Final Thoughts on the 2019 Mazda3 Sedan
I returned the 2019 Mazda3 AWD Sedan loaner car last Tuesday. I miss it already. These are my final thoughts on that wonderful car.
For my first impressions on the car, you can refer to this post. I will be quoting some of my initial observations from that previous post, so as to give more context to the findings I’ve noted down in this post.
This is the only decent photo I have of this car. I wished I took more pictures of it, but ever since I've been on my digital minimalism journey, I've neglected having to take photos of a lot of other things as well. Mostly because I don't feel the need to share them online anymore.
First off, I want to mention the reduced visibility in this car, which I failed to mention in my previous post. For the first 3 days that I had the car, I was sitting too low, hence my rear visibility was compromised. Still, even after raising my seat to the proper height, the visibility in the new Mazda3 sedan is not as good as it is in my Speed3. Don't even try to compare it to the visibility on the bigger CX-5. You'll get used to the reduced visibility over time, but it doesn't really go away. I guess this is why Car and Driver considers the new Mazda3 to be the Camaro of the compact car segment.
Second, that $25,000 loaner car came with most of Mazda's safety features, including Mazda Radar Cruise Control and the Lane-Keep Assist/Lane Departure Warning system.
- I've tried the Radar Cruise Control feature on the highway and it works well. I can see it being of great use on road trips.
- The Lane-Keep Assist bothered me and I didn't like it. Whenever it activated, I was getting confused because it felt like it wanted me to steer into the other direction, the direction to get out of the lane, instead of staying in it. If I had it on my car, I would just turn it off.
- Mazda has a display mode where it shows you all the safety tech working together as one. If you get too close to the car in front, it will show a car on your dashboard, and if you get really close, it will start to warn you. If your blind spot is detecting a vehicle, it will show it on the dashboard including the location (left or right) that the vehicle is in. It is pretty cool and kept me somewhat entertained. My Speed3 has blind spot monitors, but no Radar Cruise Control and no screen on the dashboard showing more safety info.
It also comes with the new version of Mazda Connect and has Apple Carplay. Today was my first time using Apple Carplay. It is pretty cool, though I wasn't blown away by the use of it. The main benefit in my opinion is not having to mount your phone somewhere on your car while driving.
The more I used Carplay, the more I started to like it. Mazda also makes it really easy to switch between Carplay and their Mazda Connect system; you just have to do a long press on the Mazda Connect Home button. I got so used to doing this that when I drove my wife's CX-5, I did the same thing and was disappointed to see that there is no Carplay in our CX-5. (It can be added as a dealer installed accessory on a 2016 CX-5, but it will cost around $400, which is to say not cheap.)
There is something weird that happens when accelerating hard and the engine goes past 4000 RPM. It is almost like it hesitates at the 4000 RPM mark, like it's not sure if I really wanted to go fast or to back off. If I keep my foot on the throttle, it will eventually give me everything it's got all the way to the redline.
It actually doesn't happen at 4000 RPM, but at around 3700-3800 RPM. In one instance, I managed to look down at the tachometer just as this was happening and I could see the RPM teetering up and down at around the 3750 RPM mark. This only happened at less than full throttle applications. I still think the car just couldn't figure out whether I wanted to go all out or not.
The throttle mapping on this car is pretty good, compared to the sluggish throttle mapping on the 2016 CX-5s. You don't have to step on the throttle too much to get it to downshift. It is just right in my opinion.
Throttle response and the transmission on this car is really good! I know for sure my Speed3 is faster in a straight line, but in daily driving passing maneuvers, this Mazda3 is so responsive that I cannot find a fault with it. Step on the gas pedal quickly and the car will reward you with a really quick downshift and will sometimes even shove you back to the seat. Here are some examples:
- I was trying to merge into a highway with slow moving traffic, I found a gap between a truck and a small hatchback and started to ease my way in. I was in no way driving aggressively, I was just trying to slowly merge. For some reason the hatchback driver accelerated to stop me from merging, even if I was already partly in the lane. I was annoyed. I saw a gap in front of the truck and promptly buried the gas pedal. The car downshifted to 1st gear and took off while slamming my head back to the headrest in the process. I was not expecting that, but I was pleasantly surprised.
