When it comes to affordable compact cars, Mazda may be the most restrained manufacturer on the planet right now. While other companies are offering aggressive designs (Honda Civic), high-performance versions (Civic, VW Golf), and electric power (Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius Prime), the redesigned 2019 Mazda3 is basically a more refined version of the previous version. The biggest news is availability of all-wheel-drive (like the Nissan Altima), not an optional turbocharged engine or plug-in hybrid powerplant.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. A refined compact is actually a pretty big deal. Most affordable small cars have a few shortcomings that help keep the costs down — ride quality, road noise, substandard interior materials, limited options, and so on.
But not the redesigned Mazda3, which is available as a sedan or four-door hatchback. We testsed the sedan, which looks and drives like a scaled down version of the Mazda6, one of the best midsize sedans on the market today. Practically everything about it has been upgraded, including the exterior styling and interior materials. It borders on luxury car quality for thousands less.
Although some of the styling changes are subtle, one big improvement is the better intergration of the 8-inch display screen into the upper dash. It does not look like an afterthought anymore. The control knob and buttons on the center console are still easy to figure out and use. The steering when and heads up display are also much improved.
The new AWD option is a version of the i-ACTIV system which is already available on Mazda's crossovers. It should prove popular among Pacific Northwest buyer because of its better traction in wet conditions. The redesigned Mazda3 also includes the company's industry-unique G Vectoring Control Plus system, which improves steering response shifting weight forward onto the front tires when the driver turns the steering wheel, improving grip.
Some reviewers have said the normally-aspirated SkyActiv 2.5-liter inline four cylinder engine is underpowered. This was a fair criticism when the engine was the largest available in the bigger Mazda6 and CX-5 crossover, which is why the company is offering a turbocharged verion in them this year.
But it's not really so much of an issue in the Mazda3, which only weighs a little over 3,000 pounds. There is also a sport mode activiated by a switch on the center consule that increases throttle response, and a manual shift mode with the six-speed automatic transmission for those who want to maximize perfomance.
Nevertheless, Mazda is planning on offering its upcoming SkyActiv-X engine in the Mazda3 later this year. It reportedly employs compression ignition like a diesel engine to generate more power and increased mileage.
Mazda is charting its own course with the redesigned Mazda3, betting there is a market for a high quality compact car that is not chasing trends but focused on across-the-board improvements. After a week of test driving, including both short and long trips, we think they made the right choice.
2019 Mazda3 AWD sedan
Base price: $21,895
Price as tested: $27,980
Type: Compact sedan
Engine: 2.5-liter inline 4 (186 hp, 186 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Overall length: 183.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,248 pounds
Final assembly: Hofu, Japan
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