Ignoring the carryover powertrain, the 2019 Mazda3 really feels like an evolutionary leap forward from the old model. The old Mazda3’s Achilles heel was always its somewhat stiff (albeit sporty) ride, and cabin noise, and it’s immediately apparent after just a few miles of driving the night and day difference between the two cars. The time and money Mazda invested in studying the human body really appears to have paid off. Ride quality is simply exceptional. Even on the harshest potholes and bumps, occupants are completely isolated from the impacts.
Yet, despite that isolation from impacts and noise, the Mazda3 remains remarkably engaging to drive. The Mazda3’s steering is direct and progressive, with a hint of lightness to it that brings the Miata to mind. That pelvic voodoo Mazda engineers did really pays off in bends too, as suspension and seat combine to make the driver feel one with the car.
The weak point in the Mazda3’s driving dynamics, if I had to pick one, is its powertrain. There’s nothing outright wrong with it—the 2.5-liter I-4 feels peppy and revs happily, and the six-speed gearbox is well-tuned—but this new chassis is so good that I want more from it. A touch more torque would be nice—a new Mazdaspeed3 isn’t in the cards, but an electrical assist ought to do just nicely, especially considering the platform has been future-proofed for electrification.
If driving dynamics are one half of the luxury car puzzle, interior appointments would be the other. Although I’ve yet to sample a base-spec 2019 Mazda3, the loaded Premium model is certainly a convincing alternative to the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA. Mazda did its homework here—materials, from the leather seats, to the knurled metal knobs and accents are all top notch. Mazda says it paid particular attention to how its knobs and buttons feel when turned or pressed, and the attention to detail shows; all have a quality heft and feel to them.
The cabin’s new design is a significant improvement on the old too. The standard 8.8-inch infotainment display is mounted higher up on the dashboard and canted towards the driver. Combined with the simplified “Commander” control knob on the center console, the amount of time a driver needs to look away from the road is minimized. In front of the driver is a configurable screen showing a speedometer, fuel economy information, or active safety info, flanked by a tachometer on the left, and a fuel and temperature gauge on the right. Premier models also get a head-up display with speed and navigation data, further minimizing the amount of time a driver has to take eyes off-the-road.
As for those not in the driver’s seat, the front-passenger seat is roomy (though the seat is unpowered and doesn’t adjust as much as the driver’s seat), and the backseat is comfortable, if a bit tight for taller passengers—the Mazda3 is certainly still a compact inside, unlike, say, the Honda Civic.
The 2019 Mazda3 sedan will start at $21,895 when it goes on sale towards spring. The hatchback will start at $24,495. The Mazda3 Premium sits at the top of the lineup, starting at $27,395 for the sedan and $28,395 for the hatchback. All-wheel drive and manual-transmissions (the latter a hatchback-only option) are expected to be available at launch. Fuel economy figures are currently unavailable due to the government shutdown, but you can expect the new Mazda3 to score around 27/36/30 mpg city/highway/combined, like the old model.
Ultimately, Mazda’s preoccupation with the pelvis seems to have paid off. The new 2019 Mazda3 captures the fun-to-drive spirit of the Mazda we know and love, while delivering on the entry-level luxury experience that might actually give Audi A3 and Mercedes CLA buyers some pause.
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