2019 Mazda3 review – head-turning hatchback raises the bar

2019 Mazda3 review – head-turning hatchback raises the bar
2019 Mazda3 review – head-turning hatchback raises the bar

Mention Mazda, and the iconic MX-5 will inevitably pop into your mind. But brilliant as it is, what really excites the bean counters in the accounts department is a top-selling family hatchback. Something to rival the VW Golf, or the Ford Focus. Enter then, the all-new Mazda3.

Since its launch in 2003, the Mazda3 has been a quiet success for the Japanese carmaker: more than six million sold globally, and in excess of 1m across Europe. That, despite the fact the previous three generations weren’t exactly fiercest rivals — aesthetically, or in terms of interior quality and functionality — to the Ford Focus, or Golf.

So Mazda has reinvented the 3. One look at it tells you the newcomer is sportier, sexier and slinkier than anything else in the highly competitive C-segment; that’s family hatchback to you and me. Inspired by the likes of the RX-Vision concept of 2015 and Vision Coupe from 2017, the new five-door Mazda3 hatchback (a four-door saloon arrives at the end of the year) has managed to translate concept car style from show stand to showroom. Its designers have, to stunning effect, managed to bring Mazda’s minimalist ‘Kodo’ design language to life. It’s a genuine, handsome headturner.

2019 Mazda3
Picture: David Smith

Mazda3 2.0 Skyactiv-G

Price: £20,595-£27,735
Engine: 1998cc four-cylinder, petrol with 24V mild hybrid system
Power: 120bhp
Torque: 157lb/ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Top speed: 122mph
0-62mph: 10.4 seconds
Economy: 45.6mpg (WLTP)
CO2 emissions: 117g/km (EU combined equivalent)

And if you think it looks good outside, wait till you get inside. Here Mazda has lifted the bar, not only for itself, but also for other rivals. There’s a real sense of quality, and the combination of swoopy dashboard, low-slung seating position and sporty steering wheel make the cabin a wonderful place to be. Add in the fact everything is screwed together in a way which matches, or even beats, standards set by German rivals, and you realise how impressive the package is.

Mazda though has gone its own way. While others have developed the touchscreen solution for their central display, Mazda has, instead, introduced a turn and push control wheel. Not only does it avoid sticky, unsightly fingerprints on a screen, but it’s less distracting for the driver. And it’s also complemented by a standard head-up display.

2019 Mazda3
Picture: David Smith

It was a safety point highlighted at the launch by Kota Beppu, the Japanese project manager of the new 3, who stressed: “We want people to keep their eyes on the road as long as possible.”

As for the driving position? Well you’d be forgiven for thinking you were behind the wheel of an MX-5. It is that sporty. In typical Mazda fashion, everything is geared towards the driver. It may be a family hatch, but the Mazda3 displays a reassuring and confidence-inspiring sense of agility as it carves its way through sweeping corners.

Without boring you with a raft of technical details, the engineers have put together a chassis and suspension combination which is sportily agile, yet manages to remain calm and flowing. Some might question its firmness around town, but I believe they will be in the huge minority.

2019 Mazda3
Picture: David Smith

Mazda has gone against current convention as regards naturally-aspirated petrol engines. While other manufacturers are focusing on small-capacity turbocharged powerplants, Mazda has fitted the all-new 3 with a 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol unit with no turbo.

Instead the newcomer introduces hybrid technology to Mazda for the first time. The 120bhp of the petrol unit is supplemented by a 24V mild hybrid system which stores electrical energy. In addition to ensuring a smoother start/stop function, it also has a subtle torque-filling effect.

Combined with the short-shifting, stubby-levered and satisfying manual gearbox; precise steering; and eerie quietness inside the cabin, whether you’re cruising the motorway or enjoying your favourite A-road the Mazda3 cleverly combines sportiness and refinement.

2019 Mazda3
Picture: David Smith

The range also includes a 1.8-litre Skyactiv-D diesel, but we’ll have to wait till the end of the year for the much-anticipated and innovative Skyactiv-X petrol. Fitted with Spark Controlled Compression Ignition, Mazda says it combines the performance of petrol with the economy of diesel.

For now, the Mazda3 hatchback — with a choice of five trim levels; SE-L, SE-L Lux, Sport Lux, GT Sport and GT Sport Tech — is already available to order, with first deliveries scheduled for May.

The range starts at £20,595 for the entry-level Mazda3 120bhp SE-L petrol, and rises to £27,735 for the range-topping 115bhp GT Sport auto diesel. The most expensive petrol is the 120bhp GT Sport Tech auto at £26,795, with the entry-level diesel — the 115bhp SE-L — costing £22,395.

2019 Mazda3
Picture: David Smith

But the 3 hatchback and saloon isn’t all that’s exciting the guys at Mazda. The 2019 Geneva Motor Show will see the unveiling of a ‘secret’ new model. Now, don’t tell anyone I told you, but expect to see a new compact SUV built on the same platform as the new Mazda3. Badged CX-4, to sit neatly between the high-selling CX5 and CX-3? I couldn’t possibly say.

Mazda staged the European launch of its new Mazda3 in and around Lisbon, highlighting the capital city had been the starting point for many of the world’s famous explorers, such as Vasco da Gama. It would appear, like the Portuguese traveller, Mazda has embarked on a new, exciting journey of its own.

2019 Mazda3
Picture: David Smith

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