front and sides is adequate, but directly aft and to the rear quarters visibility is limited by the sloping roofline and thick rear pillars.

Offering just 13.2 cubic feet of cargo volume, the Mazda 3's trunk trails class leaders. However, it does offer a wide opening. The hatch isn't much better offering a mediocre 20.1 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. As per the class norm, the rear seatbacks fold down in a 60/40-split. Interior storage is quite good with lots of open and covered bins throughout.

Bottom Line -- Mazda put a lot of effort in the 3's redesign in areas where the brand felt mattered most to consumers. Styling is bold and fresh, the interior is upscale and modern and premium features abound. At the same time, Mazda didn't mess with the 3's fun-to-drive nature and simple-yet-functional drivetrain. Put together, the new 3 is a compelling compact sedan or hatch, provided you don't need a roomy rear seat, that's a cut above the mainstream offerings from Toyota or Honda.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.