Although this has always been the case for the Mazda3, the two hatchbacks have recently been totally overhauled and now the Corolla has more to offer than just reliability and value. In previous generations, we thought it was unfair to compare the Corolla to the Mazda3 because the Toyota always seemed a class below. With this new generation model, however, the playing field has been leveled and we now think the two are worthy competitors.
Get the Flash Player to see this player.
Although the two hatchbacks are executed quite differently, they both have a lot to offer and we’ve brought them together to see which one is the better car.
Toyota Corolla: For all the criticism Toyota used to get about being boring, you have to admit that this new Corolla actually looks pretty good. Toyota did an excellent job with the design — it’s youthful, it doesn’t blend in, and it’s definitely not boring. It’s aggressive yet not so much that you’d feel embarrassed driving it (ahem, like the Honda Civic Hatchback). The LED lighting in the front and back gives it an edge and helps it look more upscale, while the unique color choices also give the look some life.
Mazda3: And while the new Corolla’s design is quite striking, it just can’t match the elevated looks of the Mazda. Instead of being in your face with a big grille and a bunch of angles, Mazda took a more subdued approach and tried to go upmarket with its design on the 3 hatchback. A lot of people aren’t sold on the massive c-pillar and lack of hard lines, but the look is growing on me and from the front, it looks way more elegant than anything else in the segment. The long hood, short overhangs, and pretty details come together cohesively and you get the sense that the hatchback was designed by people who love their jobs and didn’t cut any corners.
Interior and Technology
Mazda3: It’s a similar story for the interiors of the two hatches. Of course, one of the highlights of the new Mazda3 is the interior. The interior in the test vehicle was all black and isn’t as pretty as the one with contrast red panels, but still feels like a luxury car in a way the Toyota can’t match. Although not quite at Audi levels yet, I like this interior better than most Acuras and Lexus cars. Everything is put together well, the layout is intuitive, there’s no creaking or cheapness anywhere, the materials are high-end, the switchgear has a tactile feel, and the minimal design looks elegant.
I’m not the biggest fan of the Mazda’s infotainment system. There’s no touchscreen and you have to use a rotary knob to control the system, which is annoying when you have to type in an address. Other than that, it’s fine, but I still prefer a touchscreen. It’s the best when automakers offer you both options. There are Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which is great because I don’t love the Mazda’s menu structure
I love the head up display because it’s not one of those ones projected onto a little plastic panel and it shows you if there’s a car in your blind spot, which is super useful. There’s also cylinder deactivation, which works seamlessly. You can feel it sometimes, but it’s far less intrusive than a typical stop/start system.
The full suite of driver assistance and safety features also come standard and they all work smoothly — the warning chimes aren’t too jarring and the corrections aren’t too intrusive. The adaptive cruise accelerates and slows down naturally, and it’s much smoother than the Corolla’s system. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, driver attention assist, lane-keep assist, lane departure warning, full-speed adaptive cruise control with stop and go, highbeam control, and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking are all standard and it helps the Mazda3 secure a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the second best designation possible.
Where the Mazda3 starts to fall apart is in the practicality department. There isn’t a whole lot of room in the back seat for passengers in terms of headroom and legroom. The trunk can hold 20.1 cubic feet but the seats can fold down to hold larger items, but this figure is considered on the small side for the segment.
ALSO SEE: Is Mazda a Luxury Brand?
Toyota Corolla: On paper, the Toyota Corolla is less roomy than the Mazda3 — the specs show that the Corolla has less cargo room (18 cu-ft), and less rear legroom. But in practice, the Corolla manages to feel more comfortable in the rear seats because headroom front and rear is more generous and there isn’t a huge c-pillar making you feel claustrophobic like in the Mazda3.
We won’t argue that the Corolla’s interior is as nice as the Mazda’s, but it’s still excellent. The Corolla has a simple yet attractive design that squeezes every drop of style out of the materials that you could possibly expect at this price point. The materials aren’t as high-end as the Mazda, but Toyota made a real effort to keep the price point low but the visual interest and quality high. The leather seats have contrasting cloth inserts that help make them more interesting and prevent people from burning their bums on a hot day, the contrast stitching throughout the cabin classes it up, the use of piano black and silver trim are tasteful, and the layout is efficient and user-friendly.
