by: Mike Ginsca,
When you hear the words “AWD sedan or hatch” you think of Subaru or Mitsubishi. But now there is a newcomer on the block in the form of the 2019 Mazda 3 AWD. It is the first all-wheel-drive car from the Japanese brand and while it’s not setting its eyes on the WRX STi or Evo X, it does hope to take some market share away from the regular Impreza.
Engine – Mazda made big news about its upcoming Skyactiv-X engine with spark-less ignition but unfortunately it is not ready for the launch of this new 4th generation Mazda 3. Instead the 2019 Mazda 3 is available with two Skyactiv-G engines. The GX trim gets a 2.0L 155hp, 150 lb-ft of torque inline-4 and this GT trim gets a 2.5L with 186hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. The 2.5L naturally aspirated engine isn’t particularly punchy like the turbocharged engine in the CX-5 but it’s not a slouch either. Day-to-day driving is more than adequate with this 2.5L and because it’s not turbocharged, throttle response is immediate.
Mazda claims a fuel economy figure of 9.8 L/100km (24 mpg) in the city and 7.4 L/100km (31.8 mpg) on a highway with the AWD system. Of course if you opt for the standard FWD Mazda 3, the fuel economy figures are less. During my time with the 3, I averaged 9.5 L/100km (24.8 mpg) in mostly city driving.
Transmission – Mazda is one of only a handful of manufacturers that still offer a manual transmission. But you can’t have it with the AWD system. Bummer. It is available with either the 2.5L or 2.0L engine but in FWD configuration only. I briefly drove a 2019 Mazda 3 with the manual transmission and my first impressions of it were that the shifter was smooth but it still had satisfying “click” as it went into a gear. Clutch pedal though was very light and at times a bit difficult to feel the clutch bite point.
The other option is a 6-speed automatic transmission. As far as automatics go, Mazda has designed a very good transmission. It is smooth and quick to swap between gears. Put it into Sport mode, and the transmission even blips the engine a bit during downshifts.
Braking – Mazda vehicles have never lacked braking performance whether it’s on the small MX5 or the big CX-9. The 2019 Mazda 3 Sport is no exception. Braking performance is good with a firm but easy to modulate brake pedal.
Handling – During my time with the Mazda 3 AWD, the weather was sunny and warm which meant that there was no rain or snow to properly test the AWD system. In everyday driving you won’t feel the difference between the FWD and AWD unless you launch hard from a stop. The Mazda 3 has always been a grippy little car around corners and with the addition of driving the rear wheels as well, it should make driving though adverse conditions that much more safer.
But when the conditions are hot and dry, the 2019 Mazda 3 Sport is still one of the better mainstream compact cars to drive around a mountain road. With the standard G-Vectoring control, which slightly limits engine torque around a corner for better turn-in, the 3 feels agile and light on its wheels. Steering effort is harder than other cars in this class but it feels more rewarding when you want to have fun.
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Ride Comfort – While the Mazda 3 is positioned more as a sporty hatch, the ride comfort is not sacrificed. Yes, it is a tiny bit firmer than a comparable hatchback or sedan from a different manufacturer but you can still drive over potholes without the fear of shaking your teeth. The seats were redesigned in the 2019 Mazda 3 to provide better support and after daily drives, I felt relaxed without any back issues whatsoever.
Interior Space – Front occupants have a generous amount of leg and head room. The driver gets a 10-way power seat (if you opt for the Premium package on the GT or Luxury package on the GS) while the passenger has to make due with a 4-way manually adjustable seat. The rear occupants don’t have as much room though. Leg room is tight if you’re over 6’ and headroom is just as tight. Trunk space is generous at 569L (20 cu-ft) with the seats up and 1,334L (47.1 cu-ft) with the rear seats down.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – If you’re looking for a quiet car, this is the one to seriously consider. The cabin feels very insulated from the outside world. So much so that when I drove the manual Mazda 3, I continuously had to look down at the tachometer to see when to shift gears because I could not hear the engine for an audible cue as to when to change gears. It’s the same story when driving on a highway. Road and wind noise are very well subdued and it makes the 3 feel more like a premium car.
Interior Design – The interior has been updated for this new generation Mazda 3 and it feels more premium than ever before. Soft leather covers majority of the dash and all of the controls have a satisfying premium feel to them when you use them. The new 8.8” infotainment screen looks as though it came out of a BMW with clear graphics and is well incorporated into the dash. Overall the interior is feels and looks very upscale not only for a mainstream car but I would even say that it can compete against premium brands.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – One of the biggest changes to the Mazda 3’s tech is the new infotainment system. Not only does it have modern graphics but it is faster than the previous generation. It supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but it is no longer a touch screen. You must use the rotary knob on the center console (which looks suspiciously like the one found on a BMW) or voice controls. However using the rotary knob isn’t all that bad because the menus are laid out in such a way that they work with the rotary knob.
Other gadgets include a full suite of active safety features such as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and so on. One feature that stands out above other manufacturers in this category is the available heads-up display. Normally this is a feature that’s found on premium vehicles or more expensive SUVs but it is available on a compact car now.
Exterior Design – The exterior sees an evolution of the Kodo design language with a blend of sharp lines in the front and smooth curves along the side and back. Depending on your preferences, the styling is a love or hate relationship. I personally think it’s the best looking Mazda 3 ever but others that I’ve spoken to don’t agree. However I’m personally not too thrilled by this grey colour.
One other thing to note are the big C-pillars. They do obstruct a lot of the rear ¾ visibility. Maybe that’s why blind spot sensors are a standard feature across all trim levels.
In all the 2019 Mazda 3 AWD is going further from being a mainstream vehicle to being more of a premium vehicle. That change however does reflect in the price depending on which trim you opt for. The Mazda 3 GX sedan starts at $18,000 CAD while the 3 Sport GX starts at $21,300 CAD. Tick all of the options on the Mazda 3 Sport, and you end up with a bill that is around the $33,000 CAD mark. But is it actually worth it? I think it is.
Thank you to Mazda Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Mazda.ca
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Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.