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Autoweek's First Drive Review: 2019 Mazda 3 AWD


By: Jay Ramey –

It's always tough to improve on a highly regarded car with each redesign -- just like Hollywood, the auto industry is littered with sequels that have lost their way. So the task that befell Mazda engineers and designers in crafting a new Mazda 3 was not easy. The brand's redesigned compact sedan and hatch duo was first shown at the LA Auto Show last November, returning for a fourth generation after building a reputation for being one of the best-handling compact cars out there.

How do you improve upon a sedan and hatch duo that have topped reviews year after year?

By adding all-wheel drive. The standard Mazda 3 that we drove a month ago was a FWD car, but for the snowy states Mazda has added its own i-Activ AWD system. Coupled with the marque's G-Vectoring Control Plus, which handles torque distribution between the front and rear wheels, the AWD system is now offered in the Mazda 3 sedan and hatch.

While the all-wheel-drive system is new in the Mazda 3, the rest of the drivetrain is actually a carryover. The 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G inline-four is paired with a choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, producing an even 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. If you're expecting to find the manual in the base version of the car, surprise: Mazda knows manuals are bought by enthusiasts these days who'll also be splurging on interior features, so it coupled the six-speed stick shift with the Premium package. But unfortunately, the manual is not an item that can be paired with all-wheel drive -- only front-wheel drive.

Mazda reworked the suspension of the fourth-gen car, keeping the MacPherson struts up front but sticking with a simpler torsion beam setup in the rear over the multilink suspension in the outgoing model. The automaker also gently updated the styling of the sedan with an evolution of its Kodo design language: While the sedan is still easily recognizable as a Mazda 3, the hatch looks totally different. The verdict? Let's just say that cars have shoulderlines for a reason, and that bulbous designs tend to be very color sensitive.

Those familiar with modern Mazda interiors will find the redesigned cabin a more tranquil place than before, one that has become quieter and more refined when it comes to materials. The seating position and controls are still what Mazda does best, offering a cabin that is easy to get accustomed to in a short period of time. The infotainment screen is now a standalone 8.8-inch flatscreen, but Mazda's is a lot wider than it is tall, occupying a narrow sliver of space among a narrow "valley" created by the sculpted lines of the dash. Thankfully, it is neither far away nor does it block some small percentage of the windshield view, and it's controlled by a rotary knob so one does not have to reach for far-away buttons -- Mazda has ditched touchscreens.

Overall, the interior of the new Mazda 3 sedan is uncluttered and functional -- even if a little businesslike, in a German way. Contrasting colors of dash elements and the seat colors save the interior from being a sea of black plastic, but Mazda's focus with this new sedan has clearly been function over design flair. At least when it comes to the sedan -- the hatchback is a different story on the outside that we'll revisit later, as it warrants its own review.

Want to read the full review?  Click HERE


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