2019 Mazda 3 AWD First Drive

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The 2019 Mazda3 AWD handles better in all weather conditions, turning it into a sophisticated all-weather driver’s car that puts entry-level offerings from luxury brands on notice.

In the snow, the all-wheel-drive system and GVC+ keeps the Mazda3 sure-footed in the slush by reducing engine torque ever so slightly and applying small amounts of braking to shift weight and power around to keep the car stable. With GVC+ disabled, you immediately notice you’re steering more to keep the car from getting unwieldy. The lack of stability instantly became obvious on a slalom course where a 20-mph lane change easily caused the car’s rear end to step out, forcing the driver to counter the skid with lots of steering input.

On pavement, the all-wheel-drive system makes the 2019 Mazda3 feel predictable when driving enthusiastically. Torque sent to the rear wheels pushes the car out of corners, minimizing understeer and allowing it to rotate. Superbly controlled body motions keep the Mazda3 neutral, and the sharp, communicative steering tells you exactly what the front wheels are doing. The Mazda3’s brilliantly tuned chassis soaks up broken pavement beautifully without disconnecting the driver from the road, making you question the need for adaptive dampers and suspensions on some cars that aim to improve handling without sacrificing ride comfort.

The carryover 186-hp 2.5-liter naturally aspirated I-4 happily revs to redline; however, you feel it working hard at higher elevations. Mazda’s six-speed automatic upshifts quickly but takes a second or two to kick down. Sport mode offers quicker rev-matched downshifts and holds gears longer. We also drove a front-drive Mazda3 hatchback with the six-speed manual and found it to be the liveliest of the bunch. The free-revving four-banger works with the slick shifter and communicative clutch admirably to provide plenty of smiles behind the wheel.

2019 Mazda 3 interior

2019 Mazda 3 interior

Mazda’s interiors continue to move upmarket, and the 2019 Mazda3’s cabin easily matches those in entry-level luxury vehicles, especially with the two-tone options. Everything you touch from the dash to the armrests feels expensive, and the infotainment controls click and turn with a satisfying sound. Even harder plastics in the rear wouldn’t look out of place in a car donning a three-pointed star or a stylized “L.” Save for some road and tire noise at highway speeds on uneven surfaces, the 2019 Mazda3’s cabin is nearly vault-like. Complementing the spiffy interior is a 12-speaker Bose surround sound system that provides a crisp listening experience and just enough bass to satisfy audiophiles. The latest iteration of the MazdaConnect interface is easier to use but still falls behind Hyundai/Kia’s Blue Link/UVO, Subaru’s Starlink, and FCA’s UConnect.

All-wheel drive should make the 2019 Mazda3 more appealing to consumers living in four-season states, but that’s only one part of the equation. Four-wheel traction along with GVC+ also improves the Mazda3’s driving characteristics on pavement. When combined with its elegant interior, the Mazda3 turns into an entry-level luxury car in disguise. A Signature trim and the CX-9’s 2.5-liter turbo-four are the final pieces that can turn the Mazda3 into a nearly perfect package: fun, chic, and eye-catching.

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