Loose and lofty Mazda must use soft fingers – not knives – to shape its windswept cars and crossovers.
Unlike some of its chopped and sliced competitors, Mazda’s subtle, carefully designed vehicles seem to flow with the breeze.
Let’s hope those qualities can attract buyers to the new, restyled 2019 Mazda3, a compact hatchback sedan that makes you feel prosperous even if you’re sweating the air-conditioning bill for next month.
As you probably know, cars continue to be a challenge for all automakers as consumers increasingly abandon them for trucks, SUVs and crossovers.
Regardless, Mazda didn’t cut many corners with the creamy gray 3 I had recently, a five-passenger sedan that defied its relatively reasonable $31,000 window sticker.
My hatchback 3 still wore the graceful overall shape of its predecessor, but flashed even stronger styling and was about four inches shorter and a half-inch lower.
The front looked blunt and low, with a large blacked-out grille and sinister, slender headlamps that sliced back into the fenders.
Complementing the rakish front was a raised, broad hood that gave the car the feel of a slightly larger sedan.
Moreover, the lower portion of the front door curved in slightly, while the back-door, back roof pillar and rear fender pooched out a bit, creating some distinctive muscle.
Meanwhile, the 3’s curvaceous top was low and tight – nicely capping the car’s striking appearance.
Although my 3 was all-wheel-drive – adding to the upscale groove – it sat sort of morosely on tiresome black 18-inch wheels wrapped with skinny 215/45 tires.
Fortunately, they didn’t detract much from the goodness in the rest of the car.
If you’re a performance fan, you might initially be a little unsettled that Mazda opted to replace its multilink rear suspension this year with a more mainstream torsion-beam rear axle.
I couldn’t detect any change in the 3’s excellent handling, though I admit I didn’t have it on a track and didn’t push it to extremes.
As always, the 3 dove cleanly and pretty aggressively into semi-fast corners, displaying just enough body-lean to remind me that I wasn’t really being a solid citizen.
Likewise, its steering still felt quick with just enough heft to provide some feedback in fast corners.
The car also could rely during these antics on traction and grip from the all-wheel-drive system. In fact, the car remained composed no matter how western I got – something I wouldn’t say about most mainstream compact sedans.
In sport mode – which is where I left the 3 since I’m maturity-challenged – the 3,100-pound sedan rode firmly, resolutely stepping over bumps with an expensive-sounding thunk.
For whatever reason, though – financial, I presume – Mazda chose not to update the 3’s 2.5-liter “SkyActiv” four-cylinder engine or its six-speed automatic transmission.
With 186-horsepower, the engine is certainly competitive with other compact sedans, but the 3’s platform, suspension and handling tweaks could really benefit from a sportier engine than the soft 2.5 – an engine I’ve never learned to love.
Lively at the low end, the 3 leaps confidently away from stops and winds up smoothly and willingly to 4,000 or so rpm, but things flatten out from there, resulting in a 0-to-60 time of about 7 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
That’s plenty quick for dealing with our traffic-saturated roads, but it’s pretty average. Also mid-pack is the 3’s overall fuel economy of 27 miles per gallon.
The classy black and off-red interior in my 3 mostly compensated for those quibbles, however.
Every time I climbed into the car, I thought: “Forty thousand-dollar interior in a $30,000 car.” Just don’t ask me how Mazda does it with sales of the 3 down about 10 percent last year.
A deep, black upper dashboard, for example, slightly overlapped a mid-dash in off-red, wrapping around an 8.8-inch display screen that stood as the 3’s other major ding.
Tuning the audio system required finding the appropriate “page” on the screen, a process that bounced me among three different “pages” before I found my station.
No matter how computer-literate you are, this would prove really difficult, I imagine, while trying to navigate most cities’ chaotic, clogged roads.
At least the lower dash, in black, offered simple buttons and knobs for the climate controls, while the broad, raised console shone in piano-black trim.
More attractions could be found on the 3’s curved black-plastic door panels, which featured a strip of off-red up high that aligned with the strip on the mid-dashboard.
The perforated off-red leather seats – with reasonable leg- and headroom in back – finished off the interior with a large dash of class.
The options on my Premium Package Mazda3 included illuminated doorsill plates ($425); a navigation SD card ($450); and a wireless charging pad ($275).
Though the domestic automakers have largely written off compact sedans, Mazda, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai and Kia still play hard in the segment.
And the best of the bunch, in my view, is the Mazda3.
2019 Mazda3 Hatchback
- What I liked most: The Mazda3’s class-leading combination of style, nice interior and overall performance
- What I would change: As usual, the engine, which needs another 30 or 40 horsepower to do the rest of the car justice
- MSRP: Base price of hatchback, $23,600; as equipped, $31,300
- Fuel economy: Rated at 24 miles per gallon in the city, 32 on the highway and 27 mpg combined with filler on the left
- Official color: Polymetal Gray
- Odometer reading when tested: 537 miles
- Weight: 3,111 pounds
- Length-width-height: 175.6 inches long/70.7 inches wide/56.6 inches tall
- Fuel-tank capacity: 12.7 gallons
- Towing capacity: 897 to 1,019 pounds
- Spare tire: Temporary compact
- 2019 Mazda3 hatchback in a few words: Proof that a few mainstream auto companies can – and will – build exceptional compact sedans
- Warranty: Three-year, 36,000-mile overall warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain protection
- Final assembly location: Hofu, Japan
- Manufacturer’s website: www.mazdausa.com
- E-mail me at email@example.com
- Up next: 2019 Volvo S60