This year, Mazda drops a difference-maker into the compact car segment. The fourth-generation 2019 Mazda3 arrives and with it comes optional all-wheel-drive.
Subaru’s Impreza has long dominated the AWD comer of the segment. And, while the all-new AWD 3 isn’t likely to put a big dent in the Impreza’s sales numbers, its premium vibe, outstanding driving dynamics and topnotch infotainment systems provides buyers with a desirable alternative to the Impreza’s outdoorsy vibe.
Its richly appointed cabin is awash in soft-touch surfaces. Trim and switchgear high-quality switchgear. Its layout is simple and elegant and noise-suppression measures make this the quietest 3 yet.
In its upper trims, the Mazda3 cabin rivals those of costlier European rivals. Our Premium tester could have passed for a model bearing a more prestigious nameplate.
Most engaging compact
For 2019, the 3’s suspension grows softer and more compliant. The 3 handles ruts and rough road surfaces with the composure of a larger car.
The 3 is at home on city streets and country backroads. It’s responsive and engaging but not high-strung. It remains relaxed and poised until being pushed too hard in the corners, when the limits of its front-wheel-drive platform are exposed in a wash of understeer.
It’s still the most rewarding compact to drive, but its ultimate handling limits are less aggressive than before.
The 3 is available in sedan and hatchback body styles. Sedan pricing begins with the $21,000 base model, followed by the Select ($22,600), Preferred ($24,200) and Premium ($26,500) packages.
Hatchbacks (from $23,600) follow suite but bypass the sedan’s base trim and start with the Select’s package of features.
AWD a $1,400 option
All-wheel-drive is a $1,400 option on all but the base sedan.
The base Mazda3 comes equipped with push-button start; an 8.8-inch central display; a rearview camera; LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights; a driver information screen; a 60/40-split folding rear seat, Bluetooth connectivity, voice commands and an eight-speaker audio system with HD radio and two USB ports. Wheels are 16-inch alloys.
Most buyers will step up to the Select, which adds keyless entry; automatic headlights and wipers; dual-zone automatic climate control; vinyl door trim; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; simulated leather upholstery; a rear armrest; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and 18-inch wheels.
Large, high-def display
Select safety features include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking; a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert; adaptive cruise control; a driver attention monitor; automatic high beams; and lane keeping assist.
Add the Preferred package, and you'll get a power-adjustable driver's seat, driver-seat memory, heated front seats and a 12-speaker Bose audio system with satellite radio.
The large, high-definition infotainment display nestles among floating soft-touch surfaces atop the dash. The system is controlled with a console-mounted knob supported by hard buttons on the console and the steering wheel.
The contoured front seats are supportive and comfortable. Lower trims lack adjustable lumbar support.
The rear seating area is a bit snug for the comfort of adult passengers.
“New era of design”
The 3 is powered by a 186-horsepower four-cylinder engine paired in most cases with a six-speed automatic transmission. A manual gearbox is available, but only on the front-wheel-drive Premium hatchback ($27,500).
The automatic makes quick, clean shifts without any of the low-speed indecision that plagues many modern, efficiency-tuned automatics.
Either way, the 3 is quick, running the 0-60 sprint in the mid-7-second range.
Rearward visibility is unimpeded from the sedan’s driver’s seat; the hatchback’s less so. The blind-spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alert give hatchback drivers a leg up.
Mazda says the new 3 teases a “new era” of design. And, having struggled for years to establish a strong visual identity, Mazda seems to have found its footing.
The 3’s front fascia has settled into a simple and elegant form that emphasizes its low, wide stance. The hatchback’s contoured body panels and sculpted haunches evoke Mazda’s Miata RF hardtop.
With its upscale cabin and available AWD, the 2019 Mazda3 stands ready to take on all comers in the compact segment — and beyond.
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2019 Mazda3 Premium AWD
Vehicle base price: $21,000
Trim level base price: $28,900
As tested: $31,515 (includes destination and handling)
Options: auto-dimming rearview mirror, wireless charging pad, Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint, illuminated door sill plates, all-weather floor mats
EPA rating: 27 combined/24 city/32 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified