Review: Mazda hatch, sedan siblings tune up their game

In a world awash in wagon-shaped utility vehicles, it’s understandable if you’ve forgotten about the wealth of sedans and hatchbacks, both large and small, permeating the automotive landscape.

A prime example is the 2019 Mazda3 that’s available in both body styles and — significantly — with optional all-wheel drive.

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The cars are the recipients of the first roof-to-rubber makeovers since the 2014 model year. They possess striking good looks that, in the sedan’s case, make it appear similar to the midsize Mazda6.

Both Mazda3 sedan and Sport hatchback variants share the same basic appearance ahead of the front doors. It’s from the rear doors back, though, where the latter differs. The extra-wide roof pillars dominate the Sport’s hindquarters. There’s also barely any body extension past the rear wheels, which explains why the hatchback is about 18 centimetres shorter than the sedan, even though they both share the same distance between the front and rear wheels.

This, the fourth-generation Mazda3, is built off Mazda’s latest Skyactiv-Vehicle Architecture that the automaker reports is lighter and stronger. Attached to it are new underpinnings that include replacing the independent rear suspension with a seemingly less-sophisticated — as in simpler — torsion-beam setup.

Inside, the restyled dash layout and controls feel more driver-focused, including a reconfigurable gauge cluster and a standard 22.5-centimetre touchscreen. An oversized console-mounted control knob, which operates most vehicle systems, is a nice touch, particularly if the user is wearing gloves.

Other interior adjustments include redesigned front and rear seats, greater telescoping range for the steering wheel, and more sound insulation.

For 2019, not much has changed under the hood. The 155-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder remains as the base engine, while a 2.5-litre four-cylinder — rated at 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet — is optional.

Transmission choices for either engine consist of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with available paddle shifters (standard with the 2.5).

Fuel economy is rated at 8.7 l/100 km in the city and 6.4 on the highway (2.0 with the manual transmission).

For the first time, all-wheel-drive will be available — for both the sedan and Sport hatchback — but only with the 2.5-litre four-cylinder with the automatic transmission. Although not a utility vehicle, the Mazda3 Sport actually provides a bridge model between the small CX-3 and the larger CX-5.

Later in the calendar year, Mazda3 buyers should be able to opt for the Skyactiv-X engine option. This unique supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder uses electric assist and compression ignition (similar to how a diesel engine functions). The result, according to Mazda, is a significant improvement in fuel economy, although there’s no hard data to compare.

Both FWD and AWD versions come with Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control Plus. This system temporarily reduces engine torque when entering a turn, loading more g-force over the front axle and enhancing steering response.

Mazda3 pricing in Canada — including destination charges — starts at $19,800 for the GX sedan and $23,100 for the GX Sport hatchback.

For the price difference, the Sport is slightly better equipped and comes with heated front seats, blind-spot monitoring and 16-inch alloy wheels (16-inch steelies for the sedan).

Note that these same features can be added to the GX sedan with the extra-cost Convenience Package.

The Luxury package that’s available for both GS sedan and Sport adds dual-zone climate control, power moonroof, heated front seats and a power driver’s seat with lumbar support and memory settings.

The optional Premium package for the GT sedan and Sport includes navigation, 12-speaker Bose-brand audio system, leather upholstery and 18-inch wheels.

That both Ford and Chevrolet have announced they’re quitting the compact-car class (Fiat Chrysler abandoned it years ago) should give Mazda a bit more running room with the new Mazda3 sedan and hatchback. Their eye-catching designs, exclusive technological updates and available all-wheel-drive could help spark greater interest in these practical travelling companions.

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