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New Mazda 3 (2019) review: raising the game

Published:27 January 2019

The new Mazda 3 from the front: very striking
  • At a glance
  • 5 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Kyle Fortune

CAR contributor and fan of going fast - on four wheels and two skis

By Kyle Fortune

CAR contributor and fan of going fast - on four wheels and two skis

► Slick new 2019 Mazda 3 review
► We've driven the new hatch in the US
► Still waiting for UK's Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre

Jinba Ittai. Translated that’s horse and rider, and Mazda’s engineers are rather fond of it. It’s been something of a focus for them with the new 3, which, in this world where every car manufacturer seemingly wants to rob you of control from the actual process of driving is rather refreshing.

With the new 2019 Mazda 3 they’ve done lots of work on the driver, then, rather than the driver aids. They are, of course, there, the 3 not devoid of things like driver monitoring, lane-keeping assist and suchlike. They’re all bundled under its Co-Pilot Concept, and, if the 3 is to get anything like approaching a five-star Euro NCAP score they need to be.

Unlike so many the 3’s rivals though, it’s largely devoid of the beeps, flashing lights and downright interference now common with such systems, working in support, rather than front of house.

That human-centric approach is evident everywhere: they’ve worked exhaustively on how the new 3 moves, in a bid to make it feel as natural as walking. Everything, from the seat - to better position the driver’s pelvis - to the sidewall stiffness of the tyre has been honed to deliver that goal. Trust us, we sat through hours of PowerPoint presentations and workshops to demonstrate this.

How does the new 2019 Mazda 3 drive?

Usually, the more manufacturers talk the more sceptical we get, but on the road the Mazda 3 delivers. Quite simply, the Mazda 3 drives beautifully. The technically minded might spot torsion beam rear suspension instead of the old car’s multi-link rear axle, but you’ll not notice it on the road. The ride comfort is perfectly judged, that achieved, too, with the sort of precise agility that’s become something of a Mazda signature.

We’re in a European-specification 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol, with a six-speed manual, but in the USA. Specifically Los Angeles Crest Highway, a ribbon of tarmac that meanders up the mountainside, in a manner most unbecoming of US roads. It’s twisty, brilliantly so, and the Mazda 3 reveals its beautifully balanced chassis, fine steering weighting and feel and easy, crisp gearshift.

That gearshift is key here, as the climb away from the city’s grid-patterned streets revealing the deficiencies in the 2.0-litre petrol engine’s output. There’s 120bhp and 157lb ft, which is just about adequate around town, but somewhat lacking when the road gets interesting, which it is here.

Even so, there’s real ability, the 3’s chassis got what it takes to put it right at the top of the class in the ride and handling department, it just needs an engine to better exploit it.

Wait for the Skyactiv-X engines...

It is coming. Indeed, the Mazda 3 will also feature an innovative new Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder when it’s launched in the UK. It uses a new SPCCI Spark Controlled Compression Ignition, mixing diesel combustion technology with petrol to enable super lean burn yet improved performance. The benefits are plentiful, with economy some 20-30% greater than the standard 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G we’re driving here, yet with more power and torque.

Mazda's SPCCI tech explained

It needs that, here at least, though Mazda’s work on refinement is clear when wringing the conventional 2.0-litre engine out as is required. It’s quiet. Elsewhere that work on NVH pays dividends: the cabin isolating noise beautifully, be it wind, or road - the latter doubly impressive on the difficult combed concrete and expansion jointed surfaces that make up a good proportion of America’s highway network.

What's the new Mazda 3 like inside?

The cabin exhibits that human-centric approach, too. It’s neatly finished, the materials and quality reaching the point where Mazda can be muttered alongside premium brands with real conviction. Unusually, Mazda has bucked the current trend for touchscreens, actually removing it, and adding buttons.

Doing so means it can re-position the central screen to a more suitable viewing position to mean less time for your eyes refocusing from it to the road ahead. It's all controlled by a simple dial with supplementary controls that make the sub-menu touchscreen prodding of rival systems look hilariously clumsy. Not once did any of those engineers mention apps or connectivity, either, which is doubly refreshing. 

The instrumentation is simple too, with the central speedometer being a configurable screen, Mazda keeping the choices limited, to the benefit of clarity and usefulness. There’s a head-up display for the most pertinent of information, and that's apparently going to be standard equipment in the UK.

Impressive, yes, but it’s not all good news... Rear seat space isn’t particularly accommodating, and while the 3’s striking looks are hugely appealing, the trade-off is pretty poor over the shoulder visibility.

The boot’s a bit stingy, too, indeed, it’s not much bigger than the loadbay of its Mazda 2 relation.

New Mazda 3: verdict

Less packhorse, then, and more race horse – at least it should be when it gets the engine it deserves. Even without it though the new Mazda 3 is an impressive newcomer in the busy family hatchback marketplace, depending, of course, on your priorities.

If you’re reading it here, we think you might find it just your kind of car. And enjoy driving it.

More Mazda reviews by CAR magazine

Specs

Price when new: £18,500
On sale in the UK: Spring 2019
Engine: 1998cc four-cylinder petrol, 120bhp @ 6000rpm, 157lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 0-62mph 8.6 est 124mph est, 44.8mpg, 119g/km CO2
Weight / material: tbc kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4460/1795/1435

Rivals

Other Models

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Photo Gallery

  • The new Mazda 3 straight on. It'll look different with UK plates, of course
  • The new Mazda 3 gets even better for 2019
  • New Mazda 3: side profile
  • New Mazda 3:rear three-quarter shot
  • New Mazda 3: from afar
  • New Mazda 3 in the forest. It's more conventional looking from the rear, then
  • The Skyactiv-G is okay, but the X is the version we're waiting for
  • New Mazda 3: boot space is stingy
  • New Mazda 3: rear light detail
  • New Mazda 3: so. much. grille.
  • New Mazda 3: interior
  • New Mazda 3: interior pictures
  • New Mazda 3: infotainment
  • New Mazda 3: the driver's view
  • New Mazda 3: infotainment controls are pleasingly analogue
  • New Mazda 3:

By Kyle Fortune

CAR contributor and fan of going fast - on four wheels and two skis

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