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Video | The 2019 Mazda3 Is My Favorite New Compact Sedan

I recently had the chance to drive the all-new 2019 Mazda3, which was just redesigned to become the fourth generation version of the popular compact car. Since it debuted, the Mazda3 has been a favorite of car journalists — and of car enthusiasts who need the efficiency and affordable pricing of a compact car. I’m happy to report the new one is no different.

First, let’s cover a brief overview of the latest Mazda3. The newest version of the car offers one engine — a potent 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 186 horsepower — and it’s available in hatchback or sedan body styles, with the hatchback turning the corner from "nice-looking" in the prior generation to "a bit odd" with the latest version. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is optional — a first for the Mazda3 — and pricing starts from around $22,000, though the one I reviewed was around $27,500.

With regards to the driving experience, my very first impression of the Mazda3 is that it’s still as sharp as before — or probably sharper. Although I never really felt earlier Mazda3 models handled much better than competitors, I think the previous-generation version did — and I feel the same way about the new one. Steering is precise and surprisingly communicative, and you get the sense that attention was really paid to make this car actually engaging to drive, rather than just easy to drive like most competitors.

The same is true with the powertrain. The Mazda3’s 186 hp figure is a really impressive one, as that’s the most standard power in this class — by far. The Honda Civic comes standard with 158 horses, the Toyota Corolla with 139, the Hyundai Elantra with 128, and we could go on and on. Some of these cars offer more power than the Mazda3 in their top-level sporty versions, but nothing comes close to the Mazda3’s power figure at the entry level. And, obviously, you feel the power, with the car offering strong acceleration and good highway passing power for a small car. Amazingly, official fuel economy figures aren’t far off rivals with more power.

Interior materials are a major high point of the Mazda3 — and so is the interior experience in general, with lots of room, comfortable seats and a good seating position. The "Premium" Mazda3 I drove, with upscale-feeling leather and nice stitching, really does boast the best interior in the small car segment.

As for technology, the Mazda3 is rolling out Mazda’s latest infotainment system, which will eventually make its way into the brand’s other models — and I’m not a big fan. It’s not available as a touchscreen, which is a mistake. That bucks the industry trend of offering infotainment that’s controllable based on driver preference, with redundant touchscreen controls, steering wheel controls, center console controls. The Mazda3 only offers the latter two, which makes it a bit cumbersome to adjust things with the screen, and the screen itself is surprisingly small and far away from the driver. I think Kia does infotainment much better.

And speaking of Kia, I recently pronounced the new Kia Soul my favorite compact car — so it may come as a surprise that I’m speaking so highly of the new Mazda3, too, given that they compete in the same segment. But there’s an important distinction: the Soul is weird. Too weird, in fact, for many people — and so, if you’re in the world of car shoppers who wants something a bit more mainstream, the Mazda3 is that car. And optional AWD will undoubtedly help sell it in northern areas where shoppers may otherwise consider a crossover.

In all, the latest Mazda3 is a great car — especially for people who enjoy driving, as it brings extra power and more driving enthusiasm to the compact car segment. It also boasts competitive fuel economy, a nice interior and good pricing — and while I think the infotainment could use some work, I think this is the best little sedan on the market. If you’re into that sort of thing. Find a Mazda3 for sale

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