2019 Mazda3 AWD First Drive Review: Blurring genres

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Mazda has achieved what many volume carmakers thrive for and that is delivering all the goods in one desperately attractive package. The new Mazda3 is brilliant.


Sacramento, CA. Mazda has forever been the underdog among Japanese carmakers in North America. This was mostly the result of their different approaches to design and engineering – the rotary engine comes to mind…

And like the rotary engine, Mazda’s 7th generation of cars, which begins with the new 2019 Mazda3, brings with it a very promising new outlook for future products. Mazda has always delivered attractive cars that are good to drive but this time around, the latter two points are dialed to 11 as are refinement and overall quality. And that’s not all.

The 4th generation of the Mazda3 is the one that ushers a recently most sought-after feature, and that is all-wheel-drive. Until now, the only options in the compact car segments were the Subaru Impreza/Crosstrek and the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen.

Going premium

2019 Mazda3 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Without specifically saying it, but by showing it through the presentation, Mazda wants to rise to and surpass VW’s historical standing as a premium mass-consumption car manufacturer. At the top of a few of Mazda’s comparison lists in some slides were the Volkswagen Jetta and Golf. After seeing both the Mazda3 sedan and 5-door Sport live, sitting in them and now driving the cars, I can confirm that they have achieved what they simply refer to as Mazda Premium.

From a design standpoint, something that is near and dear to Mazda, engineers and designers in Hiroshima have thought of and addressed everything. This entire review could serve to describe the excellent new seats, the longer center armrest, the improved storage, and the amazing attention to detail in the cabin. This however you can see for yourself when you visit your local motor show or dealership.

A premium cabin for the driver

2019 Mazda3 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

What must be noted about the new 2019 Mazda3’s interior is that it was conceived to support the driver by limiting distractions. Although this sounds simple enough, it’s not. Once more, I could write an entire report and what they did, why they did and how they accomplished what is the driver sees when behind the wheel. It also among the most serene and quietest cars in the category. I’d go so far as to include midsize cars too.

In the semi-briefest of nutshells, Mazda has done away with the touchscreen, improved on existing controls and brought everything the driver needs perfectly within reach. About the screen, it’s now 8.8-inches across, clearer and sharper than ever, and easier to navigate through the Commander control knob. The driver is further supported by an also standard 7-inch display embedded in the instrument panel and, depending on trim, a real head’s up display.

Premium design

2019 Mazda3 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

As part of the move Mazda Premium, the Japanese automaker has seriously upgraded the perspective and presentation of all switches and controls, including creating high-end haptic feedback from said controls.

The cars are beautiful inside and out. For the first time ever in my experience, I lean faintly towards the sedan as my choice for the prettier of the two, but I’d still opt for the Sport because hatchback…

A premium driving experience

2019 Mazda3 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Either way however, the Mazda3 drives like a dream. And the story here is not about power or speed, it’s about driving because driving is good for the Soul. As this was a Mazda3 AWD drive event, all cars featured the SkyActiv-G 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine, the 6-speed automatic transmission and Mazda’s always impressive i-Activ AWD system.

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The 2.5-litre returns with improvements and now develops 186-horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 186 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. With AWD, the Mazda3 packs on roughly 75kg over the FWD cars and as such, performance and fuel economy are far from affected. Mazda’s i-Activ AWD system is quick enough to negate and even improve upon the lighter FWD car’s acceleration times.

While AWD is quite an enhancement, the chassis’ tuning is what deserves the most praise. And this praise does not come because of the use of a highly complex suspension design. In fact, the 2019 Mazda3 now sports a simpler torsion beam setup in the rear. Gone are the multiple links, numerous bushings and pivots points, instead replaced by a stiff and efficient bar – this is so counter intuitive. The net result, along with a similar-as-previous front McPherson strut assembly, is a car that tracks beautifully, maintains control and responds to every circumstance.

AWD and G-Vectoring

2019 Mazda3 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Part and parcel to this is Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control Plus (GVC Plus) which, along with the AWD, combine to maximize an ideal distribution of power, traction and grip at each individual wheel. Coupling this with a new progressive brake pedal and heavy but linear steering makes for a very rewarding driving experience.

No matter the road’s surface, the car’s combined system artificially extend its limits providing the driver with more confidence. On wet, cold and twisty roads, I dove deep into corners and discovered on one instance that I was pushing too hard. With no road left, I was able to correct my trajectory as though the car had not quite reached its limits, whereas I thought we were at them.

Premium achievement

2019 Mazda3 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Truly, the new 2019 Mazda3 is an achievement that delivers all the goods in every aspect. Or nearly, that is. If I was to bring up one negative point, it would be outward visibility, especially in the Sport, and the cabin’s relatively tight quarters. While it would be difficult to fit my two young children, their seats and related gear in the car, it will accommodate anyone requiring less interior volume.

At $27,000, a 2019 Mazda3 Sport GS AWD may very well be the best-rounded car in the segment. To look at it and inspect the specs, this car could easily be mistaken for an Audi A3 or maybe even a Mercedes-Benz A Class.

Mazda has attained their goal and with the exception of the badge, it certainly blurs the line between compact and compact luxury offerings.


2019 Mazda3 Picture Gallery

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