Sunday, August 9, 2020

2019 Mazda 3 Sport Manual Review


A few weeks ago, I wrote a review of the newly re-designed 2019 Mazda 3 Sedan. It is a gorgeous car that showcases Mazda's excellent tradition of delivering vehicles that are both great looking and fun to drive. Personally, I prefer the hatchback form factor. As a previous owner of the first generation, I am extremely interested in reviewing the latest rendition of the Mazda 3 hatchback.

Thanks to Mazda Canada, I was given that chance. Moreover, my Mazda 3 Sport GT tester comes in the best package I can ask for: in beautiful Soul Red skin and with a manual transmission. Below is my unbiased review.

The new generation of the hatchback looks quite different from the sedan. In fact, other than the nose, the two barely share any body panel. The Sport, befitting to its name, looks more spirited than the elegant sedan. It reminds me of the Ferrari FF, a performance hatchback with shooting-brake design.

The long lose and fluid transition from the roof-line to the tailgate gives the Mazda 3 Sport a aerodynamic side profile. Mazda engineers purposely choose not to use any sharp character lines when designing both versions of the Mazda 3. The smooth curves of the body reflect lights differently at different angles to give the car a sculpted artistic appearance.

The only part of the car that I am not so sure about is the C pillar. The transition between the smooth belt line to the sharp rear wheel arc seems abrupt from the three-quarter rear angle. Stepping a few steps toward the front, and that awkward transition is no longer visible. With a smooth design like the Mazda 3, it is always going to be more challenging to make sure that the car looks good from every angle. Not to mention, looks are very subjective.

To accommodate the smooth C pillar, the daylight opening sweeps up at the rear door panel. While it looks absolutely sleek from the outside, the visibility for rear passengers becomes limited from the inside.

The front fascia of the car is similar to that of the sedan. Narrow LED headlights give the front profile of the Mazda 3 Sport an European vibe. I love the black center grille. Too bad the mandatory front licence plate covers a large portion of it. The rear profile of the car is interesting. With a wide base and relatively narrower top, the rear of the Sport is very distinctive. Slim LED taillights and the black hood spoiler are my favorite features in the back. I would prefer to see the tailgate to extend lower toward the bumper. I don't think it will affect the aesthetics of the car, but would make loading and unloading cargo much easier.

Overall, I find the hatchback version of the Mazda 3 to be have more personality, and also more polarizing. The two-toned black and Soul Red exterior makes for a youthful appearance, while the sculpted body still retain that elegant, sophisticated demeanor.

The interior of the Mazda 3 Sport is almost identical to that of the Sedan. The clean, minimalist design is still one of my favorite in the segment.  Moreover, the longer I spent time in the new Mazda 3 cabin, the more I am impressed with the attention to details.

The aluminum grilles for the Bose premium speakers look expensive, and the clever bar-style metallic interior door handles provide excellent tactile feedback when operated. The cabin is much quieter than any of the previous generation, and easily one of the best in the segment.

Both the arm and knee rests are padded by some of the softest leathers I have felt. The two-toned leather front seats provide excellent body supports as well as a natural driving position. Only the driver seat is power-adjustable. I really wish they would do the same for the passenger seat.

The rear passengers enjoy the same comfortable soft leather. The carved in front seat-backs provide extra legroom for taller passengers. Being a hatch back, there is more headroom in the Sport. However, the small window opening actually makes me feel more claustrophobic compare to the sedan.

Like in the sedan, the redesigned infotainment system of the Mazda 3 is much more responsive than the previous generation. The decision to move the touchscreen further away from the driver, and more aligned with the driver's line of sight, proves to be a clever one. After some getting used to, I no longer miss having a touchscreen. The rotary control dial in the center console provides a very easy way to interact with the infotainment system, especially when the car is in motion. Having a Favorite button helps the driver to quickly access the most used items on the menu.

There is digital LCD display in the instrument cluster, which mimics an analog dial. It shows a speedometer on the outside and relative driving information on the inside. Two vertical bars on each side of that display show instant fuel economy on the left, and fuel level on the right. I have pointed it out in the review for the sedan that the digital fuel gauge doesn't match the analog one, and that is still the case in the hatch.

