Dance Ten, Looks Eight, as they say in Chorus Line. The 2019 Mazda3 hatchback, just shipping, is a high water mark for affordable sporty cars that perform. Mazda chopped 8 inches and 100 pounds from the almost-as-new Mazda3 sedan. The hatchback is quick on dry, wet, and snowy pavement. The interior defines class-above. Mazda has become Asia’s affordable BMW, meaning great technology and upscale performance, without BMW’s lofty prices.
Against that, there is the rear of the car as seen from the side or three-quarter profile. The design team aced all the other angles and then, some might say, ran short on ideas at the point where the roof and flanks curve into the back end. There’s also some sticker shock when you see the Monroney price sheet on the side window: $ 29K for a loaded Mazda3 hatch. It’s only over time you will appreciate what a complete car the Mazda3 is.
The Mazda3 5-Door, as it’s also called by Mazda, turns the Mazda3 sedan into even more of a driver’s car. For instance: Mazda of offers a six-speed manual and it’s on the top trim line, not the entry trim line that on most other cars means it’s for people too cheap to pay for automatics. Intelligent all-wheel-drive is offered and, as we found driving on an ice-and-snow road course in Squaw Valley, CA, it provides very good traction — even better traction with winter tires, and including the ability to rotate (steer) the rear end around a sharp turn. Many AWD cars just plow straight ahead, figuring that’s the safest thing to do.
Better Switches, Better Handling, Better Safety
Mazda’s attention to detail borders on obsessive. All the switchgear was reworked, so there’s the same feel, the same pressure to engage a switch, the same light resistance to turn a knob 45 or 90 degrees. The 8.8-inch center stack LCD is located higher up and a couple of inches farther back now that it’s no longer a touchscreen. The center stack switches are up higher, too. The point is: Everything should be closer to the driver’s line of sight. (An aside to short friends who saw my social media pix of the Mazda center stack: I’m not so tall, either. You’ll have no problem seeing over the display as it’s not very tall, about 8 inches wide by 3 high.) The center of the instrument panel is a bright, reconfigurable 7-inch LCD.
On the road, the car just feels … good. It is quick, about 7 seconds 0-60 mph, and carves smoothly through turns. Credit G-Vectoring Control Plus, the second iteration of Mazda G-Vectoring. The first GVC imperceptibly reduced engine power and shifted a bit of weight forward when you came off the throttle, for more front-end grip and smoother arcs through turns. Mazda says, “GVC Plus uses the brakes to add direct yaw moment control for further enhanced handling stability … realiz[ing] consistently smooth transitions between yaw, roll and pitch even under high cornering forces.” Howzat? Try this: Coming out of a corner, as the driver returns the steering wheel to center, GVC Plus lightly brakes the outer wheels. That creates a “stabilizing moment” that returns the car to straight-line driving.
The Mazda3 hatchback on snow-and-ice course in Squaw Valley, CA. Car tracked smoothly into and out of corners.
GVC-Plus on Thin Ice, and Snow
To show off, Mazda called on a team that builds winter X-Games action action sports competition surfaces to create an uphill, downhill, emergency-lane-change course for cars at Squaw Valley, CA. Not only was the course challenging, it was also a work of art. (Most snow courses are done quickly with backhoes and bulldozers.) Mazda engineers also outfitted a car with a disable switch so drivers could discern differences attributable to GVC-Plus. With GVC-Plus off, the hatchback and comparison 2019 sedan, felt competent. With GVC-Plus enabled, they felt more competent going around corners. An emergency lane change (photo above) created less drama and higher speed with GVC Plus. Mostly, you’ll just believe you’re a better driver.
Winter is now ending in the Northern Hemisphere, but it’s worth a recap on all-season versus winter tires, and two versus four driven wheels. In a nutshell: A front-drive car with all-season tires stopped halfway up an uphill lane struggled to get restarted. (A summer-tires cars would have not gotten up the hill.) Adding Mazda’s all-wheel-drive was a significant improvement, and even more so was adding winter tires on all four wheels.
For the driver, the armrest was widened and the bottle-holders moved forward of the shifter, making it easier to operate Mazda Commander, their take on BMW iDrive. It works okay, but there is no fallback to touchscreen operations for some tasks, so spend time learning it and the voice commands. On the downside, Mazda is a little stingy with two USB sockets to share among five occupants.
The Mazda3 Hatchback (5-Door), the gray car on top, is 8 inches shorter than the sedan (bottom), all taken off the back end. Rear legroom and headroom are about the same and the hatch holds more cargo.
Mazda3 Hatchback Trim Lines
The hatchback Mazda3 comes in three trim lines. The hatchback runs $ 1,000 more than comparable sedans. Mazda’s excellent all-wheel-drive adds $ 1,400 over front-drive. All hatchbacks include a four-cylinder Mazda Skyactive-G (gasoline) engine producing 186 hp and 186 pound-feet of torque, cylinder deactivation (four down to two when loafing along), G-Vectoring Control Plus, redesigned seats that help the driver be more as one with the car (Mazba’s jinba ittai, or horse and rider as one, philosophy), a retuned body shell (for stiffness and quiet ride), and a simpler rear suspension (damping noise as well as road bumps, Mazda says).
