There’s more than just differing levels of enthusiasm for the letter “u” separating Americans from their Canadian neighbors. There’s a powertrain divide, too, and in no vehicle line is this more apparent than in Mazda’s new 3 compact sedan and hatch.
You read the first drive review on Monday, and some of you perhaps recoiled a bit after seeing the starting price for a 2019 3 sedan, inflated due to a greater level of standard content, a singular (formerly uplevel) engine, and the lack of a manual transmission in all but one bodystyle and trim. It’s possible the latter change ruffled a few more feathers.
Well, head across the border and you’ll feel none of these concerns. The 3 offered by Mazda Canada casts a far wider net, inviting all comers, though the company insists it hasn’t left its premium aspirations behind.
While the U.S. Mazda’s 3 line starts at $21,895, after destination, for a base sedan — a nearly three grand climb from 2018’s entry point — Canada’s lowliest Mazda 3 retails for $18,000, or $19,695 after freight and PDI. (It’s worth noting that, with customer cash on the hood, a 2018 GX sedan can be had for $16,610 after freight and fees.)
Why the lower entry price? Think less horsepower and more driver involvement. Mazda Canada isn’t about to say goodbye to the 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G that vanished from the U.S. line for 2019. That motor returns with the same 155 hp and 150 lb-ft as before, as does the six-speed manual tranny.
Whereas American customers can only get a manual in one version of the new 3 (a front-drive hatch with Premium package, stickering for $28,395 after destination), Canadian customers have seven stick shift choices: a base GX sedan, with or without Convenience package, the least-trimmed mid-level GS sedan, the GX hatch, GS hatch (with or without Luxury package), and the Premium package GT hatch. Only the hatchback, which Mazda Canada calls the Sport, offers a 2.5L/manual pairing. No sticks with all-wheel drive, though. That’s something both Americans and Canadians have to grapple with.
According to Sandra Lemaitre, Mazda Canada’s PR and corporate affairs director, the manual transmission take rate for 2018 Mazda 3s amounted to 14 percent for sedans and 21 percent for hatchbacks. Like with the Canadian-market 2019 Chevrolet Cruze, enough Canucks still enjoy rowing their own to warrant stick availability.
The cheapest hatch offered north of the border sells for $22,995; again, thanks to the 2.0L/6M combo. American hatches, with their automatic and greater standard power, start at $24,495. If 155 hp is just too tepid, Canadians can expect to pay more — a GS sedan with the 2.5-liter stickers for $25,995, and the ladder only climbs from there (a loaded sedan retails for $32,095 after destination; the priciest hatch, $33,095). All-wheel drive starts at $27,695 for a GS sedan, while grippier hatches begin at $28,695.
In the U.S., Mazda’s cheapest AWD sedan carries the Select package and retails for $24,895 after destination, while a base AWD hatch can be had for $25,895.
When asked about Mazda’s premium push, Lemaitre said the retention of a smaller engine doesn’t change the overall strategy for the model, saying “we wanted to ensure we have a broad range of options to satisfy consumer wants/needs.”
“In Canada, the compact car is one of the more price sensitive segments,” she continued, “and being mindful of these segment realities we have a well-contented entry trim with our manual transmission and 2.0L engine available, allowing us to offer an attainable entry point into our brand, while still offering high trims and packages with a heightened premium execution for those who want it.”
While Canadian Mazda buyers are increasingly opting for higher-content GT and Signature trims (sales of those models rose from 8 percent in 2012 to 35 percent last year), enough interest remains in lower-rung cars to keep them alive, Lemaitre said.
As for the innovative 2.0-liter Skyactiv-X engine that’s missing from the 2019 3 line on both sides of the border, Lemaitre said its introduction “is still under study,” adding “we’ll communicate more information at a later date.”
Offered from the outset in Europe and other overseas markets, Skyactiv-X is being held back in North America, presumably to give engineers time to realize power gains from the unique mill. Jalopnik shed some light on this recently. The novel engine combines diesel and gasoline tech for greater fuel economy: a small burst of fuel, ignited via spark plug, allows a very lean charge of fuel to be ignited via compression as the piston reaches the top dead center position.
Mazda hopes to offer class-leading fuel economy, but it now seems that MPGs alone — in an era of low fuel prices — might not be enough to get buyers to opt for the pricier engine.
The revamped 2019 Mazda 3 hits Canadian dealer lots in April.
[Images: Corey Lewis/TTAC, Mazda]