New Mazda 3: 'The MX-5 was a testbed for how far we could push it'

Published: 29 November 2018

 New 2019 Mazda 3 is here
 Confirmed for LA auto show 
 First spy and official pics 

You’re looking at the all-new Mazda 3, unveiled in hatchback and saloon guise at the 2019 Los Angeles motor show and due in UK showrooms by May 2019 priced from around £23k. It’s an important launch for the Japanese car maker: it's the brand's biggest-selling car globally and it's spearheading the bid to head upmarket and overtake Volkswagen for the premiumness of its mainstream cars. It’s a big ask.

How can it secure such lofty bragging rights? By launching a new look, as the company evolves the Kodo design bible, and wrapping the fresh, cleaner style around the latest global platform dubbed Skyactiv-Vehicle Architecture, the oily bits which herald the company’s first mild hybrids and an exciting new combustion tech called Skyactiv-X SPCCI.

SPCCI what?

It stands for Spark Plug Controlled Compression Ignition, a new combustion process that mixes the best bits of gasoline and diesel engine operation, combining spark ignition and compression combustion in a petrol engine for the first time in volume production. Why? It is claimed to offer significantly improved fuel consumption and emissions, combined with decent torque, drivability and response. 

Mazda engineers who've driven it tell CAR magazine that it still sounds and behaves like a petrol engine, but with the low-down torque of a diesel car. 'It just doesn't give up with a narrow power band like a diesel,' said European boss Jeff Guyton.

Read our tech explainer on SPCCI here

New 2019 Mazda 3 hatchback

We’ve already driven prototypes with Skyactiv-X SPCCI and our tech correspondent Ian Adcock reported it was potentially one of the biggest mainstream engine advances in decades. This is the sole model that will be available with all-wheel drive and will be as close to a hot hatch as you'll find - no MPS version is currently planned.

What’s all this about hybrids on the new Mazda 3?

They're standard across the range, though these are not full hybrids. Mazda is rolling out its new M Hybrid system, a mild set-up designed to harvest the energy wasted under deceleration to top up batteries onboard and reduce the drain on the car’s systems from running niceties such as the climate control and interior entertainment. The engine will cut out for longer and faster when coming to a halt, saving fuel.

Our guide to the best hybrids and plug-ins

The engine line-up in European Mazda 3 cars looks like this:

  • 1.5-litre petrol Skyactiv-G
  • 2.0-litre petrol Skyactiv-G
  • 2.0 petrol Skyactiv-X SPCCI
  • 1.8-litre turbodiesel Skyactiv-D

Note also the availability in America and wintry climates of i-Activ AWD (yes, there are lots of techy acronyms and gadgetry names on this car). This four-wheel drive Mazda 3 will be brought to the UK for the first time, although its primary focus in Europe will be on Alpine countries such as Switzerland and Scandinavia. Its 4wd system is claimed to be 60% more efficient than before, with fewer transmission losses - and it'll include a few handling tricks, understood to include torque vectoring, rather than just being about extra traction in slippery conditions.

Mazda 3 AWD with four-wheel drive 4wd

Suspension is by class-standard MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear. Many rivals nowadays have more sophisticated multi-link rear axles, so it will be interesting to see if Mazda can make the ride/handling balance class-leading with a simpler solution. Nearly a third of the structure uses high-strength steel, compared with just 3% of the outgoing model, so this should be a stiff, strong vehicle to the benefit of cornering, ride comfort and passive safety.

New Mazda 3: design story

You won’t mistake the new 3 for anything but a Mazda, but the rising side window line with a prominent kink, the supersized grille and slimline, roundel light graphics (shades of MX-5?) are eye-catchingly fresh. This represents a new design chapter for the brand, as it evolves the familiar Kodo wardrobe pioneered in 2010 with the CX-5 and 2012’s 6. The Soul Of Motion creed has arguably been one of the most successful mainstream design mantras in recent years, but the Japanese are keen to move on. We just hope they don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater...

If you remember the RX-Vision concept car from 2015 and the Vision Coupe from 2017’s Tokyo motor show, you’ll get the idea. It’s about ‘higher levels of depth and sophistication,’ the designers claim, and they’ll ask you to observe the lack of fussy styling lines along the metalwork. For evidence, see the headlamps, which are remarkably pared-back units with the minimum of adornment (this goes against the craze for techfest lights).