- I was driving behind a slow car going 30 mph on a 40-mph road. I wanted to pass, so I turned the wheel to start the lane change and buried the gas pedal. The car quickly downshifted, revs went up to around 4000 rpm and took off with a nice growl from the engine. I was also pushed back to the seat, with a grin on my face.
Just for comparison this is how a passing maneuver unfolds in my Speed3: I downshift to either 3rd or 4th gear, turn my wheel to initiate a turn then I bury the gas pedal. (Okay I don't have to bury the gas pedal all the time in the Speed3, but it's fun and well you get the idea.) There will be a momentarily delay while boost builds up and then BAM, the car takes off. The longer I stay on the gas pedal, the faster it goes.
That momentarily delay due to turbo lag, is what makes the new Mazda3 feel much more responsive than my Speed3. On the Mazda3, you bury the gas pedal and it takes off right away at a moderate pace. On the Speed3, you bury the gas pedal and there is a slight delay then it takes off like a rocket. On sustained full throttle applications, the Speed3 will pull away from the new Mazda3. However, in the four days that I have had the loaner car, I have never ran into a passing maneuver where I felt that the car didn't have enough power to pass. (I cannot say the same thing about the CX-5.) Like I said in my previous post, the power that this car's engine has, is adequate for daily driving.
And therein lies the beauty with the new Mazda3. If you drive it calmly, you will get decent fuel efficiency, but if you need to pass, you have adequate power for doing so. Not as much power as the Speed3, but good enough for daily driving. For some reason I now get a kick out of seeing how much fuel efficiency I can get by driving slow (still don't want to consider a Prius though ^_^).
Contrast that to the Speed3, where driving slow can admittedly be boring and then you're still not getting better than 25 MPG out of it. (Others might be getting better MPGs, but they won't if they have the commute that I have now.) Sure, it is unfair to compare the fuel efficiency of a decades old engine to a modern one, but it doesn't diminish the fact that the new Mazda3 really impressed me. And maybe I am tired of paying $40 at the pump.
This car takes corners really well. It is a little hard to explain, but it feels like when you start turning, it is already ready to turn. Contrast that to other cars, where when you turn, the car sort of like sets itself up for the turn or leans for the turn, then turns. In this Mazda3 it's like it doesn't have to wait to lean into the turn, it just turns. My prior research indicates that this is the new G-Vectoring Control Plus and the updated i-Activ AWD system in action.
When you push the car, like drive it at 8/10ths of its capability, it starts to exhibit more body roll than I’m accustomed to. To be fair, Mazda never said this car was a Mazdaspeed or a performance variant of the regular Mazda3; this is just a Mazda3. On the limit, the Speed3 is more stable and inspires more confidence. In city driving speeds though, this Mazda3 can do whatever the Speed3 can do within the legal speed limits. It is a very good daily driver.
The suspension on this car is comfy but sporty enough. It absorbs bumps way better than my Speed3 does, which is to be expected, but it also beats the CX-5 in this aspect. I'm saying it is more comfy to drive than the CX-5, while being able to take corners faster than a CX-5.
I take back what I said about this car being comfier than a CX-5. It can take corners faster, that’s a given, but there were certain roads that exposed a minor issue with its suspension. On some roads it would exhibit a lingering vibration that I would feel on my legs or thighs. A few hours after I dropped off the loaner car, I drove the wife’s CX-5 on the same roads and didn’t experience the same issue. I also regularly drive my Speed3 on the same roads and while I felt the bumps on the road, I never felt a lingering vibration on my legs or thighs.
