In 2003 Mazda launched the replacement for the Familia/323, the all-new Mazda3 sedan and hatchback as a 2004 model year. It was my first year in High School back in Mississauga Ontario, Star Wars Galaxies was my go-to PC game, and Ford was busy with their collection of car manufacturers, which is where our story begins.
At it's height, Ford's ownership of Mazda accounted for 33.4% of the Japanese company, and ultimately made for a better automotive relationship than DaimlerChrysler was at the time. The first generation Mazda3 shared the same platform as the Ford Focus and Volvo S40, the Volvo was brought to my attention a couple months back when I had the pleasure of filming our Retrospective on the 2019 Volvo V60 Inscription. After spotting an early 2000s S40 on the road I could definitely see the family resemblance.
But why is any of this important? Back around 2006 I predicted that the Mazda3 would become the next Civic in terms of enthusiast interest and tuning. Vehicles like the Mazdaspeed3 helped boost Mazda's credibility with enthusiasts, and ultimately my prediction came true. Mazda has had plenty of success with their entry-level compact car over the past 15 years, and it's all grown up for 2019.
The rumours were an open secret in the automotive industry, with sales reps at local dealerships talking about the future Mazda3 with AWD early in 2018, long before any official news broke of the fourth generation vehicle. Based on Mazda's Kai Concept car, the 2019 Mazda3 GT with Premium Package we have to test build's on Mazda's successful KODO design language, incorporating a genuine premium feel and look to this sub-$30,000 car. While all-wheel-drive is available on this range-topping model, our FWD vehicle came with an MSRP of $28,700.00 Canadian.
Like most vehicles today, the Mazda3 shares a corporate face, a similar look to the CX-5, CX-9, and Mazda6, though the lack of front fog lights and it's 135mm ground clearance help to set this car apart from the other vehicles in Mazda's lineup. A radical shift in position for this vehicle makes you feel like you're driving something up-market like an Infiniti or Acura, without the price-tag to go along with it. It's one of the reasons why I'm predicting a Mazda3 Signature for the 2020 model year, much like we did months before the CX-5 Signature was announced.
While the exterior looks are on point, the mechanical changes under that bodywork is important. Mazda offers their 2.5L SkyActiv-G inline 4 engine on the GT trim, producing 186 horsepower & lb-ft of torque, along with their 6-speed automatic transmission. A 6-speed manual transmission is still available on GX & GS trims, without AWD. The rear suspension has gotten a downgrade though, going from an independent multi-link to a torsion beam. The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta Execline also received a similar change for this model year, along with most of the vehicles in the compact car segment opting for a torsion beam as well.
While most people probably won't notice a difference, torsion beams often distribute road feedback across the entire rear suspension rather than isolating it like an independent multi-link. On smooth roads passengers shouldn't feel anything, but in a pothole environment that is Québec, you might feel it if you pay attention. During our week we couldn't find any major issues with the suspension, but it's still important to understand the mechanical changes for this generation.
Mazda is also using their cylinder deactivation engine technology on the GT, allowing us to achieve a fuel economy of 6.2L/100km on our test loop, slightly lower than the 2019 Kia Forte EX+ and the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta Execline. Fuel economy might be slightly better with a more advanced 8-speed transmission, however we found the responsiveness from Mazda's current implementation to be very good, giving us smooth shifts in full automatic mode, and quick manual shifts in sport with the flappy paddles.
Buyer's will certainly appreciate the premium-focused interior design of the 2019 Mazda3 GT. Unlike the Mazda6 Signature which uses microsuede material for the dashboard, the Mazda3 has a leatherette centre with a softer material on top. Door cards are leather in the centre with hard plastic on top, but overall feels well built. Dual-zone automatic climate control, colour Head-Up Display, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, and LED interior lighting are all found on this vehicle. Ventilated seats and rear heated outboard seats aren't options currently found, though we expect to see those on a Signature trim.
We go into more depth on our episode of TestDrive Spotlight when it comes to the interior design and changes, but the two most important technologies warrant special attention. The new 8.8" Mazda Connect infotainment system is a serious improvement over their old offering. A completely reinvented user interface and new HMI controller allow for an improved natural navigation experience within the menu systems, although touch has been removed completely. Navigation is finally detailed and worth using over Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Mazda has ensured that the computer powering their infotainment system is powerful enough to keep up with the graphical elements, we experienced no startup lag like we have from Volvo, and the heavy UI elements loaded quickly and without delay. Mazda has even upgraded the backup camera resolution, up from what had to have been 140p on their 360° cameras, to a crisp 720p (estimate), however as is the case in programming, once you fix one thing you inadvertently break another. The backup camera has a significant fish-eye distortion to it, allowing you to check whether your rear license plate is attached and if it has any microscopic dirt on it, but the rest of the field of view is very skewed. It's certainly better than other cameras we've used from Mazda and we'll take the hit on the lens distortion over poor resolution any day.
The second major technology Mazda has upgraded comes from the 12-speaker Bose audio system. Normally we prefer harman/kardon over Bose, but Mazda has moved the woofers out of the doors and behind the front cowl, reducing door vibration and exterior road noise, while simultaneously enhancing overall audio replication. I truly felt like I was sitting in front of the musician while listing to my music through Apple CarPlay rather than just listening through some speakers. If you're serious about your music, this system is sure to impress.
How does it drive though? After all that's the whole point of buying a car in the first place. In short, its seriously good. G-Vectoring Control Plus helps to keep you in your seat while you go around corners, the 186 horsepower engine gives you the power you'd want to have on a daily basis, and the interior noise levels are seriously low. Major improvements have been made to Noise, Vibration, and Harshness and we noticed it immediately.
Mazda recently, and quietly, changed their corporate slogan to Feel Alive, which feels a little more accurate than just Zoom-Zoom. I really felt like the car was an extension of myself, giving me a superior driving feel over other cars in this segment. It's not just about going fast, cars like the 2019 VW GLI will easily beat the Mazda3 in a straight line, but driving is so much more than just 0-100kph times. The driving dynamics of the Mazda3 are seriously on point, and feel a lot like what I come to expect from BMW despite being a front-wheel-drive car with quite a lot less power than your typical BMW 330i.
This car is more than just an appliance to get you back and forth to work or school, it persuades you to go for a drive, throw on some tunes, and enjoy being on the open road. I found myself enjoying mundane driving tasks like getting groceries more in the Mazda3 as it gave me a chance to boot around in it for a little while. It really does feel like the perfect mix between a daily drive and a weekend toy, allowing you to enjoy driving again without breaking the bank in terms of car payments, repairs, or fuel costs.
But don't just take my word for it. Get out there and try it out. If you're in the market for a new compact sedan you really need to add the 2019 Mazda3 to your list. Don't make the same mistakes I made up until recently by writing off the Japanese automaker due to social stigmas associated with their products from those dark days under Ford ruler-ship. Mazda's products today are some of the best on the market. In fact each of their 6 current vehicles sold in Canada are cars I would buy, and that's hard to say from other manufacturers.
The Mazda3 solidifies itself as the class leader in the segment, and makes driving fun instead of a chore. Hail to the king, baby.
Watch our full episode of TestDrive Spotlight on the 2019 Mazda3 GT with Premium Package here: