2019 Mazda3 Sedan Review: Stealing BMW's Lunch in a $30,000 Compact Car

Sharp looks, a classy interior, and on-point handling for a price that doesn't break the bank? Watch out, Germans.

Jerry Perez

The 2019 Mazda3 Sedan, By the Numbers

  • Base Price (as Tested): $24,000 ($30,135)
  • Powertrain: Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine | 186 horsepower, 186 pound-feet of torque | six-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
  • EPA Fuel Economy: 25 mpg city | 33 mpg highway
  • Seating Capacity: 5
  • Cargo Space: 13.2 cubic feet
  • Quick Take: An incredible step forward in terms of build quality and refinement, the latest iteration of Mazda's popular sedan will please brand faithful and newcomers alike with its Teutonic driving dynamics. However, handling comes at the expense of overall comfort, showing there's more work to be done.
Jerry Perez

The 2019 Mazda3 Sedan: The Pros

  • The Mazda3 shines in its curvaceous design, especially in alluring Soul Red (a $595 option), which demanded more double-takes from passersby than any $30K sedan really should. I didn't expect to see so many wandering eyes next to me at stoplights, but hey—it's a good-looking little thing.
  • Finally, a four-cylinder engine in an economy car that isn't starved for power. 186 horses may not sound like a lot, but Mazda's Skyactive magic delivers linear acceleration reminiscent of the four-cylinder turbo from the praiseworthy CX-5—only with slightly less oomph, of course. Sport mode sharpens throttle response and weighs down the steering, but it's hardly necessary due to the 3's already-sharp reflexes.
  • With great power typically comes hefty fuel bills, but luckily the Mazda3 doesn't subscribe to such koans. Nearly 600 miles of heavily-mixed driving over seven days resulted in an average of 30.6 miles per gallon, higher than the EPA estimate of 28 mpg combined.
  • You can't buy a quieter cabin for $30,000, period, even factoring in the Mazda's relatively low-profile tires and stiff suspension, the Mazda glides down the highway with a serenity that is truly surprising for the price point. All the better to enjoy the 12-speaker Bose sound system on the Premium trim, and to make a seven-hour drive from Wisconsin to Indiana as peaceful as possible.
  • This baby can handle. Simply fire up the engine and get ready to smile, because this bad boy hugs the road with the confidence and refinement typically associated with much more expensive cars.
Jerry Perez
Jerry Perez

The 2019 Mazda3 Sedan: The Cons

  • There's always a price to be paid for sharp design. Drivers and passengers in the 6-foot/200-pound range will struggle to enter and exit that fashionable cabin through the narrow door openings. With the steering column in prime driving position, getting in and out without hitting my right thigh on the tiller proved to be a challenger each and every time.
  • Size matters, and there are few places where that rings truer than cupholders in America. If you use a refillable container that's more than nine inches tall, you won't be happy with the center cupholders in the Mazda3. Not only are they located far from the driver and passenger—directly under center stack instead of the armrests—but they aren't compatible with today's reusable containers. My Swell water bottle, in particular, kept rocking around and hitting the seat heater buttons.
  • The automatic parking brake has a mind of its own. I may live in flat-has-hell Indiana, but I use the parking brake each and every time I drive, goddamnit. The Mazda3 is equipped with a switch-activated electronic brake; fine, that's become the standard, but its auto-deactivation feature that is supposed to release once you shift into drive and set off worked less than half the time. It was a little disconcerting to feel the car try to pull itself forward with the rear wheels still locked, and I was left to wonder what exactly triggers the automatic disengagement.
  • But by far, the biggest problem with the 2019 Mazda3 is its ride stiffness. The independent MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear help the 3 handle like a dream at speed, but it's a whole different story on the poorly maintained highways of Chicago and pothole-ridden roads of Indianapolis. A seven-hour highway stint ended in sheer misery with my lower back praying for a break from the constant jolts transmitted by the overly strung suspension. It appears that the folks at Mazda R&D forgot that not everyone lives in sunny California and that autocrossing isn't on everyone's daily to-do list. 
Jerry Perez
Jerry Perez

The 2019 Mazda3 Sedan, Value

Sportiness and style may give the Mazda3 an advantage with enthusiasts looking for a new ride, but when your competitors include the venerable Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, those traits alone aren't enough to deliver big sales results. Good thing my fully loaded tester's price tag of $30,135 is a smoking deal if I've ever seen one. In addition to fun tech like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, safety systems like Mazda's Smart City Brake Support, radar cruise control with full-stop capabilities, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning system, lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive full LED front lighting system, and LED taillights are also included in the price.

And if you're looking to shave a few bucks off that sticker, you could easily live without the $425 illuminated door sill plates and the $275 frame-less rearview mirror found on this build. Also, let's not forget that this car has all-wheel drive, while its front-drive counterpart shaves three grand off the starting price and comes with the same 186-horsepower beauty of an engine.

The 2019 Mazda3 Sedan, The Bottom Line

What more can you ask from a budget-conscious stunner that handles and feels like a German sports sedan? Usually, nothing. But in this case, a slightly more civic approach to ergonomics and suspension would go a long way. My suggestion? Bleed a pound or two of air pressure to make the sidewall of the P215/45 R18 all-season tires a bit more flexible, or simply opt for the meatier 16-inch tire and wheel combo offered in lesser trims. Aside from that, I leave convinced that owning a Mazda3 would considerably increase the number of times one smiles throughout the day.