2019 Was the Worst Year for the Mazda 3 Since 1990 - Won't the CX-30 Make 2020 Even Worse?

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

There are three main criteria for measuring the degree to which 2019 was a disastrous year for the Mazda 3 in the United States small car marketplace.

First, judge the Mazda 3 based on key competitors. Mazda 3 sales tumbled 21 percent to 50,741 units during a year in which the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla levelled off north of 300,000 units, in excess of six times the Mazda’s total. The Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, and Volkswagen Jetta were all at least twice as popular as the Mazda 3; the Kia Forte nearly so. The Subaru Impreza outsold the Mazda, too.

Second, consider how the Mazda 3 fared in comparison with its own historical impact. Over the course of the previous 29 years, Mazda USA averaged nearly 84,000 annual compact Mazda sales – 2019’s total was 39-percent shy of that average; 59-percent below the 3’s 2012 peak performance.

Finally, there’s a method that involves adding a rider to either one of the first two functions: the Mazda 3 accomplished these ignominious feats as a highly regarded, all-wheel-drive-available, new-generation car. Imagine Ford launching an all-new F-150 and watching sales plummet to a 29-year low.

And yet, could 2020 be even worse for the Mazda 3? An Outback-ified version of the 3, the CX-30, is sliding into the lineup at a time when sales of small crossovers are surging. The Mazda 3 can’t compete with the Civic and Corolla. It can’t compete with its own memory. What if it can’t compete with its own sibling?

The 3’s poor launch was chronicled on these pages throughout 2019. Not helping the cause was the fact that every Mazda besides the CX-5 reported year-over-year declines over the last 12 months. But the 3’s plunge was noteworthy given the car’s freshness, its former status as the No.1 Mazda, and the all-wheel-drive option that, in theory, was going to stem at least a portion of the tide.

Mazda’s semi-premium pricing strategy did the 3 no favours – the average transaction price of a 3 is around $25,000. (Incidentally, without the old 3’s base 2.0-liter engine providing an entry point, the Mazda 3 hatchback’s base price is $1,700 higher than the entry-level CX-30.)

All but eliminating its chances of competing at the low end of this relatively low-end segment clearly lost Mazda sales. That could be anticipated. But they’re sales that weren’t made up elsewhere, and they’re lost sales that ballooned in number. Not since the Mazda Protegé finished its first full year with fewer than 50,000 sales, according to CarSalesBase, has Mazda’s compact competitor fared so poorly in the United States. What about the doldrums of the Great Recession, 10 years ago? Mazda averaged 104,000 3 sales between 2008 and 2010; only dipping slightly into five-digit territory in the dark days of 2009.

The 3’s segment, however, has changed. Dramatically. The disappearance of potential rivals – Dart, Focus, Cruze, Lancer, Verano – appears to have done the Mazda no favours, though their disappearance appears to have created a perfectly acceptable playing field for top-tier compacts.

Mazda seems to have the answer. The CX-30, which with nearly 8 inches of ground clearance is clearly a utility vehicle by modern definitions, appears broader than it is, and masks its small stature with tailgate width and bulky cladding. The CX-30 strides into a segment that’s quadrupled in size over the last half-decade, lending credence to the idea that virtually any vehicle from any automaker can simply show up and sell.

But is it so easy? The subcompact crossover segment is now almost part of the establishment. Competing on behalf of a small automaker such as Mazda requires the CX-30 to be deeply appealing. Based on early reviews, it very much is. And that fact may well cause disastrous ripple effects through Mazda’s small car lineup.

2019 was not a good year for the Mazda 3. 2020 could bring its own series of issues. And where does this leave the CX-3, a flawed driver’s delight that hit a four-year low in 2019? In a few months, we’ll know if the CX-30 is a team player or a cannibal.

[Images: Mazda]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Driving.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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  • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on Jan 26, 2020

    Don't understand why they dialed back the dynamics when they knew the CX-30 was coming. What is the 3's raison d etre?

  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Jan 27, 2020

    It's pretty simple, the 3 is too small and too expensive. The 6 doesn't have AWD. The cx5 is too long in the tooth. The cx9 is great , but out of reach of most JDM shoppers price range. I'm a big fan of the 3 sedan styling. A perfect car for me would the 3 ext/int. w/ Civic/Corolla sedan dimensions , either the Civics or the Corolla's drivetrains, and the old 3s suspension.

  • YellowDuck Really surprised it's only 1/3. Lack of Android Auto would be a dealbreaker for me. At this point I might even say it needs to be wireless. I can't believe any manufacturer would still be trying to sell built in nav as like a $1500 option. Must sell it to people with flip phones.
  • Mike Beranek Great subject for a multi-part piece. There's a lovely DTS for sale near my work... does anyone have a year that the Northstar becomes buyable? I've heard both 2005 and 2007.
  • Parkave231 Looking forward to this deep dive, Corey. My '02 Deville was right on the cusp of when they "fixed" the head bolt issues, but I really don't know if mine was one of the improved ones. Still, it never gave me problems during ownership, aside from the stupid intake plenum duct issue, which was the one time I'll admit I bit off a little more than I could chew.Smooth engine, decent low-end torque for an OHC engine, and whisper quiet. I got great gas mileage out of it too. But how could GM ever screw up head issues on two V8s in a row?
  • Mike Beranek I wouldn't want to own this car. But I sure would love to borrow it.
  • CFS I can’t believe these comments aren’t 100% in favor of CarPlay/Android Auto. They don’t add much for music and other audio that you don’t get with just a Bluetooth connection, but they make navigation so so much better. Why is it better? Because inputting the destination address is so much easier. And I don’t need to think about updating my car’s maps. Plus, I can switch between Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps, or whatever else seems best suited for my trip. Hands-free calling features are OK, but not such a big deal for me.