There are probably more than a few hatchback fans that are screaming from the rooftops, “There’s a new Mazda3 out… and it’s ALL-WHEEL DRIVE!!!”
Indeed, wasn’t long ago that all-wheel drive was strictly the purview of SUVs and pickups. Oh, sure, you’ve been able to get a Subaru Impreza for awhile and there have been a few one-offs such as the Ford Focus RS but that was about the extent of it. Although it can now be found in sports sedans and coupes, it hasn’t quite made the transition to that most lucrative of vehicle segments: the common hatchback. With the new Mazda3 – one of the brand’s highest-selling models – can we now say that the all-wheel drive hatch has made the big time?
With the arrival of a new 3 comes not just an all-wheel drive option, but a comprehensive styling upgrade that has it looking better than ever. And, better than much of its competition, including the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra GT, and yes, the Subaru Impreza. Longer and lower than the previous generation, it’s no wider. The long hood and ultra-narrow headlights are the highlights; the matte grey colour and blacked-out wheels icing on the cake.
Inside, the 3 is so different it’s almost unrecognizable as a Mazda; the red leather seating is something we’ve never seen before, and it appears in what’s supposed to be the brand’s entry-level model. Same goes for the infotainment screen, which is now larger (it measures 8.8-inches) and better integrated into the dash. The infotainment control wheel, meanwhile, has also been refined, as has the gauge cluster which is now partially-digitized.
Standard features on the hatch include common bits like a rearview camera, stability control, blind spot warning system and forward alert with pedestrian detection. It also includes adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability, high beam assist and lane departure warning with lane-keep assist. It’s quite a lot of standard kit, actually, and leaves precious little room for options which is why there is only one option package for the GT trim, simply called “Premium”. It adds stuff like leather seats, rear parking sensors, advanced keyless entry system, HUD, Sirius XM radio and Travel Link services, front wiper de-icer, traffic sign recognition system, homelink wireless control system, auto-dimming exterior mirrors with memory seat link, 10-way power driver’s seat, those gorgeous 18-inch wheels, navigation and a few other bits and pieces. The Premium package is only a necessity if you really want leather, as the rest is kind of icing on the cake. Except for the 18-inch black metallic wheels; those are gorgeous.
User Friendliness: 7.5/10
The 8.8-inch screen is standard fare, and its your connection to the new Mazda Connect infotainment interface, which is Mazda’s response to detractors that have said the old interface has been lagging behind the competition. Instead of the previous home screen displaying your various menu options in an arch format, it’s now a more basic up/down scrolling list that you control. You still get shortcut buttons for your audio, home, navigation and return around the wheel, though, which are nice to have. You also use redundant buttons and knobs for the dual-zone climate control system, which I prefer over navigating through the display. The fonts are a little more grown-up but less colourful – which is why I spent most of my time with Apple CarPlay (it comes standard, along with Android Auto), as I’m fairly certain most will.
It’s also your gateway to either a standard eight-speaker sound system or optional 12-speaker Bose system, complete with some of the slickest-looking speakers in the segment. Mazda’s designers worked with Bose throughout the 3’s development cycle in order to get the best sound possible across bass, mid-range and treble.
Up front, those eight-way seats are well-padded and supportive and there’s as much room as you can ask for from a car in this segment. I’m especially fond of the footwell, which isn’t so cramped that you can’t relax your legs a little during longer drives.
Unfortunately, the same can’t quite be said for the rear seating. It’s not only down on spaciousness, it’s downright cramped back there. Less of a concern for most adults, as a new father my bigger concern is the challenge of fitting a rear-facing child seat. It also makes the rear seats tough to fold flat, requiring the front seats to be moved forward.
Those aggressive lines and upswept rear side windows cause visibility issues, especially when entering the highway. You’ll want to set those side mirrors correctly for blind spot coverage. Speaking of mirrors: in another nod to my tester’s slight luxury bent, the passenger side mirror automatically tilts down once reverse is selected. This is a feature I’d love to see on all cars, so was happy to see it here. The mirror settings were also linked to the seat settings thanks to that Premium Package.
