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Mazda 3 (2019) early drive review

PROS

  • Great to drive
  • Comfortable ride
  • Should score five stars at Euro NCAP
  • Non-intrusive driver assistance

CONS

  • Petrol engine performance lacking
  • Relatively small boot for class
  • Lacks headroom and light in the rear
  • Likely to be more expensive than last 3

Mazda 3 review summary

Parkers overall rating:
4.0 out of 5 4.0

The new 2019 Mazda 3 is a family hatchback that focuses on the driver rather than the technology, to good effect.

Mazda 3 headlight

Mazda is unapologetic about doing things differently, and with this latest 3 it does exactly that. Competing in the family hatchback sector it’s up against some tough rivals - the Ford Focus, VW Golf, Honda Civic and countless others - but Mazda here is focussing on the driver, bucking some now industry-wide conventions in the process.

How useful is the 2019 Mazda 3 as a family car?

If you’re after outright practicality, then, look elsewhere. The boot is on the small side in this class, indeed, there are superminis that rival, and in some cases, better, it. For all Mazda’s talk about its human-centric approach with the new 3 they’ve not concentrated too much on those in the rear.

Space in the back seats is adequate rather than generous. It’s not helped by the thick rear pillars, either, which do wonders for the 3’s lines outside, if not light in those back seats.

The 2019 Mazda 3 has more space in the front than in the back

That’s something to think about if you’ve taller kids, or don’t pack lightly, but elsewhere the Mazda 3’s unconventional approach is appealing. Don’t think that’s unconventional as in odd, no,

Mazda’s simply placing a lot of emphasis on how the 3 drives, and how the driver interacts with it, the result being refreshingly simple, and as a result, rather appealing. 

How does the 2019 Mazda 3 drive?

There are driver aids, as is required these days for a good Euro NCAP score, but the lane-keeping, blindspot monitoring, traffic jam easing and brake assisting tech plays understudy rather than central stage. If you like driving, then, you’ll like the Mazda 3. The old one was good here, and Mazda’s significantly improved on it.

Mazda 3 rear driving shot

The steering is well weighted and accurate, the suspension delivering excellent poise and control, that has been achieved without sacrificing ride comfort. It’s agile, and fun, the 3 delivering rear feel to the driver, making it among the most appealing driver’s cars in this busy segment.

Road and wind noise are all but eradicated, the 3 a quiet, comfortable place to be, the hushed upmarket feeling backed with an interior with fit and finish that elevates Mazda to the middle-ground between mainstream and premium that Volkswagen once called its own with its Golf.

What about engine choices?

Sampled here with the 122hp 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engine it’s a good thing the six-speed manual gearshift is so good. In a world of downsized, turbocharged rivals the 2.0-litre’s performance feels pretty lacklustre, without the low-rev urgency of rivals’ turbocharged units.

It’s smooth enough, and in town it’s not so noticeable, though with the 3 handling so well it’s quickly obvious if you want to enjoy that balanced, crisp chassis on an interesting road.

Mazda 3 uses a SkyActiv engine to great effect

There will be a 1.8-litre diesel, as well as an all-new Syactiv-X 2.0-litre petrol, the X representing the crossover technology between petrol and diesel engines. Mazda’s worked out a way to offer diesel economy with a petrol engine, allied to greater torque and power, the lean-burn 2.0-litre promising to deliver performance to better suit the 3’s excellent dynamics, while consuming significantly less. Win-win, then, though we’ll need to wait until a bit later this year to see just how effective it is.

And technology in the 2019 Mazda 3?

It’s all in the useful sphere. Indeed, Mazda’s gone as far as eradicating the touchscreen, situating its screen up on the dash out of reach of hand, but better positioned to actually see without taking your eyes too far from the road. And, yes, it’ll connect to your phone, with Apple CarPlay and suchlike.

2019 Mazda 3 cabin

All that is controlled by a simple rotary dial and supplementary buttons so there’s no frustrating sub-menu hunting when you want to do something as simple as change the temperature.

The instruments are clear and neat, too, while there’s a standard head-up display and steering wheel-mounted controls for things like the really rather excellent standard stereo system, a Bose one coming in upper trim levels.

What those trims will be is yet to be confirmed, but Mazda typically loads up the standard kit and leaves the choices down to colour of the paint outside, and the leather inside. That’s likely to remain the same, with a starting price around £500-600 more than the outgoing car.

The Parkers VerdictThe Parkers Verdict 

Put aside some concerns about outright practicality and focus on the driving and the 3 has what it takes to lead the class. If that Skyactiv-X engine delivers, too, it’ll appeal on an even more sensible level, too.

Not devoid of any of the technology of its rivals, either, only Mazda chooses to place its focus on other areas in the 3’s make-up, to the huge benefit of its overall appeal.

Mazda 3 rear end

Stay tuned for the full Mazda 3 review once we've driven it in the UK