New Mazda 3 hatchback and saloon

Design chiefs told CAR they didn't want to rest on their laurels; despite having a favourable family look, they decided to push ahead with Kodo v2 anyway - so they don't get stale. Head of exterior design Yasutake Tsuchida told CAR they wanted to amplify the artistry of the Mazda 3: 'We used the MX-5 as something of a "jolt" to see how far we could push Kodo. We wanted to be more radical. We will push the design envelope more in future: some of our products will be more dignified, others more emotional. There will be more bandwidth for more variation in our range.'

Two Mazda 3 models will be sold: the hatchback and a saloon, both coming to the UK in right-hand drive. The five-door looks surprisingly different (and a little challenging from some angles; that Impreza-esque C-pillar makes it a tad dark and dingy on the rear bench) whereas the sedan is more of a mini-me 6 copycat. There’s even something of a BMW-effect Hofmeister kink on the saloon.

Expect the hatch to take the lion’s share of British sales (the four-door has only ever accounted for 10-15% of UK sales).

Tell me about the interior of the new Mazda 3

It’s all change inside, too - it’s obviously a Mazda cabin, but it’s peppered with changes designed to make travelling in a 3 ‘feel more natural’. Seriously: Mazda has undertaken oodles of research looking at how humans counteract forces when walking to make this interior more relaxing and the seating position is said to use this knowledge to great effect.

Mazda 3 interior and cabin

It's a well made, high-quality cabin as you might expect, without being too OTT or overtly premium. New features include:

  • MZD Connect infotainment system upgraded: now includes a digital manual and easier to use iDrive-style controller 
  • Improved seating position and adjustment (now with cushion tilt as standard)
  • Steering wheel gains an inch of extra movement
  • 8.8-inch digital display with improved logic and UX
  • Thinner windscreen A-pillars to improve visibility
  • Uprated Bose stereo system with a minimum of eight speakers as standard
  • i-Activsense: a new driver attention and drowsiness system which monitor if drivers are paying attention behind the wheel. Woe betide you if you’re not paying attention
  • Active cruise control, including the ability to take over traffic jam start-stop driving
  • Head-up display now built into the dashtop to project onto the windscreen, not a pop-up plastic shield

Sounds good. So when can I buy the new 2019 Mazda 3 and how much will it cost?

The car is making its debut at this week’s Los Angeles motor show and European dealers will start sales in the spring. Mazda UK managing director Jeremy Thomson told CAR magazine that UK showrooms would start selling the Mazda 3 in February, with first customer deliveries due in May 2019.

It’s too early to confirm exact prices, but we expect a modest price increase, pointing to a starting cost around the £23k benchmark. Today's car (below) starts at £20,595.

UK managing director Jeremy Thomson confirmed that 80% of new Mazdas sold in the UK are financed, typically with low-interest PCPs and loans of between 0-4% APR. 'Becuase of our lower volumes and the fact that we are not pushing out cars from a factory in to a distressed marketplace, we protect our residual values. That is why we can - and will - continue to offer attractive finance offerings.'

The outgoing 2018 Mazda 3 hatchback in the UK

The Mazda 3 is an important car for the brand; since launch in 2003, it has notched up more than 6 million sales worldwide. Tellingly, many of those have been in the US (hence the American launchpad) and Asia, but the importer hopes its new upmarket focus will swell its appeal in the UK this time round. European chief Guyton said that Mazda sold around 40,000 3s over here.

We’ll be driving it in spring 2019 and will publish our full Mazda 3 review as soon as we’ve got behind the wheel.

Earlier spyshots of the new Mazda 3 benchmarking against VW Golf and Audi's A3

Before its motor show debut, our spies caught the new 3 testing alongside its rival benchmarks, the VW Golf and Audi A3. It's a tellingly Germanic target that Mazda is aiming for.

New 2019 Mazda 3 benchmarking against VW Golf and Audi A3

Our man with the long lens got up and close to the new five-door when it was out and about on late prototype testing in Europe. This convoy of rivals (above) was an interesting autumnal spot.

Note also the outgoing Mazda 3 at the end of the line-up; engineers are benchmarking the old 3 against its replacement on all key measures.

Full LA auto show preview guide

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

Comments