What changes will make the 2019 Mazda 3 different?
A full redesign with new body work and a potentially game-changing new engine. The 2019 edition of this compact sedan and hatchback will launch the fourth generation of Mazda’s entry-level car. Expect evolutionary styling with hints of the sharper shapes seen on the automaker’s striking CX-9 crossover. Hope for a full suite of safety features as standard on every model, not just the costliest trims. And look for the Japanese automaker to use the new 3 to introduce its groundbreaking Skyactive-X technology, which promises to reset expectations about a four-cylinder engine’s power and efficiency.
This front-wheel-drive five-seater has been a Mazda-brand staple since 2003. It was most recently redesigned for model-year 2015 and last updated for 2017. Every generation garnered praise for handling, styling, solid materials, and good reliability.
That hasn’t always translated into boffo sales. Demand fell 22 percent in 2017 and was off another 4.6 percent in the first quarter of 2018. Indeed, the entire compact-car segment is suffering, with sales down 9.3 percent as buyers continue to flock to crossovers of similar size and price. Still, the ‘3 is staying ahead of the downward spiral and ranks eighth in sales among a competitive set of some 17 rivals. That’s impressive, given that Mazda, a relatively small, independent automaker, eschews big rebates and cut-rate lease incentives in the belief they harm resale values and dilute brand image.
Why should I wait for the 2019?
To get the latest version of a compact car with potential to again be a segment benchmark for contemporary styling and driving enjoyment. Waiting comes with the opportunity to be among the first aboard the Skyactive-X evolution in engine technology. More on that below, in “Any mechanical changes?” But do note that some reports say Mazda will launch the 2019 version of the 3 with two conventional four-cylinder engines and wait until model-year 2020 to add the Skyactive-X.
Should I buy a 2018 model instead?
If you want a potentially great deal on what’s still an appealing small car. Dealers should be eager to clear inventories of 2018 models ahead of the all-new ‘19s. The ’18 Mazda 3’s styling is no means looks dated – it’s better-looking than most cars, in fact – and remains among the most entertaining to drive. The 2018 version beneifts from some thoughtful equipment shuffling and most important, Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support with low-speed autonomous emergency braking was made standard on every trim level.
Will the styling be different?
Yes, but probably not radically. The third-generation 3 was among the first Mazdas to fully embrace the brand’s KODO (Japanese for “Soul of Motion”) design themes and Skyactiv engineering. Mazda coined the term Skyactiv to describe a holistic approach to utmost efficiency in every aspect of vehicle design.
Look for a 2019 Mazda 3 styling to be a blend of CX-9 crispness and Mazda 6 curves. The already shapely nose will likely get greater definition with a new grille and headlights. Most trim levels will likely continue with horizontal grille bars, while a Signature version would probably get a mesh insert, as on the Mazda 6 Signature. Bright trim pieces would be kept to minimum. Changes to the tail and side profile are not liable to be radical.
Evolution would be the byword for the cabin, as well. Contemporary and functional are characteristics Mazda won’t mess with, and it’ll likely retain a driver-oriented environment, with a tidy steering wheel dead ahead and key controls clearly marked and easily accessed. The driver-focused approach probably will again include placing the tachometer in the center of the instrument cluster, a sporty touch seen on the 2018 Mazda 3 Touring and Grand Touring models but one we think will appear on the 2019 Sport trim level, too. If there’s a ‘19 Signature grade, it may get trendy customizable “virtual” gauges on one or more LCD screens.
We’d urge Mazda to enhance its infotainment tech. Expect it to again fit the Mazda 3 with a tablet-style screen atop the dashboard and to control it with a console-mounted knob and button interface. It mimics systems found on more expensive cars and generally works well, but we’d like Mazda to add dedicated radio preset buttons, along with support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto.
Refined versions of the outgoing 3’s firmly supportive front bucket seats are likely. The current 3 boasts one of the longest wheelbases in the class, and Mazda probably won’t noticeably stretch it. This distance between the front and rear axles is a key determinate of passenger legroom, and even without a stretch, expect the ’19 Mazda 3 to improve on what’s already pretty efficient interior packaging. We hope that includes a more substantial rear seat cushion that’s taller and longer to provide a needed boost in support.
The 2019 Mazda 3 sedan would benefit from more trunk volume than today’s subpar 12.3 cubic feet. We’re delighted Mazda will again offer a hatchback body style; it’s more handsome than the sedan, and more versatile, too. Look for its cargo volume to echo that of the outgoing verion’s useful 20.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 47.1 with the rear seatback folded.
Any mechanical changes?
Yes, starting with an all-new structure employing the latest Skyactiv advances in rigidity, weight savings, and crash-impact management. Grabbing the headlines, though, would be introduction of the Skyactiv-X engine. The first mass-production engine to employ homogeneous charge compression ignition, it’s designed to maximize fuel efficiency and power without the cost and complexity of turbocharging or gas-electric-hybrid technology.
By way of explanation, conventional gas engines draw air and fuel into the cylinder and igniting the mixture with a spark plug. That pushes the piston down, acting on the crankshaft, and produces power. Repeat the cycle several thousand times per minute, and you’re on your way.
