The compact segment is one of the only “car” classes that still booming, with growing interest in crossovers of all shapes and sizes. This year marks a redesign for two of the biggest players, the Toyota Corolla and the Mazda3. Mazda has taken a page out of Subaru’s book, offering a true all-wheel-drive rival to their Impreza in the new Mazda3. We have tested the all-wheel-drive version as well as the five-door, but the volume seller is the 2019 Mazda3 GS Sedan, tested here in a gorgeous Soul Red Crystal Metallic.
From an appearance standpoint, the new Mazda3 is a real stunner. The five-door Sport is the real looker, though the redesigned sedan also displays bold styling and a handsome overall profile. LED headlights are standard, and the chrome accents on the fascia complete the look nicely. The GS model gets 16-inch alloy wheels, which are smart to look at, though a bit on the small side considering the overall size and shape of the wheel wells. The Soul Red Crystal paint is easily the most beautiful red colour available on any current mainstream vehicle.
While two powertrains are available on the Mazda3, the entry-level GS gets a 2.0L SKYACTIV-G inline four-cylinder with a 13.0:1 compression ratio. Output is 155 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 150 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000RPM. Frankly, while decently efficient, this powertrain is the biggest disappointment with the new car. Considering its aggressive styling, one expects the Mazda3 to have some pep to it. Wrong – the awkward gearing from the transmission means downshifting multiple gears is necessary for just about any maneuver. It needs another 30-40 lb-ft. of torque, which can be had with the 2.5L engine in higher trim levels.
The powertrain may be a downfall, but the six-speed manual transmission makes up for it. The gearing is a bit tall and efficiency-focused, but the shifter is a joy to row through the gears with, and the light clutch action is a dream to drive in the city. All-wheel-drive variants of the Mazda3 are restricted to an automatic, and we can foresee the third pedal going extinct in coming years, but for now, it’s a great option to have.
When the new Mazda3 was launched, the torsion beam rear suspension setup was a huge complaint from armchair critics on the Internet. After spending roughly 500km behind the wheel, we can say it isn’t quite as bad as it’s made out to be, though it could be a lot better. Ride quality is decent, and while it’s not quite as planted as the 2020 Toyota Corolla (reviewed here), the Mazda3 GS is a joy to push around corners. Steering is well weighted and sharp, and this is the handling pick of the compact bunch.
Fuel economy for the GS model with the six-speed manual is rated at 8.7L/100km city and 6.4L/100km highway. Our test averaged 8.0L/100km in combined driving, which is right within the predicted numbers. As expected in this segment, 87-octane regular fuel is all that the Mazda3 needs. One slightly odd point is the digital gauge for theoretical driving range, which can be extremely confusing with the analog gas gauge right beside it. A simple digital display of remaining kilometers would suffice, and be more space-efficient too.
The new Mazda3 has an exceptionally nice interior for an economy car, by far the best in the segment. It’s premium in terms of look and feel, with stunning materials throughout the dashboard, door panels, and even the infotainment display. There are some plastics around the cabin, though sparingly used, and rarely in frequently touched areas. Front and rear legroom is more than adequate, with decent headroom in our non-sunroof sedan as well.
Build quality is decent and appears high quality, however the “SKYACTIV” philosophy extends from the powertrain to lightweight material throughout to ensure maximum weight savings. Unfortunately, this means a lot of bits feel a bit tinny and too light. This includes the doors and trunklid, which sound fairly cheap when closing, and noise insulation in the cabin seems to be lacking, as well. The Mazda3 GS is louder than expected, especially at highway speeds, transmitting far too much road and wind noise to the driver’s ears.
Tech in the Mazda3 is built around an 8.8-inch display that runs the latest version of the Mazda Connect infotainment system. It features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment, and has two USB ports to charge devices. This system has brilliant graphics and is a vast improvement over the dated setup it replaces. The new controller is easy to use, and a new volume knob tilts left and right to allow for track skipping or tuning.
Pricing for the 2019 Mazda3 in sedan form starts at $18,000, with the GS adding a series of features for a reasonable $22,700. At this price you get the full gamut of active safety tech including adaptive cruise control, Smart City Brake Support, and lane keep assist. This model also gets full LED headlights, heated front seats and steering wheel, and push button start. However, please note that the remote must still be used to lock and unlock the doors – there is no proximity sensor.
There is a huge number of trim levels available for the new Mazda3, from the base model sedan with a manual, to the top-trim Sport GT AWD, and many in between. This 2019 Mazda3 GS Sedan goes head to head with the Honda Civic LX and Toyota Corolla SE, offering competitive pricing and all of the features that buyers really want. If punchy handling and an upscale interior is at the top of the priority list, the Mazda3 is the ticket. If you favour value more, or ride quality, you may want to veer towards the Corolla.
2020 Toyota Corolla XSE
2019 Subaru Impreza Sport 5-door
2019 Mazda3 Sport GT