Mazda3 Hatchback — Head of the class

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The updated 2019 Mazda3, which comes in sedan and hatchback configuration, is a good example of why Mazda has earned the reputation for building high quality well-engineered and superbly designed cars and crossovers with luxury-like interiors. In the case of the Mazda3 you can add precise handling, an energetic engine, and decent gas mileage.

Additionally, Mazda has added all-wheel drive as an option for just $800 to give drivers a viable choice. And Mazda has made the previous optional engine — a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder — the standard powerplant across the lineup endowing all Mazda3's with 186 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque.

The 2019 Mazda3 retains its basic shape, but designers have thoroughly revised the front of the car with thinner headlights, and a more rounded signature grille with chrome surrounds that extend under the headlights. The side has been cleaned up with the elimination of character lines. It's a handsome car in both sedan and hatchback configurations.

While the sedan at a 183.5 inches in length is about eight inches longer than the hatchback, we favor the hatch not only for its sexier styling, but for its practicality with 20 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. And like a crossover the hatchback can expand cargo space with the rear seatbacks folded.

The Mazda3's standard 186 horsepower is considerably more than virtually every other compact sedan including the 2020 Toyota Corolla (169), Honda Civic (158), Hyundai Elantra (147), and Kia Forte (147). The problem for some would-be buyers is that nameplates such as the Civic and Elantra have bigger optional engines available.

Where the Mazda trails the competition is in gas mileage, which is EPA-rated at 24 city, 32 highway and 27 combined for the hatchback in AWD on regular gas. Opt for font drive and mileage is slightly better at 26/35/30. The two-wheel drive sedan is rated at 27/36/30. By comparison the new Corolla is rated at 31/40/34 and the Civic has an EPA rating of 32/42/36.

We found the non-turbocharged 2.5-liter four an eager companion in all driving situations. We were pleased with the performance in our hatchback, which has been measured in the mid-7-second range from 0-to-60, and we found the shifts from the six-speed automatic smooth and responsive. To get the most out of the transmission, switch from normal to sport mode. The Mazda3 has been known for its excellent handling and our test car did not disappoint on our rural paved road "test track" taking the twists and turns in a confidence-inspiring manner, displaying quick and precise steering with good road feel.

While the suspension aided our aggressive driving, it also offered a compliant, comfortable ride that should please virtually all passengers although braking through engineered humps and bumps is recommended. That and a relatively quiet cabin gave the Mazda3 a premium car feel.

We think Mazda shines best with its new interiors. The color combinations are striking and the material is first class befitting an entry-level luxury car such as an Audi A3 or a BMW 3 Series. The cabin detailing is important and Mazda has grasped that fact better than any other mainstream brand.

The dashboard is conservatively handsome and the switchgear is intuitive. Gauges are easy to see and understand. The infotainment screen is attractively imbedded at the top of the dash and the icons are clear and easy to access by a control wheel behind the shifter. Climate controls in the center stack are also clear and easy to use. And we like the placement of the radio volume knob on the center console.

While the sedan comes in a bare bones base model, the hatchback skips base and comes in Select, Preferred and Premium packages. "Base" hatchbacks come with the Select package, which includes 18-inch wheels, keyless entry, simulated leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. Safety features include forward collision warning with emergency braking, blindspot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, a driver attention monitor, and lane keep assist. MSRP is $24,520.

The Preferred package, which raises the price to $26,120, adds such things as power-adjustable driver's seat, driver-seat memory, heated front seats and a 12-speaker Bose audio system with satellite radio.

The Premium package such as found in our test car, which also came with AWD, adds adaptive headlights, a sunroof, head-up display, leather upholstery and black-painted wheels. Premium raises the price to $29,820. Our test car with a few low-cost options carried a bottom line of $31,335.

Base price: $24,520; as driven, $31,335
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 186 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 186 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 107.3 inches
Length: 183.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,255 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 20.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 24 city, 32 highway, 27 combined
Also consider: Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Volkswagen Golf

The Good
• High-quality interior
• Healthy base engine
• Excellent handling traits

The Bad
• Backseat legroom below average

The Ugly
• Small cargo capacity for segment