2019 Mazda3 AWD Sedan Review by Ben Lewis

A lot of people love European vehicles.

The quality, the ride, the design, the feeling that you’re in something special – it’s all good, and it’s all there. So, we often get asked, “what’s a good entry-level European sedan?”

Well, the best Euro sedan for the money right now is… the 2019 Mazda 3.

Yes, the Mazda 3.

We’ve just spent a week in the all-new Mazda 3 sedan (a hatchback is available, too), and it is impressive. Now we’ve always liked the 3 – a lot of enthusiasts we know who’d like a BMW or an Audi end up with the Mazda; they’re affordable, fun to drive, and have that same feeling they were built by people who really care about the drive.  But the new model takes it to such high levels, it might be all the sport sedan you’d ever want.

Design, Perfected

Like most European automakers, Mazda is happy to refine and develop their styling. In the 3 sedan, the new look is the evolution of the “Kodo” design language. While small four-doors can be stubby, the Mazda looks sleek, wide, and low. The front end looks especially long and powerful, with a prominent grille and requisite squinty LED headlights, while the rear end may be the best angle – the taillights have that characteristic round treatment that is faithful to the Mazda 3 line.

The sedan is not so much a radical redesign as it is a polished, perfected, product. It is upscale, tasteful, and has as much presence as any small Audi or BMW. Interestingly, Mazda did take the opportunity to make the hatchback a much more aggressive looking little beast. Aimed at a younger, maybe hipper audience. Look for a younger, hipper road test soon.

Our tester’s Soul Red Crystal Metallic was a nice blend of sport and class, but we would be tempted by the Machine Gray Metallic for this elegant piece of rolling sculpture.

Interior, Elevated

In the past couple of years, Mazda has made strong efforts to raise the quality of their interiors. We’ve seen it in the CX-5, the CX-3, and the Mazda 6 , but it’s at its most impressive here, in the company’s low-priced sedan. Our tester’s two-tone interior is gorgeous to look at. It reminds us a little of the 2020 Corolla we recently tested, but in the details the 3 looks classes above.

The Mazda’s perforated, stitched white leather seats, (though maybe a little impractical), soft touch trim, chrome accents and piano black trim are all Audi-like. The aluminum trim around the speakers is notably tasteful the gauges are handsome, with large round faces – the speedometer in the middle is actually a digital display, but you’d never know – and we’re thankful that they’ve killed the old “binnacle” style design.

The 8.8-inch info-tainment screen is nestled into the dash with Lexus-like beauty, and proves that a modern screen doesn’t have to look like a cheap tablet that you want to pull off and walk away with. Accessing that info-tainment is Mazda’s familiar large rotating knob with smaller volume knob on the center console, but even here the improvement is notable, the controls feel more substantial and look of better quality. Again, very Audi-like.

More proof? The heads-up display is now projected on the windshield, replacing the plastic “gunsight” that used to power up out of the dash. Shift knob, commander control and armrest have been moved forward for a more natural reach. Mazda also points out a lot of time went into making the seating more comfortable. It was time well spent – the seats are much comfier for larger, taller drivers, and offer excellent support for long drives or spirited commutes.

We were happy to spend extra time in the 3, thanks to our tester’s 12-speaker Bose audio system. More evidence of careful development – the woofers were moved to the front cowl (other automakers usually place them in the car doors) allowing audio engineers to reduce unwanted sound vibrations, such as items in the door pockets rattling, without sacrificing any bass output. The other speakers were positioned to transmit sound directly toward the occupant’s ears rather than reflect the sound off the car’s windows or body panels. Clever stuff.

The Drive, Refined.

Inside and out, the new Mazda 3 really impresses. But the cherry on the proverbial hardtop is the driving experience.

Under the hood is Mazda’s familiar 2.5-liter, four cylinder – actually a large engine for this class – we’d have expected a 2.0-liter. But we’re glad Mazda supersized it – with 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, there’s plenty of power. In daily use, it’s quiet and subdued – very German, but give it a little boot and it pulls hard and makes a tasteful snarl as it winds out. We even got close to 30 mpg in our lead-footed test drive.

Making the most of the power is an excellent 6-speed automatic that’s smooth and refined in the daily drive as well, and steps up the game in sport mode. The harder you drive it, the more it wants to respond, a perfect companion to your mood.

It wouldn’t be a Mazda without excellent ride and handling, and here the 3 once again leads the class. The steering is nicely weighted and full of feel – honestly, it’s better than what you’ll find in the entry-level BMW and Audi! The ride has a nice supple feel – and this is a bit of a coup, since Mazda saved a few bucks by replacing the former multi-link rear suspension with a torsion beam – but those engineers know what they’re doing, you’ll seldom notice the difference.

Even with our large 18-inch alloy wheels, the ride was firm, but never approached harsh. Beautifully tuned by the nice people who bring you the Miata!

Interestingly, our tester had the i-ACTIV AWD all-wheel-drive system, and in part, we think it really adds to the Euro-feel we like so much. While all Mazda 3’s have the G-Vectoring Control Plus that adds cornering confidence, the AWD adds additional grip and a feeling of stability and solidity that says “throw me into a corner” and rewards with a palpable feel of capability.

Adding to the solid feeling is a well-chosen suite of safety equipment, including Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, Driver Attention Alert and Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go.

The Price, Affordable.

If you think all this Euro goodness comes at Euro pricing, think again. This is a Mazda. The front wheel drive Mazda 3 sedan starts at just $21,000, and you get the good looks, that powerful and smooth powertrain, the nice interior with a big info-tainment screen – even alloy wheels.

The Select model is probably the best value at just $22,600, giving such goodies as 18-inch alloys, dual zone a/c, leatherette seats, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Keyless entry and start,

Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, Driver Attention Alert and Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go. If you want AWD, add another $1,400.

Move up to the Preferred model at $24,200 and you’ll get heated front seats with memory, 12-speaker Bose Audio system and more.

Our top of the line Premium tester started at $27,900 with AWD (front wheel drive is $26,500), and gives you gobs of added goodness, with leather seats, LED lights, Heads-up display, power moonroof and paddle shifters.

Competition for our luxury driving machine would have to include on the high end. The Audi A3 is $39,600 comparably equipped! A base BMW 330xi sedan starts at $42,750. C’mon guys, you’re ruining Oktoberfest!

Closer to  home, we think the Acura ILX A-Spec at $31,550 is a great driver’s car – a little more flamboyant than the Mazda, but no AWD if that matters to you.

The all-new Jetta GLI looks to be a formidable competitor at $30,890, comparably priced. Again, no AWD, but if could cure those hankerings for affordable German cuisine. Come back and visit us at Car-Revs-Daily.com, we’ll be testing one soon.

Already a long-time favorite, the all-new Mazda 3 sedan, dramatically raises its game.

A great sport sedan capable of challenging – and beating – European competitors that cost thousands more!

Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.

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