The roads where the new Mazda3 is superior to the CX-5 are on those smooth undulating roads, where the CX-5 with its higher ground clearance ends up with a bouncy ride. That leads me to think it is an issue with the loaner car. Maybe something to do with the rear torsion beam setup?
Side-note: A lot of people think vehicles with higher ride height offer a better ride. This is not always the case, unless you're paying luxury car money for a sporty German SUV. The higher ride height means there is more suspension travel that the shocks need to handle when driving over bumps, which can end up in a bouncy, less responsive ride. While you are waiting for the suspension on your SUV to settle back down after a bump, a car driving over the same bump has already recovered from the vertical jolt and is already ready to absorb the next bump on the road. Imagine driving through a bumpy road and then having to perform an evasive maneuver. It is for this reason that I highly prefer driving cars over higher riding vehicles that are much less responsive.
Regarding that torsion beam setup, I don’t think anyone will notice it while driving this car. The car drives just like a regular Mazda3 with multi-link suspension in the rear. There was only 1 instance where I felt like the rear may have stepped out a little. I was accelerating quickly while slightly turning on a bumpy road and when I drove over one of the bumps, I felt the rear of the car step out a tiny bit. When I say “step out” I mean that I felt like the rear of the car went up, then moved a tiny bit to the side before coming back down. The general population probably won’t notice that though. So, what I’m trying to say is that the rear suspension on the new Mazda3 is good enough that I wouldn’t use it as a reason to not buy this car.
The engine has a weird sound when accelerating. It sounds... artificial or sometimes even comical.
This only happens when accelerating below 3000 RPM. I still don't know why it makes that weird sound, but I also don't think it would be reason enough to not buy the car. The engine actually sounds pretty good when accelerating at 4000 RPM and above.
On a related note, this Mazda3 for some reason feels tighter in the back than my Speed3. I think daily driving with 1 car seat would be my limit on this car. If you have to use 2 car seats, I think it is best to move up to a midsize vehicle, like a Mazda6 or CX-5.
I verified that the new Mazda3 actually has less legroom than my Speed3, which is most likely why it feels tighter in the back. My Speed3 has something like 36.2 inches of rear legroom, while the new Mazda3 has only 35.1 inches. If you must use 2 car seats, but one of them is a front facing only (not the front/rear convertible ones) car seat, then I think you could make it work with this car. If both you and your partner are tall, or if you want to stay with a compact car and still daily drive with 2 car seats, then look into a Honda Civic sedan, which has like 37.1 inches of rear legroom.
I'm worried about the fuel economy on this car. This is supposed to get 25 mpg in city driving and above 30 mpg on the highway. I'm averaging less than 25 mpg. Actually it's more like 23 mpg, which is not good.
I previously had a concern with the fuel efficiency of this car because I was barely averaging 23 mpg. This turned out to be a non-issue as I got more highway miles with the car. My commute is generally a 60-40 split between highway and city driving. To elaborate, here were my findings from commuting with it for two days.
- Traffic was light on my morning commute to work last Monday. When I got to the parking lot, the car’s fuel efficiency monitor stated 32.6 avg mpg for the drive. Right after I got off the highway though, before driving to the office parking lot, it said 33.8 avg mpg.
- On my lunch breaks, I usually go out to pick up my lunch. Driving on my lunch break is like therapy for me. Anyway, both heading out and coming back to the office, I averaged around 22-23 mpg, which is below the 26 city mpg estimate.
- On the drive home from the office, I always have to drive through a section of slow traffic on the highway. Then I have to drive through some hilly terrain as well. I averaged around 28 mpg for this drive.
- Tuesday’s morning commute had more traffic compared to Monday and when I got to the office parking lot, the car said I averaged 28.9 mpg for the drive.
- I got the same 22-23 mpg for my lunch break drive.
