Small Sedan Comparison: The 2019 Mazda 3 vs The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta

2019 Mazda 3 and 2019 Volkswagen Jetta
The 2019 Mazda 3 (left) and the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta (right).

Let’s say you’re in the market for a compact sedan but want to go beyond the predictable, safe choices of Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic.  Have I got a review for you.  There are two other strong candidates, both brand-new for 2019 and both ended up in my driveway at the same time---a situation just begging a comparison test.

The Platinum Gray four-door you see is the 2019 Jetta 1.4T SEL.  And positively glittering in Soul Red Crystal Metallic is the 2019 Mazda 3 Sedan with Premium Package AWD (that’s the name on the window sticker).

2019 Volkswagen Jetta and 2019 Mazda 3
2019 Volkswagen Jetta (left) and 2019 Mazda 3 (right).
The Jetta is 187.1 inches long, 70.8 inches wide and stands 57.4 inches tall.  It rides on a wheelbase (the length between the front and rear wheels) 105.7 inches.   

The Mazda 3 is a bit shorter at 183.5 inches, is only a fraction narrower at 70.7 inches and is half an inch less tall at 56.9 inches.  Despite being shorter overall, the Mazda has a longer wheelbase at 107.3 inches.  Longer wheelbase tends to equal smoother ride (a longer timespan between the front wheels hitting an imperfection and the rears hitting the same thing) and at least the potential for greater passenger volume.  

So let’s see what Mazda did with the extra interior room.  It would show up in legroom for either the front or rear.

  • Jetta front/rear legroom: 41.1 inches/37.4

  • Mazda 3 front/rear legroom: 42.3 inches/35.1

While the Mazda 3 has 1.2 inches more front legroom than the Jetta, it offers rear-seat passengers 2.3 inches less.  Let’s check headroom---where Jetta, half an inch taller, would appear to have the edge:

  • Jetta headroom: 38.5 inches.

  • Mazda 3 headroom:  37.6 inches.

And again, Jetta by a slim margin.  The Jetta also has a larger trunk at 14.1 cubic feet to the Mazda 3’s 13.2.

Where the Mazda begins to pull away (literally) is performance.  The Jetta’s 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 147 horsepower, while the Mazda 3’s 2.5-liter, non-turbo SKYACTIV-G four generates 186.   VW tries to get around that by using the turbo to beef up the torque early in the rev curve---delivering the same 186 pounds per foot of torque at just 1,400 RPM that the Mazda does at 4,000, but it can’t overcome the power deficit. Motor Trend tested both and found 0-60 in 7.8 seconds for the VW, 7.2 for the Mazda.   In the quarter mile, the power gap really showed, with the Jetta at 16.0 seconds and 86.5 miles per hour and the Mazda 3 at 15.4 seconds and 91.2 mph.

The Jetta’s lower power and more gears (an eight-speed automatic transmission vs. the Mazda’s six) buys it an advantage in fuel economy (an EPA-estimated 30 city/40 highway to the Mazda’s 25/33). 

Interior view of 2019 Volkswagen Jetta
2019 Volkswagen Jetta interior.

And the Jetta is less expensive.  We had the top-of-the-line SEL, which has a base price of $24,415, and being well-equipped, had no extra-cost options. The price with $850 destination charge was $25,265.  Our similarly top-spec Mazda 3’s base price was $27,900.  In fairness, the Mazda had all-wheel drive where the VW didn’t, so an apples-to-apples price for a FWD Mazda 3 would be $26,500.   But that’s still two grand more than the Jetta.  Where’d that money go?

Interior view of 2019 Mazda 3
2019 Mazda 3 interior.

Well, the performance we talked with above, certainly---but Mazda has also gone to a much more premium look and feel for its interior.  Everything in the Mazda 3’s new cockpit seems like it belongs in a much more expensive vehicle (you get leather instead of leatherette).  It matches the new exterior, which I find simply gorgeous.  The sleek, sensuous-single line approach to the new Mazda 3’s styling is a knockout.  It rides on 18-inch wheels instead of the VW’s 16s.  And the Mazda’s packing standard equipment in the premium package (head-up display, adaptive front lighting, paddle shifters) that the VW doesn’t even offer in the Jetta.

While direct competitors, these two compact sedans are really for two very different kind of buyers.  The practical compact sedan owner who is looking for space, efficiency and a remarkably low price will likely choose the 2019 VW Jetta.  The driver who doesn’t want to be reminded he or she is driving an economy car will probably spend the extra money for the extra-special look and feel of the 2019 Mazda 3.  There are no losers in this comparison.  It's all about you and what you're looking for in a small sedan.