ALSO SEE: 2020 Toyota Corolla Review and Video
What isn’t so user-friendly is the Corolla’s infotainment system, which is probably the car’s biggest drawback, though it’s not a dealbreaker. The tiles on the home screen are hard to read and differentiate, the bootup is slow, the reactions are slow, and it only has Apple CarPlay, meaning if you have an Android phone, you have no choice but to suffer through the slowness.
The Corolla, like the Mazda3, also comes standard with a suite of driver assistance and safety features that includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assistance, automatic highbeams, full-speed adaptive cruise control, road sign assist, and lane tracing assist. This also makes the Corolla Hatchback a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS.
Mazda3: It’s obvious that Mazda puts a lot of effort into the driving dynamics of its cars, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that the Mazda3 drives very well, which has a lot to do with its well-engineered chassis. There is a crispness and precision that is hard to find in this segment, and the steering is likely the most dialed in and almost overly heavy in its class. It drives like a more expensive car. That is not a surprise.
The Mazda3 is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, sending power to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual. AWD is also available, but only with the automatic. Fuel economy is rated at 26 city, 35 highway, and 30 combined.
The only weirdness I experienced was with the transmission. It will shift harshly from time to time and sometimes in first gear when you’re creeping forward, it just slips and shudders. The idle is also a bit rough at times. Power delivery can also leave you wanting while trying to pass or get up to highway speed quickly. None of these are dealbreakers, but I expect more refinement from Mazda.
But maybe my expectations were too high for this new model. I expected it to be bubbly and fun like other Mazda products, but this 3 feels almost too serious. Yes, it feels great to drive — it’s confident and precise, and even the torsion beam rear suspension doesn’t bother me — but it just doesn’t sparkle like I expected it to. It almost feels German, which isn’t a bad thing, but there is definitely something joyful missing here.
Toyota Corolla: The Corolla surprised us by its driving dynamics — we expected it to be adequate but not at all fun, so we were delighted when we discovered its playful personality.
The Corolla is powered by a 2.0L four-cylinder with 168 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is rated at 30 city, 38 highway, and 33 combined.
Yes, it has less power, less torque, and it has an enthusiast-reviled CVT, but the CVT is actually really good. It has a physical first gear to help off-the-line launches feel better, which helps with the driving experience without compromising efficiency. And it works really well. Despite having less horsepower and torque than the Mazda3, it doesn’t feel that much slower.
Surprisingly, the Corolla feels great in the corners, too, which has a lot to do with the TNGA platform it’s built on. Designed for duty in the RAV4, C-HR, and Prius, it’s designed to handle way more weight than this Corolla’s 3,000 lbs. So thanks to that stiff, strong chassis, Toyota’s engineers could spend their time making a suspension that was compliant enough to drive over bumpy roads comfortably, yet stiff enough to be chucked into corners with reckless abandon. It’s not a sporty car, but we were still impressed by how fun it felt.
Mazda3: The base Mazda3 starts at $23,600, while the Preferred Package starts at $25,200 and the topline Premium Package goes for $27,500. Adding all-wheel-drive to the hatchback will cost $1,400. These prices do not include the $920 delivery and processing fee.
The Verdict: 2019 Mazda3 vs Toyota Corolla Hatchback Comparison
Both compact hatchbacks have a lot to offer and we enjoy them both very much, though for different reasons. The Toyota Corolla is efficient, surprisingly fun, stylish, loaded with tech, and because it starts at nearly $3,500 less than the Mazda3 all while being more efficient, it makes a very strong case for itself.
The Mazda3, however, feels like it should be costing about $10,000 more than the Corolla, proving that there’s still a huge gap between the two. Although the Mazda3 isn’t perfect, it more than makes up for it with an elegance that punches above its price. We think the Mazda3 is the better hatchback, so it wins this comparison, but the fact that the Corolla is now a serious competitor to the Mazda is a huge accomplishment on its own.
With additional reporting by Sébastien Bell