Quiet, lovely cabin
Diminished driving character
Distracting infotainment interface
2019 Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback
Unlike the elegant, formal, chiseled sedan, Mazda took a surprisingly different tack with the Mazda3 hatchback. Both body styles feature a large shield grille up front, but the hatchback features a dark chrome grill and headlight surround rather than the sedan’s bright chrome trim, while any resemblance between the two ends there.
The more radically-styled hatchback, shunning creases entirely, is swathed in curvaceous sheetmetal, where attention is drawn to the steeply-raked roofline and rising beltline that kicks up in front of massive, wrap-around C-pillars, the likes of which haven't been seen since the demise of the 1968-70 AMC AMX.
The rear fascia – equally devoid of creases – features prominent, teardrop-shaped taillights set above a deeply-sculpted hatch, while a contrasting gloss black lower valance contains a pair of cutouts from which chrome-tipped exhaust outlets emerge.
We happen to like the look, but love it or hate it, it does stand out.
Regardless of whether you like or dislike the exterior, the interior is sure to delight. The gorgeous, luxury-worthy, cockpit-centric interior offers redesigned front seats that are supportive – and like the previous generation the nicest this side of a pair of Recaros - with large cushions and big seatbacks that offer a natural driving position. In front of the driver, the three round gauges are set deep in the instrument binnacle and can be clearly seen, even in the brightest light. Occupying the center dash between the soft-touch, stitched lower tier and sculpted upper tier is an Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-compatible 8.8-inch landscape screen angled towards the driver. Buttery-smooth switchgear, bright trim and soft-touch materials in dark, warm shades of charcoal, and deep red adorn the dash, center console with sliding top, and front and rear door panels, completing the upscale look and feel.
Glance above, and you’ll notice a rimless rearview mirror. Let your eyes drift downward and, thanks to a low cowl and beltline, and relatively narrow C-pillars, the driver’s views out the front and sides is excellent. The Smart Key setup on our Premium tester was also pretty slick – approach the car and it unlocks automatically, walk away with the key in your pocket and it locks itself.
But there are also a number of issues. Some of them, admittedly, are minor nits: the center console cup holders are in front of the shifter, so a pair of large Yeti Ramblers blocks the storage cubby and the USB port, while there’s no separate clock so the infotainment system must be turned on in order to see what time it is. In addition, every time you put the Mazda in park, the electronic brake sets itself, which means you have to release it every time you take it out of the park setting.
Other items, however, aren’t as minor. For one, the sloping roofline cuts into headroom in a back seat that’s already on the small side. Secondly, although improved, the infotainment system screen isn’t touch-sensitive and still contains way too many sub-menus making what should be simple tasks – like setting preferred stations – a multi-menu slog. Finally, taking advantage of the hatchback's 20.1 cu ft of cargo volume involves piling items to the ceiling and interfering with rear visibility – a situation that’s already an issue since the massive C-pillars block a great deal of the driver’s sightlines out the rear three-quarters and back.
For 2019, a single engine is offered: a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder producing 186 horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. of torque, featuring Mazda's skyactiv suite of fuel efficiency technologies that include direct injection, variable valve timing and a lofty 13.0:1 compression ratio. The engine can be paired with either a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic. A pair of drivetrains is also offered: front-wheel-drive is standard, while all-wheel-drive is optional on automatic-equipped models.
Fuel economy is stellar. Front-wheel-drive models score an EPA-estimated 26 miles per gallon in the city, 35 on the highway, and 30 combined with the 6-speed automatic, while models equipped with the 6-speed manual achieve an EPA-estimated 25 mpg city, 35 highway, and 29 combined. Mazda 3s with all-wheel-drive, offered only with the automatic transmission, attain a still-respectable EPA-estimated 24 mpg city, 32 highway, and 27 combined. We managed an impressive 25.8 mpg in some very spirited around town driving.
On the road
The Mazda3 has always been one of the best handling vehicles in the compact class, and the current version also rings in well above the class average with strong, linear acceleration, precise steering with excellent feedback, and brakes that are easy to modulate - with a G-Vectoring Control system that taps them a bit to shift weight forward for a tighter line in cornering. At freeway speeds, the chassis feels stable and more comfortable that the outgoing model, while the Mazda3 tracks straight and true, and is barely affected by crosswinds.
In addition, the engine never sounds buzzy even at full throttle, the suspension soaks up everything from minor road imperfections to smaller potholes with aplomb - even rough washboard surfaces hardly affect it – while interior sound levels are much improved. Topping things off, the six-speed automatic shifts crisply.
On the other hand, the G-Vectoring Control system can sometimes engage a bit too aggressively – especially during high-speed cornering when it can feel like the brakes are being applied to the rear wheels. More importantly, Mazda swapped out the independent suspension found in the previous-gen for a simpler torsion beam setup, while softening up the ride to, we believe, appeal to a wider range of buyers. From a marketing standpoint, this makes sense. With Ford and Chevrolet exiting the segment, a more mainstream ride should attract more buyers to Mazda. The result is that the new Mazda3 feels less playful in the twisties, where it lacks the handling precision that always put a smile on our faces whenever we encountered serpentine back roads.
Mazda offers the Mazda3 hatchback in three trim levels: base, Preferred Package, and Premium Package. Besides the usual power features (windows, locks, mirrors), the base trim comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, tail lights, and daytime running lights, advanced keyless push-button start, automatic climate control, leatherette seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, an electronic parking brake, and an 8.8-inch color display with Bluetooth connectivity, voice command, multi-function Commander control, Pandora, and Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto capabilities.
Stepping up to the Preferred Package adds an 8-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar, aluminum speaker grilles, Bose audio, driver’s seat and exterior mirror memory functions, heated front seats, and satellite radio capability with a 3-month trial.
The Premium Package adds to those items with 18-inch black finish alloy wheels, head up display, adaptive front lighting, front and rear LED signature lighting, leather seats, a moonroof, and paddle shifters (automatic transmission).
Standard advanced safety features on all models include driver attention alert, automatic high beams, land departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, automatic emergency braking with low-speed pedestrian detection, and blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.
2019 Mazda Mazda3 hatchback prices
Prices for the 2019 Mazda3 hatchback start at $24,520 for a base FWD model and escalate to over $31,000 for a fully-optioned AWD example equipped with the Premium Package.
Our Polymetal Gray Mica Premium Package AWD tester had a base price of $28,900. Adding navigation ($450), a cargo mat ($90), illuminated sill plates ($425), frameless auto-dimming mirror (($275), wireless charging pad (($275), and a $920 destination charge brought the as-tested price to $31,335.
The Bottom Line
While it disappoints with tight rear accommodations, poor outward visibility, an infotainment system that remains more complex than necessary, and a driving character that we find less entertaining, the latest Mazda3 with a quiet, near-luxury cabin, optional all-wheel-drive, and improved ride comfort continues to be our top choice in the compact class.