A tale of two designs. The 2019 Mazda Mazda3 is produced in both hatchback and sedan body styles, and we're more taken with the gorgeous and smartly-proportioned sedan.
It boasts a chiseled front fascia with narrow LED projector headlights and a shapely shield grill outlined in chrome. Stunning from any angle, additional styling touches include an upper crease that follows the beltline and deep lower sculpting that define its flanks. In back, the steeply raked roofline and concave vertical portion of the trunk lid turn the upper rear fascia into an effective spoiler.
The radically-styled hatchback, sporting a polarizing design that eschews creases entirely, is swaddled in gently curved sheet metal where attention is drawn rearward to massive C-pillars – the likes of which haven't been seen since the classic 1980s Saab 900 hatch. This styling cue creates some unfortunately large blind spots.
Stunning interior. The disparate exterior designs share a gorgeous, understated, and cockpit-centric interior. Redesigned front seats offer supreme comfort and all-day support, with the driver’s facing round gauges set deep in the instrument binnacle.
An Apple CarPlay- and Android Auto-compatible 8.8-inch landscape-oriented infotainment screen angled toward the driver dominates the upper dash on all models. Buttery-smooth switchgear, bright trim, and soft-touch materials complete the upscale look and feel.
But perfection is eluded, as rear seat space in both body styles remains tight, especially head room. The sedan's trunk yields just 13.2 cubic feet of storage space, while the hatchback's 20.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats isn't nearly as useful as it appears – taking advantage of the maximum cargo volume blocks rear visibility because it requires packing items to the ceiling.
While this is picking nits, the piano black trim on the console and around the window switches scratches easily. Finally, the large central infotainment screen isn't touch-sensitive. Instead, the system relies on inputs from the console-mounted Command Controller, and what Mazda claims is improved software with fewer distracting sub-menus.
Smooth performer. On serpentine back roads, both the hatchback and sedan feel larger than their physical size, in a good way. A joy to toss around, the latest Mazda3’s dynamic attributes score well above the class average with strong, linear acceleration, precise steering with excellent feedback, brakes that are easy to modulate, and a firm yet compliant ride.
This year's model also sees the addition of a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, a rarity in the class. AWD is an option on all but the base sedan and manually-equipped hatchback.
Enthusiasts, however, will undoubtedly lament the swapping out of the 2018 model’s independent rear suspension for a simpler torsion beam. The latest Mazda3 has also lost some of the playful personality that set it apart from its peers and reflected in the fact that a six-speed manual transmission can only be had with a hatchback in Premium trim.
Feature laden. In addition to all of the features previously mentioned, all Mazda3 trims feature standard alloy wheels, keyless entry, push button start, an electronic parking brake, Bluetooth connectivity, Pandora internet radio integration and LED headlights, taillights, and daytime running lights.
Most of the lineup features a wide range of standard active safety features, including adaptive cruise control (with stop-and-go on all but the manual hatchback), automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and a camera-based driver attention alert system.
On the flip side, none of the advanced safety features are available on the base sedan. We also experienced an issue with the automatic emergency braking system on our tester. Specifically, following a rainy drive, the central screen posted a notification that the AEB system wouldn't be available due to sensor issues.
After cleaning off the windshield and the center grille emblem, the system came back online. The issue here is that neither one was particularly dirty – each was just covered in a light film of dust. This leads us to believe that the system is overly-sensitive to situations like this, which isn't a good thing.
Final thoughts. Despite a cabin that hardly feels spacious, poor outward rear visibility in the hatchback, and the lack of a manual transmission option on all but one model, the new 2019 Mazda Mazda3 offers a further refinement of the brand's class-leading compact.
The handsome good looks of the sedan, the quiet and class-above cabin, the addition of an AWD option, and the improvement in overall ride comfort keep the latest iteration at the top of the class.
Looking over the competition, the Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Golf, and Volkswagen Jetta feature more interior room, while the Civic, Forte, and Elantra offer more performance choices with the Civic Si, Forte GT, and Elantra GT N Line.