All-wheel drive comes to Mazda’s compact hatchback and sedan.

The Mazda3 hatchback adds available all-wheel drive, perhaps setting the framework for Mazdaspeed to return.

Mazda is a small player in a world of large car manufacturers, but its presence outstrips its size. The company is best known for mainstreaming the Wankel rotary engine and for giving the world the delicious MX-5 Miata roadster. We miss the enhanced Mazdaspeed line of performance models, although rumors persist that one or more models will return.

And that return may be based on the Mazda3 with its available all-wheel-drive system. Yes, all-wheel drive has come to Mazda’s compact model, joining the WRX and Impreza, which offer it as standard equipment and the Volkswagen Golf, where it is available. As for the Ford Focus, that model with its all-wheel-drive RS is no longer available in the U.S.

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for Mazda to jump in!

2019 Mazda Mazda3 Overview

You can purchase the Mazda3 as either a sedan or a hatchback. Both models share the same platform and wheelbase length, but the sedan is several inches longer overall. We’ll look at the hatchback primarily as that’s the model presented to us for review.

Mazda prices the 2019 Mazda3 hatchback from $23,600, which is $2,600 more than the sedan. Opting for all-wheel drive is a $1,400 upgrade available across the model line.

You’ll find one trim plus two packages with the 2019 Mazda3. Models with the Preferred Package (power side mirrors, 12-speaker Bose audio system. satellite radio, 8-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, and heated front seats) cost $25,200.

The Premium Package-equipped hatchback costs $27,500 and adds such features as LED headlights and taillights, adaptive front lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, a power sliding moonroof, and radar cruise control on models equipped with the manual transmission. Yes, it is with this package only you can opt for a manual gearbox. Add $920 for the destination charge.

Highlights of the 2019 Mazda3

The following are the most noteworthy facts about the Mazda3:

1. Cutting edge styling all of its own.

Mazda uses the term “KODO” to describe its styling direction. This means “soul of motion,” which describes in part every model’s fluidic design. Here, you’ll find a gaping grille, raised flanks, a rising beltline, ample creases and body sculpting, and pulled in corners. On the hatchback, the look is all the more expressive as the rear quarter is high and short.

All models come with LED lights — headlights, combination lights, and daytime running lights. With the Premium Package, Mazda adds LED signature lighting front and back. Dual-folding side mirrors and a roofline spoiler are also included. Upgrades include designer wheels and a shark fin antenna. Overall, the look is sporty.

2. An interior on par with some premium models.

Just as the exterior has its styling credentials, the interior does likewise. In fact, Mazda pulled out all the stops when designing the cabin, amplified by the stacked and sculptured layout of the dashboard. The look is premium and rivals what we’ve seen on some costlier models, including the Audi A3.

The contrasting layered look on our fully loaded model was especially noteworthy. As shown, Mazda meticulously crafted every surface for maximum visual appeal. There’s plenty of storage compartments and pockets at the ready, and very little plastic. Again, the sophisticated design belies this model’s mainstream appeal. With the available leather seats, the look is truly luxurious.

3. Improved technologies for the taking.

One of the gripes we’ve had about Mazda is the small display screens in many of its models. The Mazda3 now features an 8.8-inch screen that’s wide and clear. On the other hand, it isn’t a touchscreen display and it does require using a Multifunction Commander control to manage. That’s unfortunate as the learning curve is long.

But we do like the standard Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto smartphone integration. You’ll also find HD Radio, Internet radio integration, connected apps, and USB ports. The Preferred Package brings in a lovely sounding 12-speaker Bose audio system and satellite radio. An “active driving display” or head-up display is included with the Premium Package.

4. Ample storage room for short and long trips.

Mazda published storage measurement with the rear seat in place, measuring a respectable 20.1 cubic feet. What they didn’t reveal was how much space is available with the rear seat folded. We estimate about 40 cubic feet, which supplies even room to bring a week’s worth of gear for two with you on your next vacation.

5. Performance that has us wanting more.

We won’t mislead you by saying the Mazda3 is a performance maven. It is not. Instead, it offers decent off-the-mark acceleration and passing power.

Mazda could have gone with a smaller engine, deteriorating the power level (186 hp) with it, but happily, they did not. And yet, we think a turbocharged four-cylinder engine would suit this model perfectly, along the lines of Mazdaspeed.

Rumors that Mazdaspeed might return (last produced in 2013) should gladden the hearts of enthusiasts. It would give the brand the bona fides its needs as well as fill the product gaps left with Mitsubishi and Ford no longer competing. We’d change the suspension system though to conform to what drivers expect, even if it means a loss in storage space.

6. Crisp steering and adroit handling.

We give Mazda credit for this hatchback’s crisp stewing and competent handling, the latter ideal for pulling out of corners with ease. Still, the torsion-beam rear suspension could have been exchanged for a multi-link arrangement for improved handling. On the other hand, the torsion-beam arrangement sits lower and therefore doesn’t intrude on the storage compartment.

7. Efficiency we appreciate.

So-so performance notwithstanding, we were quite impressed by how efficient the Mazda3 is. We knew that 30 mpg was within reach, even with the added weight of the all-wheel drive.

To our surprise, the Mazda3 averaged closer to 35 mpg for the week we had it. Impressive? You bet! A quick survey of competing models shows lower numbers. Then again, the tradeoff is a significant power edge over the Mazda.

Yes, you can buy the Mazda3 with front-wheel drive. In fact, we recommend this option for most buyers. The all-wheel-drive system is an interesting component, useful for people who live where wintry climate prevails. There is a handling advantage, especially when cornering, but it isn’t as tossable as the Focus RS or Golf R.

The package upgrades are certainly worth considering. You’ll come away with a vehicle that’s stylish, well equipped, and offers good value. Your out-the-door price comes in just above $29,000 and that’s before discounts. In effect, the Mazda3 splits the difference between mainstream and luxury models, delivering a premium package for a competitive price.

2019 Mazda3 Hatchback Specifications

Mazda 2019 Mazda3
Segment Compact Car
Base Sticker Price $24,520 ( includes $920 destination charge)
Price as tested $29,820
Standard Engine 2.5-liter inline-four
Horsepower 186 @ 6,000 RPMs
Torque (lb.-ft.) 186 @ 4,000 RPMs
Transmission(s) Six-speed manual or automatic
Seating 5
Curb Weight (pounds) 3,022 to 3,255
Wheelbase (inches) 107.3
Length (inches) 175.6
Width (inches) 70.7
Height (inches) 56.7
Headroom (f,r…inches) 38.0; 37.2
Legroom (f,r…inches) 42.3; 35.1
Shoulder room (f,r…inches) 55.7; 53.4
Hip room (f,r…inches) 54.6; 50.9
Storage (cubic feet) 20.1
Gross vehicle weight (pounds) NR
Towing (pounds) NR
Payload (pounds) NR
Fuel Regular
Fuel Tank (gallons) 13.2 (FWD), 12.7 (AWD)
EPA Fuel MPG (city/highway) 26/35/30 (FWD); 24/32/27 (AWD) city/highway/combined
Manufacturing Plant Hiroshima, Japan

This article was originally published by Auto Trends Magazine.

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