2019 Mazda3 GT AWD: The Art of Making Sedans Fun and Compelling

Published on July 5, 2019 in Test Drives by Guillaume Rivard

As you all know, sedans have lost big market shares to SUVs and crossovers in recent years, so much in fact that American manufacturers are almost completely abandoning them.

Those who continue forward need to stand out from the more spacious and practical utility vehicles by offering higher quality, better equipment and particularly a more exciting drive for the same price or cheaper.

That’s pretty much what the totally redesigned 2019 Mazda3 does in the compact segment. It even comes with an AWD option now, just like SUVs!

More Mature KODO Styling
This next-generation Mazda3 looks even classier and sexier than last year’s model, although the evolution is more subtle compared to the previous redesign. We wondered how designers could possibly do a better job, but they’ve surprised us with an entry-level sedan that appears to cost way more than it actually does (base MSRP is $18,000).

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

The lines are simply gorgeous and so is the new, wider mesh grille (featuring a piano black finish in the case of our tester). The standard LED headlights give the car a beautiful stare and Mazda’s signature Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint is a definite head-turner. In our opinion, it’s easily worth the extra $450. Same thing for any of the optional wheels that endow the Mazda3 with a lot more character than the stock ones you see here.

A small caveat: From a practical standpoint, the deep junction between the hood and the windshield is bound to accumulate a good amount of snow and ice in winter.

VIP Interior
The sleeker, more refined approach obviously continues inside. The new 2019 Mazda3 proves much more sophisticated, attractive and especially quieter than both the old one and every other compact sedan. It’s another example of the small Japanese automaker moving upscale to draw more attention to itself.

In top trim, all contact points are upholstered in soft-touch materials and the available white leather interior, which extends to a section of the dashboard, makes the décor oh-so inviting. The seats are comfortable in both rows and the front buckets provide great support. The memory function is a welcome plus. On the other hand, legroom and headroom is tight in the rear and the 374-litre trunk is one of the smallest in its class.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Wide but not very tall, the centre display now measures a good 8.8 inches. It’s nestled deeper into the dashboard and slightly angled toward the driver to make it easier to read. However, because it’s not touch-sensitive (to prevent false maneuvers while driving, Mazda claims), you have to rely on the rotary dial and adjacent buttons on the centre console. Even Audi, which helped popularize this sort of human-machine interface, changed its mind and now uses touchscreens. What’s more, the infotainment system could be more user-friendly and require less attention from the driver. At least it offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Another improvement inside is the available head-up display system. Gone is the small, translucent panel that rose from the top of the gauge cluster; the data is now projected onto the windshield just the way it should be.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

The Art of Driving
It’s when you hit the road with the 2019 Mazda3 that you start to ask yourself: “Do I really need an SUV?” The bigger of the two engines (2.5 litres) is the star with class-leading 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque delivering solid acceleration. And should Mazda decide to add a performance variant, say with the turbo unit found in the Mazda6 and CX-5, it would outmatch the Jetta GLI, Civic Si and Elantra Sport.

The 2.5 SKYACTIV-G engine is never too loud, either, and it’s well-served by the six-speed automatic transmission, which features a Sport mode and paddle shifters. Believe it or not, the 2019 Mazda3 is the only compact sedan along with the VW Jetta not to offer a CVT—because driving still matters. The downside is lower fuel economy than competitors, even with a system that deactivates two cylinders under light loads. Additionally, the highly efficient SKYACTIV-X engine we’ve been promised may never show up in Canada.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Blessed with a rigid chassis, nicely calibrated suspension and sharp, responsive steering, the Mazda3 is an absolute treat to push around from one corner to the next, through on-ramps and even tight parking lots. Avoiding cracks and potholes even becomes a fun game.

Some rearward visibility issues notwithstanding, safety is never a concern with the numerous available technologies and of course the option of i-ACTIV all-wheel drive, which works in conjunction with G-Vectoring Control. Naturally, at this time of the year, the worst conditions we encountered were some wet roads, but the system promises to make winters less stressful, too.

Right now, the only other AWD sedan on the Canadian market is the Subaru Impreza (forget the rudimentary Toyota Prius e-AWD). It’s more affordable, but less powerful and sophisticated. The new Mazda3 starts at $26,000 when equipped with all-wheel drive and it’s a no-brainer if you like to drive even just a bit. For more versatility and space, consider the five-door Mazda3 Sport.

Test drive report
Test model Mazda Mazda3
Trim level GT Sedan AWD
Price range $18,000 – $31,400
Price as tested 30 400 $
Warranty (basic) 3 years/unlimited
Warranty (powertrain) 5 years/unlimited
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 9,2 / 7,0 / 8,8 L/100km
Options N/A
Competitive models N/A
Strong points
  • Now available with all-wheel drive
  • Excellent 2.5L engine and 6-speed transmissions
  • Superb handling mixed with a solid ride
  • Gorgeous looks and luxury-like interior
Weak points
  • Tight rear seats and trunk
  • Lower fuel economy than competitors
  • Human-machine interface could be more user-friendly
Editor's rating
Fuel economy 3.5/5 Similar compact sedans burn less fuel with their CVT. The SKYACTIV-X engine reportedly improves efficiency by 25 percent, but will we ever see it?
Comfort 4.0/5 The ride is a tad smoother than before, the cabin is much quieter, hard plastics are gone and the seats are supportive.
Performance 4.0/5 The 2.5-litre mill has generous power and the transmission does excellent work. Adding the turbo engine from the Mazda6 and CX-5 would be a dream scenario.
Infotainment 3.5/5 The non-touchscreen is a bit easier to read, but the infotainment system needs work and the controls on the centre console are frustrating at times.
Driving 4.5/5 Once again, Mazda shows its leadership when it comes to driving with superb handling and sharp, responsive steering.
Overall 4.0/5 The new Mazda3 is even more stylish, refined and pleasant to drive than before. The AWD option is icing on the cake. Do you really need an SUV?
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