Full disclaimer up front: On our morning radio show, one of our sponsors is a Mazda dealership in the Denver/Boulder area. They have nothing to do with this review, nor did I get the car from them.
However, it was through them that I heard about the Mazda 3 picking up all-wheel drive for the first time. So when I found one parked in my driveway, mine to mess with for a week, I was curious how this newly-designed 3 would perform.
My basic review is that I truly enjoyed this car, with only two minor exceptions — and one of those has a work-around. The other is simply another result of the nanny state we’re forced to live with.
For 2019 the Mazda 3 has been fully redesigned, the 4th generation of this model. If you’re only familiar with the older versions, trust me, in many ways this is a big leap forward.
The Mazda 3 is available as a sedan or a hatchback. I drove the hatchback (with the aforementioned all-wheel drive).
Each is powered by a Skyactiv 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 186 horsepower. There’s been some rumbling that this particular engine doesn’t do the car justice, and plenty of car buffs are anxiously awaiting the upgraded Skyactiv (a version called Skyactiv-X) which Mazda says is coming very soon.
They identify their trim levels as “packages,” of which there are four. The base (actually called Base), the Select, Preferred, and the Premium packages.
It’s worth checking out the variety of upgrades and additional bells and whistles applied to each of these trim levels to find the set that works best for you and your budget.
I drove the Premium version of the hatchback.
My first impression of the newly-designed exterior was underwhelming. But then a day or two went by and I began to appreciate its lines and styling. In fact, I gradually became a fan.
The lesson, I suppose, is don’t judge this car too quickly.
Here’s one of the places where the Mazda engineers really scored. Everything from the interior styling to the actual comfort and feel is a serious upgrade from the old 3.
The seats themselves are comfortable, and the layout couldn’t be better. I enjoyed the display of the dash, the feel of the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, all the way down to the slight angling of the screen to make it easier for the driver.
(Caveat: that screen does seem a bit too far away.)
The cockpit is well-designed for a good driving experience. I’d go so far as to say that materials quality is pretty darn close to luxury car standards. It was that nice, and feels more expensive than it is.
Controls are knobs and buttons, for the most part. There is a control wheel, but it’s certainly not as obnoxious as those found on other cars.
One of the few places the Mazda 3 comes up short is in real estate for your backseat passengers. It’s a bit of a tight fit, but I don’t think anyone buys this car to carry around an entire rugby team.
Storage space up front is surprisingly generous given the overall size of the car. You even get some bonus cubbies for the driver and front passenger.
Storage in the back is about average for the segment, however you do get a 60/40 folding rear seat to help out.
High marks in this department. No, it won’t blow you away with its acceleration, but it’s also not a slug. Getting up to speed on the highway is no problem whatsoever.
I found the drive to be sporty and fun, with good steering and handling.
Road noise is kept to a minimum, and the overall comfort is first class.
As mentioned above, some are anxious for the updated Skyactiv engine, but unless you’re a serious gear-head, I think you’ll be very pleased with the way the 3 drives.
And now, with all-wheel drive available, Mazda has clearly upped its game for people in Colorado and other winter-weather states.
The screen on the dash is somewhat oddly-shaped, but the picture is crisp and clear. Everything jumps out at you and is clearly defined. It might be better if it was a touchscreen, but oh well.
Lately I’ve had connection issues with certain cars when it comes to Apple CarPlay, but I had none of those problems with this Mazda. It worked like a charm each time.
I hinted that there were a couple of irritations. I, for one, abhor cars that self-lock when you get out. How many times have you just wanted to run out to your car in the garage to get something out of the back seat — only to find the damned thing has locked itself, and you have to trudge back inside to get the fob.
The good news is that this feature can be disabled. You should do so before you even drive off the lot. What a ridiculous feature.
The other is the automatic parking brake that is engaged every time you put the car in park and shut it off. That, too, can be an annoyance.
For this, you simply have to apply some pressure to the accelerator and it will disengage itself. However, you do have to meet certain conditions. It won’t remove the parking break unless you:
Close the car door
Start the engine
Have your seatbelt secured
Yes, mother. I’m now ready to drive.
The Bottom Line
Okay, so it’s not a perfect car. But the Mazda 3 is pretty darn close.
It looks good (even if it has to grow on you), it drives well, and the interior has a feel that seems like it’s worth more than you paid.
It’s a fun, sporty ride that may not have the best gas mileage of all the cars in its category, but it’s not off by much.
Kudos to Mazda for a redesign that actually accomplished a lot. This is a very good choice.
2019 Mazda 3 Hatchback Premium
2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine
6-speed automatic transmission
All-wheel drive available
Fuel economy: 24/32/27 combined
As tested: $31,335
Reviewed by Dom Testa
Vehicle provided by manufacturer