All trim lines get Mazda i-ActiveSense, the company’s name for its now-comprehensive safety suite. It comprises, on the hatchback (and above the base trim on the sedan):
- Drowsy driver alert (new); “Driver Attention Alert” in Mazda terminology
- Lane departure warning/lane keep assist assist
- Blind spot monitoring/rear cross traffic alert
- Forward collision and braking / Smart City Brake Support
- Adaptive cruise control (“Mazda Radar Cruise”)
Mazda is not yet ready to turn its drivers over to the tender mercies of semi-autonomous driving. If, for instance, Mazda had lane centering assist (centers car between lane markings on highways) instead of lane keep assist (steers away from lane markings), then it would have a Level 2 self-drive car. Not us, says Mazda.
Mazda3 base model, $ 24,495 for front-drive, $ 25,895 for AWD. (All prices here add the $ 895 freight.) Standard equipment includes Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, keyless entry, push-button start, 18-inch wheels, and i-ActiveSense safety features. Note: The base hatchback is $ 2,600 more than the base sedan and even $ 1,000 more than the Mazda3 Select sedan, but the latter is a closer match on equipment, so this should be called the Select hatchback (but isn’t).
Mazda3 Preferred, $ 26,095 FWD/$ 27,495 AWD. The Preferred adds a 12-speaker Bose audio system (exceptional quality; bring FLAC or lossless music on a USB key), a power driver’s seat, and heated front seats.
Mazda3 Premium $ 28,395 FWD 6-speed manual or automatic/$ 29,795 AWD automatic only. The Premium adds a real head-up display (succeeding Mazda’s “combiner” or collimator, the plastic-thingie “Active Driving Display” atop the instrument panel), leather seats, LED headlamps and taillights, and a sunroof.
Unlike automakers with many, many standalone options packs, there are only three for Mazda, and all are paint options: $ 200 for Snowflake White Pearl Mica paint, $ 300 for Machine Gray Metallic, and $ 595 for Soul Red Crystal. Dealer-install options include Qi wireless charging and onboard navigation.
When automakers talk about “class above” quality, this is what they mean.
Should You Buy? (Probably Yes)
Mazda US sales peaked in 1986, now are 15,000 below the 2015 plateau.
If you have the extra $ 2,000-$ 5,000 to spend versus a mainstream compact sedan or hatchback, the Mazda3 hatchback is the car to get. It will handle better, bring more smiles to your face, and be quieter than average. The Mazda3, as a sedan or hatchback, is the rebirth of the BMW 2002, with all due respect to VW GTIs. Mazda is a little company doing great things. Two decades ago, Mazda with flirted with 400,000 sales. Last year it just got back over 300,000 sales and half those were the Mazda CX-5, the company’s best car. The Mazda3 last year accounted for another 23 percent. That leaves the CX-3 and CX-9 SUVs, Mazda6 midsize sedan, and MX-5 Miata to share sixty-some thousand sales four ways. Mazda needs one more hit to be on firmer footing and the best contender would be the CX-3 subcompact, in our opinion.
Get the hatchback if you want a little more performance and if you’re okay with the looks on side-rear corners. Surprisingly, rear seat room legroom and headroom are barely affected by the hatchback version. Still, both are snug. The Mazda3 sedan looks more Civic-Corolla-Forte whitebread mainstream outside, with all respect to Kodo Design, while the side rear of the hatchback is distinctive.
There’s nothing wrong with the base trim Mazda3 hatch, and nothing major is missing that you wish you had. The bang for the buck winner is the Preferred. The Premium is the only way to get the six-speed manual, even if it’s not going to be much different on acceleration than the automatic. All-wheel-drive is beyond good. Try to find the extra $ 1,400 to make it happen. G-Vectoring Control is real and it’s useful, not a software gimmick.
The Mazda3 hatchback in terms of perceived value is a replay of the Hyundai Kona subcompact crossover debut a year ago: Buyers whistled in amazement that such a little car cost so much ($ 30K loaded), especially when the decent Nissan Kicks was just out, too, and cost at least five grand less. Same thing here with Mazda: You have to drive the Mazda3 or Mazda3 hatch for a while to appreciate what a good car you’ve got. You’ll experience that in the fit and finish of the cockpit and driving quality. The new Mazda hatch has all the right stuff, and if you’re serious about driving, go for the hatch over the sedan.
Now, if only Mazda stuffed the 250-hp 2.5-liter turbo in the hatchback. You know, put another zoom in Zoom-Zoom. The turbo happened, eventually, to the CX-5 and look how it’s selling now.
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