According to Mazda, the development of the audio system comes early in the designing stage. The most significant change is the that woofers are now in front cowl instead of the doors. Doing so avoids unwanted vibrations from the door panels and items in door pockets. Standard Mazda 3s get the 8-speaker sound system, but our GT trim tester comes with the Bose premium 12-speaker audio system. It sounds fantastic, and takes full advantage of the quiet cabin.

Safety and Driver Assistance
Mazda has included the following standard safety features:
  • Rear-view camera
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System
  • Hill Launch Assist
GS and GT trim also get:
  • Auto Headlights
  • Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert
  • Driver Attention Alert
  • High Beam Control
  • Lane Departure Warning
  • Lane Keep Assist
  • Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go
  • Smart Brake Support
It earns Top Safety Pick rating from IIHS.

The 2019 Mazda 3 Sport is powered by a SKYACTIV-G 2.5L engine that produces 186 hp of horsepower and 186 lb.ft. of torque. The only trims that get the Skyactiv-MT six-speed manual transmission are the front-wheel drive hatchbacks. The FWD version is 170lb lighter than the AWD version, and the manual sheds another 50lb. Therefore, the FWD manual is the lightest Mazda 3 Sport you can get. That lightness can be felt both in terms of acceleration and handling.

I very much appreciate the fact that Mazda is still dedicated to keep the manual transmission alive. Moreover, the manual is not just bundled with the lowest trim, but also available to the top GT trim. The manual transmission is not as crisp as the one in the MX-5 but still decent. It takes approximately 7 seconds to go from 0-100 km. This is no hot hatch, but still more powerful than the likes of Corolla Hatchback, Civic hatchback, and Elantra GT.

The handling of the Sport is no different from the handing of the Sedan. In other words, excellent. Mazda engineers are obsessed to create a seamless connection between the driver and the vehicle, and the result shows. The steering is precise and predictable, and the standard G-Vectoring Control Plus adds direct yaw control with the brakes while the car is attacking corners.

I have talked about the newly developed torsion beam suspension that has now replaced the multi-link setup in the rear. While I still prefer the multi-link suspension, there is little difference in terms of actual performance on the road. Because the torsion beam system is simpler and easier to tune, Mazda engineers are able to make it behave exactly as they wanted. There is very little front dip when braking, and little front rise on hard acceleration. I can honestly say that the Mazda 3 has retained its excellent driving characteristics from the past.

The one thing that I don't like is the huge blind spot created by the large C pillar. Thanks to the blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert, it is not too big of an issue on the road.

The manual FWD Mazda 3 Sport is rated at 9.2 L/100km city and 6.6 L/100km highway. Our mostly city test drive returns a 10.5 L/100km fuel economy rating.

Cargo Space & Storage
There is 569L of cargo space behind the rear seats. With rear seats folded, that cargo volume is increased to 1334L. It is by no mean the largest in the segment, but should be adequate for day-to-day operations.  One problem I have with the trunk space is how much lower the trunk floor is compare to the lift-gate. It makes loading heavy or longer items in and out of the trunk that much harder.

In cabin storage options are plenty. The side door pockets are deep and organized. The glove box and the center console storage bin are both larger than before. There is a small storage tray on the left side of the steering wheel, and two additional cup holders in the rear folding armrest.

The Mazda 3 Sport in its fourth generation has come a long way to become a seriously luxurious vehicle that is beautiful both inside and out. The drivetrain is more refined, and the infotainment system has finally caught up to its rivals. In exchange for the good look though, I feel like some utility has been scarified. Whether that trade-off is worthwhile is up for debate. You certainly cannot get an interior this nice at this price range elsewhere.

On another note, I applaud Mazda for making manual transmissions available to higher trims. I only wish the transmission can a little crisper like the one in the MX-5.

Test Vehicle
2019 Mazda 3 Sport GT Manual
$30,770 CAD all in before tax
Soul Red Crystal Metallic

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