Being a hatch, ease of storage in the back is paramount, and the opening is large and low so getting your wares back there is no problem. Once you do get those seats folded, meanwhile, they sit nicely flat and help provide 569 L of storage. That’s complimented by a storage bin in the centre console that’s a bit shallow, but can be accessed without having to flip the lid on it; the slot’s narrow enough that security isn’t an issue once loaded, which is nice.
While it looks new both inside and out, my tester’s 2.5L four-cylinder returns from last year, making 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. There have been refinements, however, such as optimized intake ports, split fuel injection and new piston shape. It’s a naturally-aspirated plant, so coupled with the engine refinements power comes on immediately and mostly smoothly, though the engine note does get a little harsh higher in the rev range. Forward progress, I would say, is apt, although the aforementioned Elantra GT and Civic have turbo options, which I think would be a great addition here. Now that the company’s turbo offering has filtered down from the CX-9 CUV to the smaller CX-5, perhaps it will someday make it here? We can dream.
Actually, this man did dream – but about another aspect that he found to be lacking in the 3 up until now, and that’s the existence of paddle shifters. Before the 2019 model year version arrived, we had to make use of the shift lever in manual mode, but that’s no longer the case. With their addition, the sporting intentions of automatic 3’s have been kicked up a notch. The single-clutch automatic is not the quickest shifting example out there, but I did find myself more inclined to actually use manual mode thanks to the new paddles. If you want all-wheel drive, the auto is your only choice. A manual transmission is available, but only with front-wheel drive.
Driving Feel: 9/10
Power is adequate, but the ride and handling are on another level. Much has been done to keep things quiet. The ride benefits from new bushings and a newly tuned suspension that adds a torsion beam setup in the rear. The result is a car that rides like its fancy red seats and high-quality buttoned-down interior suggest. No uncomfortable shuddering through the wheel over bumps, no cowl shake as the tarmac below gets more ribbed. The steering, meanwhile, is impressively weighted – perhaps a little too much so at lower speeds.
The all-wheel drive system is front-biased, however up to 50 percent of power can be directed to the rear wheels if need be. Mazda’s G-Vectoring control uses the brakes to help the 3 rotate through turns and be more stable during lane changes. It’s a slick system that does well to match the confidence inspired by the chassis and steering.
Those looking for a slightly more enthusiastic drive from their enthusiastic-looking hatch might be left unfulfilled as the steering could be more responsive. Setting off briskly from a standstill resulted in what sounded like some chassis flex at the rear.
In addition to all that safety technology that comes standard, the 3 Sport also features Driver Attention alert, a new functionality that monitors driver attentiveness. I appreciate how it wasn’t as impatient as similar tech from other manufacturers that tend to start bugging you about your need to pull over after a lane deviation or two.
Fuel Economy: 8.5/10
Mazda has been developing their Skyactiv technology for quite some time now, resulting in 8.1L/100km on the highway during my test and 10.8 in the city. While I wouldn’t call that highway figure spectacular, it was consistent.
Choosing all-wheel drive adds an additional $3,000 to the asking price of the 3 hatchback, resulting in an MSRP just shy of $35,000. That’s with all the fixings found on my tester. Opting for mid-spec GS trim gets you the all-wheel drive option for around $30,000. That’s not bad for an all-wheel drive hatchback with looks to kill and one of the best rides you’re going to find in the segment.
As much as we Canadians love all-wheel drive, Mazda could be taking a risk by adding this capability to their bread-and-butter model, particularly when you consider that the similarly-sized CX-3 subcompact is here and the CX-5 is so popular. Sales cannibalization aside, this is a well-sorted all-wheel drive hatch that works as advertised. The problem, however, is that the CX-5 can be had for similar money. The CUV is a popular model that actually outsells the 3 in Canada. Time will tell if people are willing to downsize their all-wheel drive or will continue to opt for higher ride height and more cargo capacity.
|Peak Horsepower||186 @ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||186 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||9.8/7.4/8.7 L/100 km city/hwy/comb|
|Model Tested||2019 Mazda3 Sport GT AWD|
|Price as Tested||$34,721|
$2,500 (Premium Package) $200 (Polymetal Grey Metallic paint)