By contrast, Skyactiv-X injects more air than fuel into the cylinder at first. The piston’s upward stroke compresses the mixture, creating heat and pressure within the cylinder. Just before the piston reaches the top of the cylinder, the engine injects a small, secondary dose of fuel, which the spark plug ignites. The ensuing “fire” burns the preliminary air and fuel, too, resulting in more power and cleaner emissions than with a conventional engine. (This is a variation of pure compression ignition used by diesel engines. Diesels, however, rely on a “glow plug” rather than a spark plug to heat the air and fuel to the point of combustion. This produces more torque, but the fuel doesn’t burn as cleanly, and since diesel is less refined than gasoline, it creates more harmful emissions that must be mitigated by costly filters and treatment fluid.)
Mazda’s first Skyactiv-X engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with an estimated 188 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. By comparison, the 2018 Mazda 3’s 2.0-liter four, used in the Sport grade, produced 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. And the 2.5-liter four-cylinder in the other models made 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque.
Some reports say the 2019 Mazda 3 will debut with those same carryover 2.0- and 2.5-liter engines and that Skyactiv-X will arrive for model-year 2020, either as a third choice or a replacement for one or both of the carryover fours. Regardless, expect the redesigned 3 to remain available with both manual and automatic transmission. Each would again have six speeds, which seems retrograde against the seven-, eight-, and even nine-speed automatics showing up in some rivals. On the upside, Mazda’s transmissions are proven performers with excellent shift characteristics. Either one should pair nicely with the Skyactiv-X engine.
Sharp handling has always been a Mazda 3 hallmark, and given advances in structure and suspension, the redesigned 3 should again challenge the class leaders for overall road manners. Expect tight steering, little body lean in fast turns, and astute suspension tuning that doesn’t compromise grip for ride comfort. Mazda added more sound insulation as part of the car’s 2017 refresh, and the 2019 should be quieter still. We hope the company will be judicious with the tires it selects; some 3s we’ve tested suffered excessive noise on coarse concrete.
Will fuel economy improve?
It almost certainly will, even if the ’19 Mazda 3 debuts with carryover engines; credit expected weight savings, improved aerodynamics, and engineering advances. Expect improvements to already laudable 2018 EPA ratings that topped out at 28/37/32 mpg city/highway/combined with the 2.0-liter and at 27/36/30 mpg with the 2.5.
Fuel efficiency will undoubtedly advance with the Skyactiv-X engine. Mazda claims improvements of up to 30 percent versus the 2.0- and 2.5-liter engines. That suggests EPA ratings of 36/49/43 mpg city/highway/combined with either manual or automatic transmission. That’s hybrid territory. All versions of the 2019 Mazda 3 would continue to use regular-grade 87-octane fuel.
Will it have new features?
Probably, and we hope the additions begin with a more liberal approach to safety features. Among mainstream brands, Toyota and Nissan set the bar, making autonomous emergency braking standard on virtually every vehicle they sell, and supporting it with adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning and lane-maintaining automatic steering either as standard or widely available options.
To its credit, every ’18 Mazda 3 came with Smart City Brake support, which features autonomous emergency braking that can automatically stop the car from around-town speeds to avoid a frontal collision. But only the Grand Touring grade was available with lane-departure warning and lane-maintaining automatic steering correction — and then only as part of the $1,600 Premium Equipment Package. Similarly, all ’18 Mazda 3 except the Sport had blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection. We’d urge the automaker to install all these safety features as standard on every 2019 Mazda 3.
Otherwise, expect feature availability to largely carry over. All 2019 Mazda 3s would have aluminum wheels (16 inches in diameter on the Sport, 18s on the Touring and Grand Touring, and possibly 19s on the Signature). Also standard would be pushbutton ignition, power windows/locks/mirrors, and Smart City Brake Support, which is the low-speed automatic emergency braking we mentioned previously. Mazda has another emergency braking system that works across a greater range of speeds, and while it would be nice to see this become standard, we won’t ding them too much if they decide to continue it as an option.
Touring models would add automatic headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and keyless door access.
The Grand Touring would have LED headlights with auto-leveling, LED daytime running lights and fog lights, unique exterior trim, leather upholstery, Bose-brand audio system, satellite radio, a head-up instrument display, and a power sunroof.
Continuing as optional for the Touring would be satellite radio, Bose audio, and sunroof, packaged together for about $1,500. Grand Touring models would offer a $1,600 package containing GPS mapping, heated steering wheel, traffic sign recognition for the head-up display, and a built-in garage door transmitter.
All the Grand Touring’s optional features would likely be included on the Signature, along with heated outboard rear seats, ventilated front seats, and upgraded leather upholstery and interior trim.
For all models, automatic transmission would cost around $1,050, while some paint colors would run from $200-$300.
How will 2019 prices be different?
They’ll almost certainly increase, as Mazda will need to recoup the cost of developing the Skyactiv-X engine. Including the manufacturer’s destination fee ($890 on the 2018 model) we estimate a base-price range of $20,000-$25,000 for the 2019 Mazda 3 sedan and $21,000-$26,000 for the hatchback.
When will it come out?
Look for the 2019 Mazda 3 to make its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2018, with a release date to customers in spring 2019.