LOS ANGELES, California — Mazda apparently didn’t get the memo that no one wants to buy compact cars in America anymore. To be fair, the new 2019 Mazda 3 has been designed as a global vehicle, so the U.S. market’s fickle nature when it comes to vehicles not called crossovers probably isn’t as big of a deal to the folks in Hiroshima. And Mazda already has a lineup of capable SUVs, including the CX-5, which we recently had in for a successful Four Seasons stint, so they’re in good shape there as well.
From our perspective, we’re happy that Mazda has remained committed to offering the Mazda 3 here, the latest model of which is making its global debut at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show and is slated to hit U.S. streets in early 2019. It’s been a favorite of Automobile over the years thanks to its lively, fun-to-drive nature, and Mazda will continue to offer sedan and hatchback variants as well as traditional six-speed automatic and manual transmission options for the Mazda 3—big plusses in our book.
But the main storylines for the new, fourth-generation Mazda 3 center on the motivation and traction departments. Mazda is using the launch of the 2019 Mazda 3 as the coming out party for its new Skyactiv-X engine, an engineering mashup of gas and diesel design elements the automaker is billing as an industry first. The engine’s compression-ignition technology is a breakthrough that Mazda says not only increases power and torque but—more important—makes significant gains in efficiency. For the first time in America the Mazda 3 will also be available with all-wheel drive as an option, a system its maker is calling i-Activ.
Skyactiv-X is expected to be the Mazda 3’s optional engine and should come in a 2.0-liter package. While Mazda isn’t announcing power figures yet, rumors suggest upwards of 190 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. We’ve heard from Mazda that at launch, U.S.-market 3’s will only be offered with an updated version of its existing 2.5-liter four that in the present-gen model is rated at 187 horsepower (i-Activ will also be available at the same time), with the Skyactiv-X to come late in 2019. So far, there’s no word yet on if the existing Mazda 3’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder will carry over, or if Mazda’s 1.8-liter diesel four will be an option.
Mazda is also touting what it calls its Skyactiv-Vehicle Architecture, which is its way of saying that the Mazda 3 has been engineered to be an even better driving machine than before. It utilizes a strut design up front and what is said to be a revamped torsion-beam rear suspension out back. Mazda says the new 3’s body shell is more rigid, its dampers have been adjusted to better handle vehicle loads under hard acceleration, and its torque-vectoring system tuned to increase confidence in aggressive cornering. All-wheel-drive versions will feature an augmented version of the torque-vectoring system in order to better utilize the extra traction.
On the outside, the 2019 Mazda 3’s new duds are being billed as an evolution of the Kodo design language. First showcased on its recent RX-Vision and Vision Coupe concept vehicles, key differences include a wider, shallower, and more defined grille and lower fascia, as well as thinner headlamps up front and a profile that appears as one flowing wave. We’re not so sure about the hatchback’s design; from certain angles it looks more like a hunchback than a hatchback. But it’s attractive from the rear, with a wider appearance and aggressive rooftop spoiler. Dimensionally, the Mazda 3 rolls on a roughly one-inch-longer wheelbase and both the sedan and hatch are marginally lower in overall height than the previous model. The biggest difference is the sedan’s overall length, which is more than 3.0 inches greater than before.
Inside, Mazda’s interior designers were going for a restrained approach, with a minimum of controls and a more premium feel. The overarching goal was to make the driver feel more in tune with the vehicle. There was a focus on the seats to provide more support for humans’ S-shaped spinal curve. Vehicle controls and other cabin fixtures such as cupholders were adjusted, and efforts were made to reduce cabin noise and improve the field of vision. A new, 8.8-inch infotainment screen was added to the mix as well as an improved sound system. By the way, there’s also a new fabric color called Greige. No, we’re not making that up, and yes, it combines gray with beige.
You didn’t think you’d get through this without hearing about another Activ something or other, did you? Mazda’s optional i-Activsense tech is designed to monitor the driver’s condition in an effort to help reduce drowsy and distracted driving. The new Mazda 3 will also be available with a mix of standard and optional safety features including a knee airbag and front cross-traffic alert.
While we still have a lot of unanswered questions, from what we’ve learned so far, the new 2019 Mazda 3 is shaping up to be more fun to drive, more efficient, and more upscale than ever before. Maybe they should call it a crossover just for the heck of it. Couldn’t hurt.
2019 Mazda 3 Specifications
|ON SALE||Early 2019|
|ENGINES||2.5L DOHC 16-valve I-4, 2.0L DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD sedan and hatchback|
|EPA MILEAGE||28-32 city/36-39 mpg hwy (est)|
|L x W x H||175.5-183.5 x 70.7 x 56.7-56.9 in|
|WEIGHT||2,800-2,900 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH||7.0-7.5 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||120 mph (est)|