The all-new 2019 Mazda3 is without a doubt the best they’ve ever made yet sales are tumbling.
Is it possible to do no wrong and get it wrong? Can it be that a perfect storm of declining industry sales, tumbling segment sales and a car that is too good for its segment are all causing new Mazda3 deliveries to plummet? If you want to save yourself a few minutes of reading, I can safely tell you that the car is NOT the problem.
The all-new 2019 Mazda3 is exhibit “A” of Mazda knowhow. This is an instance where few words are required to explain how good the Mazda3 is when compared to all of its peers. The week I tested the Mazda3, I also had a new 2020 Hyundai Elantra Ultimate. I started the driving experience off in the Hyundai and was, as always, surprised with how well sorted the car is. Then, I got behind the wheel of the 3 and not only is it superior in nearly all respects, but it’s so good it knocked the Elantra down a few pegs in the process.
The superior Mazda3
This same process occurs when moving from a Honda Civic to the 3, from the new Kia Forte to the 3. Even my own VW Golf and the new 2020 Toyota Corolla suffer slightly at the hands of the Mazda3. What is it? What makes the Mazda3 so superior?
Mazda’s intent is to move into a slightly more premium position vis-à-vis Honda, Toyota, Nissan and the others; some would say they are aiming for Volkswagen. All of their recent products have upped the standards in their respective segments but the Mazda3 is the first true leap.
By looking at the car, if we were to remove the logos to remove any bias, it is easy to see that it’s not like the others. There’s fluidity and purpose to every crease and line. The 3 sedan especially, sits with confidence – this is most obvious when parked alongside the competition.
The cabin too is minimal in adornments. In fact, it’s almost macabre and overly serious. Its simplicity though demonstrates an impressive level of attention to ergonomics. Two of the HVAC buttons are unmarked but the digital display above them says all that needs to be said. The seats are quite comfortable and supportive, no matter the trim, and there’s plenty of space on board.
A new value leader?
The tested GT ($26,200) with the Premium package ($28,700) included leather, smart keyless entry, head’s up display, along with the already featured heated steering wheel, 8.8-inch screen, Bose audio and much more. From an equipment standpoint, the Mazda3 has it all.
As an argument in favour of the 3 GT, as tested, it matches and bests the Elantra Ultimate which retails for $27,549. Once a value-leader, the Hyundai no longer delivers more for the money. The 3’s extra $1,151 is covered by auto up/down windows, a larger screen, 18-inch wheels and a larger more powerful engine.
The base Mazda3 still relies on a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine, which rivals the Elantra’s mill. The 186-horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. of torque 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine is available from the from the GS, and standard on the GT.
This engine is beautifully responsive and alert. It is only available with a 6-speed automatic transmission which, for the first time, I thought to be an insufficient number of gears. Often, under moderate to strong acceleration, I noticed a sharp drop in engine revs between gears essentially choking the poor 2.5L. Driving this way is not the most efficient, granted, but my antics still netted me an 8.5L/100km, which is not good… The Elantra does far better here.
Where the new 2019 Mazda3 knocks’em dead is on the road, during the drive. And it begins immediately when strapping in behind the perfectly fitted steering wheel – it’s almost as though I was born here. When prodded to life, the 2.5L is busy but when settled, pulls superbly well. And the SkyActiv platform that underpins this car was engineered to follow suit.
My FWD tester (AWD is an option) displayed poise on rough roads, thanks in part to Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control Plus (GVC Plus), with plenty damping from the chassis’ tune. There’s no other word than “dynamic” to describe how sharp yet compliant the Mazda3’s behaviour is. With immediacy, the car will respond to acute steering inputs but will never harsh the occupants. This is unmatched.
So what gives?
And so, the new 2019 Mazda3 is a superior product. It’s also priced competitively, looks and drives fantastic but sales are waaaaay down. Compared to last year, deliveries have dropped 20%. Both the Civic and Corolla are experiencing dips too (10% and 1.5%) but this doesn’t entirely explain what’s going on.
The tough times are currently generalized for Mazda, with one exception: The Mazda CX-5. I think that Mazda’s new approach to the compact car has partially alienated potential buyers who figure that, for a few grand more over a $26,000 Mazda3 GS AWD, a $29,850 CX-5 GS AWD is a more substantial vehicle. Then, there’s the $20,995 2020 Subaru Impreza with CVT and AWD…
It’s incredibly unfortunate to see that the new Mazda3 is not taking off as it should. The segment might be down but Toyota’s still managed to sell more than 38,000 Corollas, and Honda more than 50,000 Civics so far this year vs. about 18,000 3s. I’m not sure it’ll ever recover…