There are two hatchbacks at the top of their game – Toyota Corolla and Mazda3. Both improved vastly with their new generation models in 2019 including a much sportier, aggressive look, up-to-date technology, and improved driving dynamics. So just how do you make your mind up when choosing one over the other? Let’s take a closer look at how each compare in price, styling, and practicality.
Style – Advantage Mazda
There’s no denying both cars have ‘upped’ their game in the styling department. The Mazda has a sleek, longer curved body shape with sharp LED headlights, while the Corolla has a more edgy, sportier feel at first glance – in fact it could almost be mistaken for a geometric transformer. As far as the choice of color, Corolla comes up trumps with eight options compared to Mazda’s five.
Depending on the trim level, both cars have plenty to offer in regards to comfortable seating, but the Mazda3 has an instant feel of luxury as you step inside often being compared to Lexus and Infiniti. The curved horizontal dash of the Mazda3 showcases a beautiful blend of leather and soft black plastic as well as a sense of smooth, slick frivolity, whereas the Corolla’s display unit sits up and out from the dash (a bit like a sore thumb) instead of sitting calmly in place like the Mazda3.
As far as space goes however, the Mazda falls short (literally) for the back seat passengers with a lack of headroom and legroom. The Corolla has plenty of headroom front and back making the passengers feel more comfortable although legroom in the back is once again an issue. The rear ‘C’ pillar on the Mazda 3 is quite a sticking point not only for lack of visibility of blind spots, but also for the backseat passengers who already feel claustrophobic on height and legroom. Trunk space favors the Corolla once again with 333 liters of room compared to 295 liters in the Mazda3.
Tech – Advantage Mazda
The Mazda3 was the first to get the brand’s new 8.8-inch infotainment system which features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. However it all comes down to preference, as the system has a rotary knob instead of a touch-screen making it arduous to type in an address for the GPS. Mazda3 also comes with a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster that displays things like navigation and music, but it isn’t as intuitive or configurable as some others. The Bose 12-speaker audio setup is a welcome touch in such a cool car.
Corolla comes standard with an 8.0-inch touch-screen that also has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. For a bit of old-school tech, their Entune touch-screen infotainment system has a quirky, yet dated feel, and the JBL 8-speaker system isn’t as good as the Mazda3. The tiles on the home screen can be hard to read, and the boot-up is slow as is the reaction time.
Driving Dynamics – Advantage Mazda3
The 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine in the Mazda3 produces an output of 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque compared to Corolla’s output of 168 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque with a 2.0 liter engine.
Although solid and great on corners, Mazda’s suspension is harsh at times and makes even smaller ruts in the road surface feel like potholes. And although the four-cylinder engine has plenty of revs down low, it loses power pretty quickly and feels lethargic on the top end. Highway speeds are also a bit of a chore for the Mazda. What you will notice is that with the transmission, it will shift harshly from time to time and it tends to slip and shudder in first gear when creeping forward. For the first time Mazda introduced an all-wheel drive option, and if can find one, then it will raise your level of fun and driving experience.
The Corolla doesn’t have a ton of torque off the line, but I discovered a playful personality using a first gear to assist taking off at traffic lights, reducing sluggishness and carrying itself well through the middle and upper limits of the rev range. The steering is light but quick making it more responsive. Using the CVT system has worked for the Corolla because of the added physical first gear improving the driving experience no end, and while it has less horsepower and torque, it doesn’t feel that much slower (possibly because it is a lighter, shorter car).
It’s not built to be a race car, but it has enough power when you need it. Cornering is a breeze with Toyota’s TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform which has been rolled out across their range including the RAV4, Prius, and CH-R. TNGA is a program of structural innovation, starting with changing the basic architecture of vehicles. Through TNGA, Toyota completely remade the powertrain unit (engine, transmission, HEV unit) and basic frames (chassis). The suspension has vastly improved in the Corolla thanks to this system, but the overall experience perhaps leans slightly in favor of the Mazda3.
Safety – Advantage Mazda3 (only just)
As far as airbags go, both are on a par with that safety feature. But safety isn’t just about airbags. Both the Corolla and the Mazda3 are at the top of their game with a now-standard suite of driver assistance and safety features that include a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assistance, automatic high beams, full-speed adaptive cruise control, road-sign recognition, and lane tracing assist. Oddly, though, the Corolla XSE model loses adaptive cruise control with full stop-and-go functionality and the XSE’s adaptive cruise control shuts off at speeds of under 32 mph.
Economy – Advantage Corolla
As the Corolla is the most fuel efficient with its 2.0 liter gasoline engine or its 1.8i/90kw Hybrid model, compared to the 2.0 or 2.5 liter gasoline Mazda3 with no hybrid option. The Toyota will reach a combined city/highway mileage of 36 miles per gallon while the front-wheel drive Mazda3 will reach only 30 miles combined. There is also an all-wheel drive Mazda3 available, but it will only reach a poor 24 miles combined.
Availability and Price – Advantage Corolla
The Toyota easily has more Corollas’ available on the used car market. Looking at a couple of different used car sites at the time of writing, https://www.cargurus.com/ had more than 500 extra Corolla’s than Mazda3’s listed, while https://www.autotrader.com/ had 140 extra Corolla’s for sale. However, you will have to scrutinize the adverts listed for branded or salvage title vehicles as there are a few around. For a car that’s entering its fourth year, some of these used cars have particularly high mileage for the age of the car. So I would choose a mileage limit of 60,000 miles (which is generous enough) when searching for a decent model. The Corolla was a cheaper option when new, so it makes sense that it will be the budget-conscious option on the used car market. Having had a quick look, I can tell you that a 2019 Corolla with around 55,000 miles will start at around $18,000, while the 2019 Mazda3 with around the same mileage will set you back around $21,000. That could just be the deciding factor when you are comparing the two cars.
Overall, they are both awesome models as far as style and safety are concerned. While the Mazda3 blew me away when I first clapped eyes on it, the Corolla also turned my head, and over time has won me over with its sporty charm. It really all comes down to price, efficiency, and practicality on the one hand (the Corolla), and tech, comfort, and driving dynamics on the other (the Mazda3).