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This All-Wheel Drive Mazda3 Outpaces Its Competitors

Executive Wheels: This is an all-around great car, and with AWD, a segment leader


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2019 MAZDA3 HATCHBACK AWD

I like Mazda. And for the last several years Mazda has been more than holding its own in the competitive marketplace for sedans, hatchbacks and SUVs. Its CX SUVs, particularly the CX5 and the CX9, and its sedans, like the Mazda6 and the Mazda 3, are must-haves on anyone’s shopping list in their respective categories, and if you could take away the “badge” reputation – what people think they know about a brand – and just compete on the driving experience, I believe Mazda would rank very high on the sales list.

Because while Mazda does reasonably well, it still struggles against its Japanese and Korean rivals in U.S. sales, perhaps until now.

This new 2019 Mazda 3 just might be a game changer. Now, I understand how powerful and popular those other brands (Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan etc.) are, and it won’t be easy to scratch a larger market share from these makes. But Mazda – which is already a truly wonderful car – has added something the others don’t have: All Wheel Drive.

None of the other brands mentioned offer AWD in the compact sedan/hatchback segment, and for my money AWD is the single most important safety feature any vehicle can have. Trouble is, AWD is only an important feature in the “winter states,” like Colorado. The largest car market in the country is California, and there are very few places in the state where people would spring for the added expense of AWD.

But here in Colorado, of course, AWD matters, and that makes this new Mazda3 Hatchback AWD (there’s also an AWD Mazda3 sedan) a formidable competitor. There’s a reason that so many Subarus are on Colorado’s streets and highways, because they all (except one model) feature AWD.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have this Mazda3 during the winter months, so I didn’t have the chance to see the AWD in slippery conditions. I did, however, take it up to Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, and it performed unbelievably well on the narrow, one-way (up) road that tests the mettle of any vehicle. During that same day-long trip from Denver, I also drove winding mountain roads, I-25 and I-70, and, of course, city streets, and there is no other car in this category that outperforms the Mazda3 – in any measure: power, shifting, handling, vision, everything. I love driving this car.

The heart of it is the Mazda Skyactive G engine, a 2.5-liter engine putting out some 186 horsepower. Coupled with a very smooth 6-speed automatic transmission with a sport mode – and what Mazda calls the i-ACTIV all wheel drive system, and G-vectoring control plus – this is simply the most solid compact car I have driven in years. The handling in the Mazda3 is beyond compare with any of the other cars in the segment, a fact I have noticed several times over the years of reviewing. Also the mile rating – 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, 27 mpg combined – is a segment best.

But lest I gush too much, not all here was sweetness and light. Like many other vehicles, the computer system operated through an in-dash screen and console buttons is just too complicated and has a high degree of possibility for distracted driving. Way too many steps to change radio stations, for instance, and the menu for doing other things – climate control, adjusting the sound system, Bluetooth and communications – these things are just too technologically cumbersome.

Other things about this car bugged me too. I struggled during my test-drive week to get the keyless entry system to work properly. For example, you’re supposed to just touch the door handle to unlock the car, but nearly every time I was in the car I had to pull out the key fob and hit the button. Also, the push-button “start/stop” button that you use to start and shut off the car doesn’t light up unless the car’s headlights are on. A little thing, but hey they stuck all the tech in and forgot the little details. The “fan” button on the climate control also doesn’t light up and it is difficult to find and adjust at night. It’s the little things.

But having said that, I would still recommend this car over the competition because they all drop the ball on the little things, and this one comes with AWD. The 2WD Mazda3 sedan carries a base sticker price of $21,000, while this hatchback starts at $23,600 – both competitive prices. What wowed me here was that this 2019 Mazda3 Hatchback with the premium package and AWD carried a base price of $28,900. They added a few other things and a destination charge topping $900 and the bottom line was $31, 335. For what’s here – and, of course, AWD – that is a great price for a great car.

RATING: 3 AND 7/8 WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)   

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Jeff Rundles

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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