Pedro Arrais review: Mazda3 a fun family alternative to SUVs

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Sensible meets zoom-zoom as Mazda adds all-wheel drive to the 2019 Mazda3.

The compact hatchback is a perennial favourite among Canadians — certainly a lot more popular than south of the border.

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The majority of vehicles in that segment, including the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra and Volkswagen Golf, come exclusively with front-wheel drive (the Golf and Civic offer AWD only on their hot-hatch versions).

The only outlier has been Subaru, which equips all its Imprezas with all-wheel drive.

For 2019, the Mazda3 has finally jumped into the fray, giving consumers a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.

Why has this taken so long? The answer is all around us, in the form of compact SUVs and crossovers. Manufacturers are selling all the crossovers they can build, so why would they bother with compact cars?

Mazda seems to think it can give Subaru a run for their money, and grab market share in the process.

The 2019 Mazda3 is offered as a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback, which the company calls Sport. The GX (base) trim starts at $18,000 for the sedan and $21,300 for the hatch. To get the AWD, you need to upgrade to the GS trim, which starts at $25,300. The AWD car (which includes mandatory automatic transmission) lists for $27,000.

My tester had the $1,900 luxury package, which gives the Mazda3 leather upholstery, a glass sunroof and a 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat.

As you can imagine, it is competitive with the Impreza Sport five-door with automatic, which has a retail price of $26,695.

By comparison, the Mazda CX-5, which shares much of the same mechanicals with the Mazda3, is $32,750 with the same trim options.

There is a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder under the hood. The zoom-zoom part of the equation comes with 186 horses and 186 pound-feet of torque (compared with 152 hp and 145 lb.-ft. of torque with the Impreza).

This hefty power bonus translates into more confidence when merging and passing on the highway.

The AWD-equipped car, mated with a six-speed automatic transmission, also features cylinder deactivation to enhance fuel economy on the highway.

Fuel consumption is 9.2 L/100 km in the city and 7.0 on the highway on regular-grade gas.

Should you venture off the pavement, the 135-millimetre ground clearance is a welcome feature, especially compared with the Honda Civic Hatchback’s relatively meagre 109 mm.

The 2019 Mazda3 comes equipped with what Mazda engineers call their G-Vectoring Control Plus. If you like canyon carving, you will love this new piece of technology.

Unlike torque-vectoring systems found in an increasing number of sporty vehicles, Mazda’s system uses the vehicle’s software instead.

The software does what race drivers have been taught to do for years — tap the brakes to place a greater load on the front wheels as you are entering a corner.

Using information such as speed, steering-wheel rotation and throttle, the system blips the throttle quickly to induce a slight deceleration. This pitches the car forward and results in more weight on the steering wheels. Mazda claims this happens so quickly that a driver won’t notice the system in operation.

The system is always on and Mazda claims it minimizes steering corrections (resulting in less driver fatigue) on all road conditions. The system will mitigate sharp steering feedback resulting from hitting bumps and potholes.

The cabin is no less impressive in its execution. The interior design is more European that Asian, with a standard of fit and finish that would not be out of place in a entry-level premium vehicle.

Mazda has chosen to retain large analog dials (with digital displays) as a nod to the past while embracing the future. A very long 8.8-inch infotainment screen (controlled by a control knob on the console between the front seats) sits on top of the dashboard.

Apart from physical climate-control buttons, the dash is remarkably uncluttered.

My only beef is the rear-quarter design creates a large blind spot in the right rear. The steep slope of the rear hatchback means that the driver only gets a narrow view out the rear window, as well. Thankfully, a rear back-up camera fills in the void in that instance.

Electronic nannies include radar cruise control with stop-and-go function, pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, driver-attention alert and smart city-brake support.

Mazda has built an enviable reputation among enthusiasts looking for zoom-zoom in their vehicles. With the all-wheel drive option, the new Mazda3 offers families looking for an all-weather vehicle a fun alternative to SUVs.

THE SPEC SHEET

Type: Compact five-door hatchback, front-engine, all-wheel-drive

Engine: Direct-injection 2.5-litre four cylinder, 186 hp at 6,000 rpm, 186 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,662; width, 1,796; height, 1,445; wheelbase, 2,726

Curb weight (kg): 1,483

Price (base/as tested): $27,000/ $30,695 (includes $1,695 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Options: Luxury package $1,900

Tires: 205/60 R16 on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Regular

Fuel economy (L/100km): 9.2 city/ 7.0 highway

Warranty: Three years/unlimited km new car, five years/unlimited km powertrain and roadside assistance

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