Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Don Cheng
Published: July 20, 2019
Mazda’s ever increasingly popular compact car has garnered plenty of praise since its initial release just over fifteen years ago. Though destined as an econobox, it turned out to be a more engaging alternative to the Toyota Corolla, and could be had in both a sedan and hatchback body style to tailor towards any buyer’s needs. This little grocery getter also proved it could be a handful of fun after the Mazdaspeed showed up and shoved a turbocharged 4-banger out the front. The newest Mazda3 continues to punch well above its weight class and push the boundaries of what you should expect from an entry-level vehicle. For starters, prospective buyers can still choose between a sedan or hatchback body style, and for the first time ever, Mazda’s i-Activ all-wheel drive system is available too.
The styling gets a heavy rework, and is an evolution of their Kodo (not to be confused with Koodo) Soul of Motion design language. Mazda often plays up the Soul Red Crystal paint in its commercial spots but the Polymetal Grey Metallic hatchback on test stole the show for me. The Sport is an absolute stunner and the piano black grill contrasts extremely well against the monotone shade, as does the tiny little lip valence under it. The hood appears long and takes a deep dive into Mazda’s signature grill, giving the illusion that the Sport sits lower to the ground than its competitors. Walk towards the rear however and the thick C-pillars negatively stand out, detracting from the otherwise aggressive look, almost like someone photoshopped the rear end of a CR-V to the back of the hatch.
The redesign extends to the cabin too. Step inside and it’s hard to argue that this is a class-leading interior. There’s a repertoire of premium materials inside, with soft leather extending up to the dash and aluminum finishings on the door handle and speaker grills. Areas where automakers typically cut costs with cheap plastics like the switchgear surrounds, or the HVAC controls, are replaced with piano black plastic. Cabin noise was another priority for the new Mazda3 and the brand has optimized the cabin to keep NVH out. Now, it’s clear that Mazda has gone to great lengths to reimagine how you view an economy car but one question that still remains is its longevity, which is hard for us to evaluate after only spending one week with the car. With 5,000 kms on the odometer however, our test vehicle’s piano black finish has been littered with scratches, presumably from nothing more than daily wear and tear. This might just be the result of the heavy mileage and turnover as a press vehicle, but was sadly the first thing my friend noticed in the cabin when she hopped in.
Under all the leather and aluminum, there’s a fair bit of technology too. Mazda’s infotainment system has seen an overhaul with updated graphics and a simpler, text-heavy home screen in lieu of the dated icons found in previous models. All of it is displayed via a new high resolution screen with a trendy trapezoidal outline adorning the dash. The screen could see a stretch of an inch on both corners, but there’s no denying that it’s a classy look befit of the well designed cabin. The digital instrument cluster is a nice touch as well and sitting in front of the leather trimmed wheel, you’d be astounded if I told you this top-trim Mazda3 Sport GT came in at under $30,000 before taxes.
While a significant amount of the hatch is all-new, the drivetrain is a carry over from the previous generation. The 2.5L proved to be a peppy power plant that’s eager to spin to redline despite the lack of forced induction, and the Mazda3 has plenty of driveability in the city. The motor is happy to sit in the mid-range of the RPMs too without feeling overly noisy or stressed. Wind it out, and the SkyActiv-G four cylinder dishes out 186 hp and the equivalent in torque.
Power delivery goes straight to the front wheels unless you opt for the i-Activ AWD, but then you’d miss out on the three pedal fun. It’s a solid combination but don’t expect ND MX-5 Miata levels of shifting nirvana. The six-speed is rather notchy and lacks the refinement found in the roadster. For instance, I often found the gearbox locking me out of first gear, as if the lever was halfway through the gate. I would have to quickly bring the lever down to second, before back up to first. I’m not sure if this was an issue with my particular tester - they do see some rough mileage - or if this something commonplace across the board. Where the Miata’s DNA shines through is in the Mazda3’s lively handling. The steering is direct, linear, and gives good feedback as to what the front wheels are doing. Even with the switch to a rear torsion beam suspension, the Mazda3 maintained a firm and composed ride during spirited runs.
Mazda has got the Honda Civic Hatchback and Volkswagen Golf in its crosshairs and in many ways, the Mazda3 Sport has these entrants beat. The interior is a standout not just for the brand but for the segment as well. The same goes for its phenomenal ride quality and well-insulated cabin. Perhaps the strongest feature is in the value. At an as-tested price of $28,600 this Mazda3 Sport GT comes with everything but the kitchen sink, matching and often trumping similarly spec’d offerings from Honda and Volkswagen by around $1,000. The original Mazda3 hatchback has long defied the status quo on what to expect from an economy car. Now the newest and latest Mazda3 challenges what you should expect for anything more than $30,000.
Model: 2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
Paint Type: Polymetal Grey Metallic
Base Price: $25,900
Price as Tested: $28,600
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,459 / 2,028 / 1,440
Curb weight (kg): 1,390
Engine: Skyactiv-G 2.5L 4-cylinder with Cylinder Deactivation
Horsepower: 186 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 186 lb-ft @ 6,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 7.9