- My service advisor finally called and said my Speed3 was ready. The loaner car’s fuel gauge was down to like 30-40%, so I had to fill up with gas before returning it. I ended up paying $17 to get it up to a full tank of gas. In comparison my wife usually pays around $20 for a full tank of gas on her CX-5. Lately I’ve been paying an average of $38 to fill up my Speed3 with premium gas (93 octane). This is based on data from last month's fill-ups. The first 3 fill-ups last September were actually at $40 and above, ouch.
This means that if I were to trade in my Speed3 for a new Mazda3, I would save at least $15 on every fill-up. $15 per fill-up multiplied by 4-5 fill-ups a month, means I would save at least $60 a month. $60 a month is $720 a year. That is an eye-opener!
Of course, in the big picture I would be spending at least $25,000 just to get a more fuel efficient car, as opposed to keeping the car I already have. So from a long term cost perspective, buying a new car is still more expensive than keeping an old one. Still considering that I will eventually need to replace my car in a few years, the difference in monthly/yearly fuel expenses is significant.
I had the car for a total of 4 days; drove it from Saturday to Tuesday. When I finally dropped it off, the car’s computer said I averaged 27.5 mpg for the duration that I had the car. Not bad, especially compared to the 21-22 mpg I’m averaging on my Speed3, but also not as close to the EPA estimated combined rating of 30 mpg for the car.
What I learned from driving this loaner car and comparing it to my wife's CX-5, is that Mazda's NA 2.5L SkyActiv engine needs a lot of highway miles to realize its full potential. If all you do is city driving, I think you will have a hard time hitting 26 mpg. For that kind of driving, you would get better MPGs by going with Honda's turbocharged 1.5 engine with the CVT.
If you do a lot of highway miles, then you will have a chance at getting good fuel mileage from Mazda's NA 2.5L SkyActiv engine and also enjoy Mazda's responsive 6-speed automatic transmission. (I tried to like CVTs, but I just couldn't get used to the experience when going WOT with CVT equipped cars.)
After I dropped off the loaner car, I was actually very interested to see how I would feel getting back into my car. Usually I would be excited to drive my car again after not driving it for a few days. I was a little shocked when I felt just “okay” when I got back into my car. Going from the new Mazda3 into my old Speed3, felt like going from a brand new flat-bar road bike, into an old road bike. Everything on the Mazda3 felt smoother, lighter, more comfortable, while the Speed3 felt “stickier” or heavier, like its joints needed to be lubricated more. The Speed3 is the faster car for sure, but that's about it. I feel like everything else is better on the new Mazda3, well except maybe the visibility and slightly tighter back seat accommodations.
One of the biggest differences is the way the steering wheel feels. Driving the new Mazda3, it is hard to tell what Mazda's GVC+ system is doing. But if you immediately switch to an older Mazda like the Speed3, you'll notice a difference. The steering wheel on the Speed3 feels heavier, which is to be expected since it still uses hydraulic steering, however, I also noticed that I had to make more corrections when driving my Speed3 compared to new Mazda3. It sort of feels like the new Mazda3 was helping you steer.
This benefit seems only applicable in city driving it seems. At highway speeds, the heavier Speed3 steering wheel feels more stable, especially on that curvy off ramp that I like taking at a good pace. That said, I wonder if all I needed was more time to get used to the new Mazda3's steering. I guess I'll never know unless I drive one for more than 4 days.
So the big question for me was, would I trade in my Speed3 for the new Mazda3? If you asked me that years ago, or even a day before driving the loaner car, my answer would be a resounding “No.” After having driven the loaner car, my answer is now a suprising “I think so” or even a “Yes.” Maybe my days of “hooning” with the Speed3 has come to an end, or I most likely just grew up in the past 6 years that I've daily driven the Speed3, but one thing is for sure, that new Mazda3 left a really good impression on me.
The plan is to still drive the Speed3 until it is 10 years old, then trade it in for an AWD Mazda6 or if that is still not available in the US, then an AWD Mazda3 hatchback.