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2019 Mazda 3: Turning Point

Let’s be honest. If it weren’t for the Mazda badge, we’d think Mazda’s latest sedans belonged in a more up market segment - inside and out. The 2019 Mazda 3, now in its fourth generation, wrings in a sense of luxury mixed with an appreciable level of simplicity. Mazda calls it their Kodo design language. An exploration into the essence of Japanese aesthetics. Like Feng shui but for cars. Even though that’s Chinese.

What we can say for sure is Mazda has carved their own path when it comes to curvaceous sheet metal, and since 2013 they’ve been getting pretty good at making cars that are both unique and surprisingly attractive.

Exterior changes between the third and fourth generation Mazda 3 range from subtle to subtle. You’d have to put both model pictures up side-by-side to spot the differences. In the front, what used to be a chrome semi-grille-surround is now a black piece of trim. In the rear, its tail lights sport a dual semi-circle design instead of one. Its license plate now sits midway on its bumper instead of on the tail gate. And the roof spoiler is now black instead of body color. Also, it’s not just you - the C pillar on the hatchback has grown significantly.

Functionally speaking, the 2019 Mazda 3 is longer overall with a 25 mm longer wheelbase, 2 mm wider body, and a 10-15 mm taller height. Built on Mazda’s Skyactiv-Vehicle architecture, the latest gen hatchback benefits from modifications to its under-skin framework. Overall rigidity, safety, and convenience are improved. Modifications include vastly increased use of high tensile steel (from 3% to 30% steel ratio), reinforcements for front and side crash safety, redesigned A and B pillars for improved driver visibility, connective ring structures for improved tire energy transfer, and specifically designed gaps between the interior panels and outer body panels to reduce sound intrusion.

Mazda 3 models continue to use strut front with rear torsion beam suspension, though Mazda says its handling has been improved using new bushings and suspension geometry. Base tire size is 205/60 R16 with optional upgrade to 215/45 R18. If you believe Mazda’s claims, all these changes (plus a new for Mazda driver side knee airbag) don’t effect its curb weight. We’re surprised too.

The new compact is planned to launch with five powertrain and two drivetrain options. The Skyactiv-G direct injected inline-four family make up the first three choices. They’re available in 1.5, 2.0, and 2.5 liter displacements. Expect the 2.5 to equal or exceed its current 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft figure. All three are class leading in emissions and fuel economy. A Skyactiv-D 1.8-liter four-cylinder diesel is another option, though it and the 1.5-liter will probably not make an appearance in North American markets.

The final engine choice is Mazda’s ambitious solution to revolutionize the gasoline engine. The Skyactiv-X. Combined with an ‘M Hybrid’ system, the Mazda Skyactiv-X engine uses a super lean air/fuel ratio in conjunction with a specialized direct injection swirl pattern to induce ignition without the use of a spark plug under certain load conditions. Its (prototype listed) 16:1 compression ratio is one of the highest in the production car market. The Skyactiv-X engine, in essence, does what diesel engines do only with normal 87 octane fuel. Mazda says the new engine has faster throttle response, lower emissions, and better fuel economy compared to its more traditional motors. Official figures are yet to be announced.

For the first time in a Mazda 3 all-wheel-drive is available. Mazda’s i-Activ AWD system (used on models like the CX-5) is now capable of distributing torque between the front and rear wheels via G-Vectoring Control Plus stability hardware. In addition to torque distribution, both FWD and AWD models benefit from standard G-Vectoring Control systems which can brake individual wheels for improved turn-in with engine throttle cutoff to reduce torque steer.

New safety technologies added to the Mazda 3 pad an already mediocre list of assistance systems. Technologies like adaptive cruise control, adaptive high beams, dimming rear view mirror, lane keep assist, automatic emergency braking, and traffic sign recognition are all part of an optional $1,600 Premium Equipment Package, even on the top $25,000 Grand Touring trim. The 4th generation Mazda 3 adds an infrared driver awareness camera, radar based front side sensors (to reduce blind spot/intersection accidents), and low-speed traffic driving assistance.

Inside the 2019 Mazda 3 you can see how Mazda is attempting to really push for a more premium experience. The center screen, steering wheel, and dashboard follow what Mazda calls a ‘vanishing point’ design - incorporating two horizons, honing in a minimal and luxurious aesthetic. Between the button clusters, Mazda says they’ve added higher quality materials throughout the cabin’s veneer.

In addition to the cabin’s repositioned 8.8-inch display, Mazda moved the 3’s gear select for both transmissions (6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual) further forward and higher up, closing hand travel distance from the steering wheel. At the same time, its center armrest has been extended at the cost of having cupholders positioned in front of the gear lever. Not convenient if you have a melting 7-11 big gulp slushy on hand.

As a testament to the obsessive engineering Mazda goes through to improve driving pleasure, hard-to-immediately-notice details were implemented into the Mazda 3. Its headliner and carpeting, for instance, now uses a revamped weave with smaller gaps to reduce noise intrusion. Its front seats has been redesigned to reduce fatigue when the driver turns their head, and the telescopic steering wheel moves 10 mm further at both ends to fit more people. Front seat tilt is now standard on all models too.

Taking fine details even further involves some changes immediately outside the windshield. The windshield wipers, now hidden under the front cowl, has a continuously adjustable sweeping angle so the blades wipe all the way to the edge of the A pillar. Spray nozzles mounted on the wiper arms themselves are designed so no fluids are leftover after a cleaning. And, according to Mazda, the engineers worked arduously to keep the hood low for the best forward visibility.

Mazda’s goal with the new Mazda 3 is to establish their marque as a higher class of vehicle. The 4th generation Mazda 3 is the first in a series of cars that demonstrate their car manufacturing prowess. Whether it’s in fuel economy, interior quality, ride quality, or fun-to-drive factor, Mazda cars are centered on driving pleasure. And when we look at the details Mazda obsesses over to make ownership more enjoyable - we look forward to see what they can come up with next.

Price to be announced. 2019 Mazda 3 sales expected to begin early 2019.